1963: JFK and the French Mouse

It is, as is abundantly clear from the media blitz, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that is also this week's Sepia Saturday theme (please visit that site for links to other thematic explorations!).

I was nine and a half when Kennedy died, and in the third grade. I remember the teacher, the white-haired but tall and sturdy Mrs. Geraldine Perry, in her typical peasant blouse and Mexican skirt, gathering the class around her that morning, and telling us that the president had been killed. One little girl burst out crying, and a few of the more churlish class members laughed at her. They got a very severe talking to, as I imagine Mrs. Perry, tough as she was, was probably close to tears herself.

As the grim spectacle unrolled on TV over the next few days, from the killing of Oswald through the long funeral proceedings, I was, I think, more concerned with the Kennedys' daughter Caroline, on whom I had rather a crush despite the fact that she was three years younger than I. In fact I had written a sort of cryptic paean to her just that summer, in the guise of a chapter of The Adventures of French Mouse. This was a project that I and my father had been working on for some months. Once a week or so we would sequester ourselves, and alternately he or I would dictate a story to the other, which I would then illustrate. The stories revolved around Pierre Souris, the French Mouse, with a supporting cast of my other Steiff animals, as well as a large sock monkey, named Uncle Monkey.

I now present for your Sepia pleasure the chapter in question.

"Queek, Caroline, open the you-know what!"
The cat looked terrible.
He made a death-defying leap.
He landed in the fountain.
French Mouse was peeking down the laundry chute when something struck him full-force in the nose!
A pink and blue sign on the door: No Mice Allowed.
The illustrations were dawn on the backs of class handouts for my father's Bible As Literature class at the University of Washington.
The text was written on the backs of a handout for his Intro To Poetry class.
Allow me to say in closing that the perennial trotting out of the JFK assassination "party line" irks me no end. I have just read a brand-new, phenomenal book, JFK and the Unspeakable, which thoroughly blows the old "lone gunman" theory sky-high. I cannot recommend this book too highly.


  1. Wow, can't believe you've kept your "book" all these years! It is very cool!

  2. I absolutely love this! Especially the "death defying leap" part. Be well and enjoy the day!

  3. And I'm hooked on the laundry chute idea! This is wonderful!

  4. What a great story, so glad you kept it - and so appropriate. I went to look at your other Stieff animals too - very cute, I think I would have like some.

  5. Very creative. I wonder what your father thought about Kennedy being whirled around overhead.

  6. I am amazed that your story has survived so long. What an imagination you must have had.

  7. This is so delightful I don't know where to begin - it's priceless. You were an amazingly clever 9 1/2 year old. The illustrations are wonderful. My favorite is the cat with the fierce look in his one remaining eye with clawless foot and the hilarious broken tail. Your father must have been fabulous and the father-son creative effort is so appealing...couldn't this be a children's book? The story of Dad and son creating the French Mouse.

  8. Oh my goodness, what fun! And kudos to your father for encouraging you like that. Imagination is a wondrous thing and it appears you had & have an active one. And how great you kept that book! I wish I'd kept some of mine from those early years. I've saved some things from Jr. high & high school, however so at least I have those. Great post. Really enjoyed it.

  9. ahh, what a treat that French Mouse! I agree with previous comments, publishh it...Had not heard of that book Unspeakable, may have to check on it.

  10. I hope this story and the drawings are well-preserved for future generations to remember you by. It's just the best!

  11. Such an enjoyable post! Treasures of special times spent with your father. Loved the French Mouse and his exploits with the Kennedy's.