By Gretchen Wolverton
Special to the Berthoud Recorder
It was 1959, and I was 15 and a freshman at Berthoud High School. Pogo Poge was playing Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” on KIMN radio; Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper had been killed in a plane crash earlier in the year; JoAnn Schleiger would mix you up a cherry coke for a dime down at Kyger’s Drugstore; and Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States. My family lived in a little house across the alley from Doc Reuter on Massachusetts Avenue.
My memory has faded in 50 years, but I think it must have been in the fall because my cheerleading sweater and tennies were drying on the folding wooden rack balanced precariously over the floor furnace. On top of the bookcase in the living room was a pair of dirty bobby socks I had just flung at my sister for drinking the last Coke.
My parents were longtime Democrats in a stubbornly Republican county. I remember my brother once saying that all the Democrats in Berthoud could meet in the phone booth in front of Straight-Way market. Because of my parents’ active participation in the Democratic Party in this rabidly Republican county, the Democratic county chairman would stop by from time to time if he happened to be in town.
One night he appeared at our door, flanked by two very tall men in black overcoats (it must have been late fall). Mr. Cheatham, the county chairman, was short and stout with a red face, so they looked even more formidable standing behind him. My father ushered them into our living room and called “Bee! Someone here to see us!” I remember my mother’s face, frozen in horror, as she snatched the dryer off the floor furnace, throwing it into a nearby bedroom, and spied the socks fallen between “The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson” and “Poems of Shelley.” Should she go for the run or just leave them there and hope no one would notice?
My sister and I were in the kitchen doing the dishes. We were used to these political visits and found them even more boring than a Civics class. Suddenly the tall, skinny guy strode through the dining room holding out his hand. My sister and I looked at each other, eyes questioning — “What do we do?”
“Hello, girls,” he said, and shook my hand first. “I’m Ted Kennedy.” We both said hi and continued doing the dishes — me washing, she drying. I looked at Liz out of the corner of my eye and I knew she was thinking the same thing I was — “Who the heck is this guy and why does he care about us?” We dared not be rude and answered his questions. He asked our names and if we liked school and that we were lucky to live in such a beautiful little town. Then he went in and talked politics some more and they were gone.
And that was it. After our visitors left, Mom snatched the socks off the bookcase, and Dad said, “I’ll be damned — that was Whizzer White” (speaking of the other visitor who did not come and say hello to us). My dad was impressed to have met a former CU football player/ex-professional football player (and later to become a Supreme Court justice). And, oh, by the way, how about that young upstart Ted Kennedy?
I was to learn later that John F. Kennedy had begun his campaign for the presidency in 1959 and Byron “Whizzer” White organized the local Colorado-for-Kennedy clubs and successfully reaped most of the delegate votes for JFK at the 1960 Democratic Convention. I’m sure Teddy was there helping with that and campaigning for his brother.
I sit here watching lots of famous and powerful people eulogize Senator Kennedy while my granddaughter naps beside me. I think of that evening long ago when I was so very young, and this effusive young man introduced himself to me and my sister. Little did I know then how his life and work would affect my life and my children’s lives and this dear little girl sleeping so soundly next to me.