The Life and Times of Jameson Jones Chapter Two: The End of Innocence by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Destiny can dawdle or it can hit you like a runaway freight train…

Jameson, caboose of the Jones train, has entered the weed garden of his teenage years. Eisenhower has placidly come and gone; Camelot is flourishing on the banks of the Potomac. Unbeknownst to his Republican parents, Jameson has undergone his own political changing of the guard. He is smitten with King Jack and Queen Jackie and all things Kennedy. He is leaving the fold, beginning to chart his own course.

He comes home from school one day and announces his desire to go off to boarding school. The announcement comes as a surprise to Lawyer and Mrs. Jones, but the idea has taken deep root in Jameson’s young mind. His three much older siblings have all flown the coop—married and moved away. Much as he loves them, Jameson has no intention of remaining home alone in a hushed household with aging parents; it’s time to break the mold.

And so, Lawyer Jones (perhaps just a little reluctantly) and son pack the car and head off to New England to shop for a new school. It’s a long voyage into the future, but Jameson is excited to set sail. On a Wednesday, father and son visit two fine schools; on Thursday, two more. But Jameson does not hear bells; maybe this is not such a good idea after all. They’re all fine looking shoes, but none seem to quite fit. On Friday morning, they try on another pair and are invited to stay for lunch: it’s broiled cod and boiled potatoes and Jameson takes one look at his all-white plate and asks if he can be excused from table NOW. Without much hope and on a seriously empty stomach, Jameson and his father head off on one last visit, the whole expedition in danger of unravelling into disaster.

They arrive at Choate mid-afternoon. Jameson is starving but he perks up when the Headmaster who is interviewing him just happens to mention that President Kennedy was a former student. And then this, out of the blue: “You look hungry, Jameson; let’s see what we can find in the kitchen.” Upon entering, all Jameson can see is one of those old-fashioned pale green milkshake machines. He stares. The Headmaster senses his advantage. “Would you like a milkshake?” Jameson can only nod. “Chocolate?” the Headmaster asks. Jameson nods again and the Headmaster knows he has won. The next day, upon returning home, Lawyer Jones greets his wife, smiles his little smile, and tells her he just purchased the world’s most expensive chocolate milkshake. She arches an eyebrow.

And so the deal is struck. Jameson arrives on campus in the fall of 1962. A month into the adventure, he is sitting on the stairs of his freshman dormitory, listening to news of dire proportion: there are Soviet missiles in Cuba and nuclear war is imminent. Jameson wonders if he will ever see his parents and home again, but when Kennedy saves the day, Jameson falls even deeper under his spell.

And then just thirteen months later, Jameson is taking his dirty clothes to the laundry on the other side of campus. By the time he arrives, the world has spun off its axis. The women who work in the laundry are staring at a black-and-white television: Kennedy has been shot; he’ll soon be dead. In a daze, Jameson wanders off to the only place he can think to go: the chapel, the same chapel Kennedy once sat in when he was a schoolboy. Jameson is utterly alone in that space and the tears begin to flow—first a river, then a lake, and finally an ocean of abject sorrow. A wound that will never heal.

And nothing will ever be safe for Jameson again.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com.

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