In May of 1968, I was ten years old. I attended Chapman Grade School. I was in fourth grade. I had lots of friends back then, friends from all kinds of socioeconomic backgrounds. I was active in the cub scouts, played little league baseball, and took art classes at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. At that time, it was located up on NW Culpepper Road.
One of my good friends back then was Kendall Perryman. Kendall and his brother Randy lived up on NW Westover, just a few blocks away from my mother’s apartment. Kendall was my age, loved sports, and loved to clown around. His brother Randy was a really great kid, a few years older than his brother. He looked over us younger kids with a watchful eye, making sure we didn’t cause too much mischief. We played tackle football in their mother’s yard, played street hockey, wrestled and had a great time.
Kendall’s mother had divorced a few years earlier, was single and kept active raising her two boys. Around the winter of 1968 she remarried, sold her house, and moved her family into her new husband’s home near what is now known as the Hoyt Arboretum.
At that time, the arboretum had a nine hole golf course called the Hoyt Arboretum Pitch and Putt. It was a popular spot for golfing at that time, especially if you were a kid. It was a tricky little par three course. We use to play there ever so often. The course was hilly with gopher holes and had old Douglas firs that surrounded the grounds. In the late 1970’s, the Vietnam memorial was built on the land and the golf course was closed down.
One day while we were at school, Kendall ran up to me. He was excited. “Grant, do you want to spend the night on Friday?”
I looked at him and thought it over. “Let me ask my mom. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.”
After school that day, I dragged my books home and waited to see if I could spend the night with Kendall. When mom got home, I popped the question. “I don’t see why not,” replied my mother.
While sitting at the kitchen table, deeply involved in doing my homework, my mother was reading that day’s Oregonian newspaper. On the front page was a picture of Bobby Kennedy. In 1968, Bobby Kennedy was running against Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey with the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Both Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy were scheduled to speak that day. On the Republican ticket you had Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater running for their party’s nomination. It was a heated battle. To this day, many people believe Bobby Kennedy would have taken us out of Vietnam much earlier. It was a great time in American politics. Locally you had Tom McCall, Wayne Morse and Mark Hatfield in the forefront of Oregon politics. “Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy are going to give a speech at the Portland Zoo on Saturday afternoon. Kendall, Randy, and you ought to go see them speak,” noted my mother.
The Portland Zoo wasn’t located more than a few blocks from the arboretum. As a matter of fact, it was located right next door to it. Friday night rolled around. I packed my things, jumped in my mother’s Volkswagen, and headed up to the Perryman’s. Kendall opened the front door of his house. I ran up and went inside.
Mrs. Perryman was making dinner. “Hello Grant!” she said as Kendall and I wrestled in the hall.
“Hello!” I yelled as Kendall got me into a full nelson. We ran into Kendall’s room and started to plan the next day. Randy came in and sat on the edge of Kendall’s bed. I looked at Randy. “Do you want to hear Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy speak?”
“Yep, sure do!” replied Randy. If I remember right, they both were going to speak that Saturday afternoon in front of a large crowd. They were scheduled to speak in front of the polar bear cage near the main entrance of the zoo. That night we were so excited. We decided to get a good night’s sleep, get up early, and get a fast start on the day. The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn. We rushed through breakfast. “I’ll bring the football so we can throw it around!” screamed Randy.
We flew out the door and ran down the street toward the zoo. We proceeded to go down the path that cut through the golf course. We ran across the street that led us to a small field next to the zoo. “One Mississippi! Two Mississippi! Three Mississippi!” yelled Randy as I hiked him the football and ran out for a pass.
It was a clear day that Saturday, a beautiful spring day. Cars were pulling into the parking lot next to the field that we played in. Some kids ran up and joined in our football game.
About an hour had passed when I suddenly looked over towards the street next to the field that we were playing in. In what seemed like a New York minute, a black convertible Lincoln Continental passed right in front of us, in the back seat was Bobby Kennedy! He was waving at us as we played. Kids started to scream. Some of them ran out in the street running after his car. I thought this one kid was going to wet his pants. “It’s Bobby Kennedy!” screamed Randy. He started to run around in circles.
I couldn’t believe it. I had just seen Bobby Kennedy! I started to jump up and down waving to him. Everybody went nuts.
Before we left Kendall’s home that day, Mrs. Perryman wanted us to be home by noon. She clearly told us that she wanted us three boys back home for lunch that day. I looked at Randy. I hated to ask the question. “What time is it?”
He looked at me with a painful look on his face. “It’s noon!”
“We better get back to the house or your mom will get pissed!” Randy and I started to head back to the house.
“I’m going to go hear Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy speak!” shouted Kendall.
“Kendall, mom will get angry at you. You better head home!” shouted Randy. Kendall didn’t even think twice. He took off running down the street and darted off to the zoo.
Randy and I slowly headed back to their house, walked in the kitchen, started to eat lunch, and tried to explain to Mrs. Perryman why Kendall was tardy for lunch that day. If I remember right, she looked at us and shook her head in displeasure with the actions of her youngest son.
About an hour later, Kendall came walking down the driveway of his home. He had a huge smile on his face in total nirvana and his shirt was decorated with several McCarthy and Kennedy buttons. He proceeded to tell us of his exploits that day. “I ran down to the zoo after you two left and I was one of the first people to get in line to hear Bobby Kennedy and McCarthy speak.” Randy and I looked at each other in disbelief. “I got there right in the front row! Eugene McCarthy waved to me, gave his speech, and there were people screaming and yelling! It was so much fun!”
I started to sip on my soup. “Photographers were there. They took our photographs and they gave their speeches, waved, and drove off!”
Randy looked like he was ready to explode, his temper got the best of him. “Okay Kendall, so you saw Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy! Big deal!” yelled Randy. You could tell he was angry.
I felt bad that I wasn’t able to catch a glimpse of these iconic political figures. Soon, my mother pulled up in her car and we headed back home. I fidgeted while telling her the story that day. I went on and on about the events, about how Kendall saw Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy speak. I went into detail about how Bobby waved. “My, isn’t that exciting!” my mother replied.
A week or two passed and I got a call from Kendall. “Grant! Grant! My picture! My picture, I…I… got my picture in Life magazine!” shouted Kendall. I could barely hear him talk, he was so excited. My mother had subscribed to Life magazine for years. I always loved the photography in the weekly publication. Well I thumbed through the June 7, 1968 edition of Life and there, right before my eyes in a large color photograph on page 38 and 39 was Eugene McCarthy in front of the camera. Several polar bears were roaming around, almost smiling for the photographer. I blinked in astonishment because in the front row, sporting a big smile and standing as proud as could be, was Kendall Perryman! I sat there and my jaw must have dropped to my knees. I remember asking myself, why did I have to go back to the Perryman’s that day and eat that lousy bowl of soup and miss out on all the fun? I could have been in Life magazine!
About a week later, shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968 in Los Angeles, California, Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin after giving a speech at the Ambassador hotel. I was in shock. Most of the kids in school that day cried in the hall. It had to be one of the worst days of my life. I remember how sad I felt. I cried for days. Looking back, I was so lucky to have had the chance to experience the thrill and to feel the excitement in the air that day when these two political figures. Looking back, it was one of the best days in my life as a kid in Oregon.