I Have the Right to Remain Silent, but I Lack the Ability

Action has magic, grace, and power in it.

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative or creation, there is one elementary truth…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would otherwise never have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in ones’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have believed would have come his way.
Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it.
Action has magic, grace, and power in it.”

― W.H. Murray The Scottish Himalayan Expedition

November 22, 1963

Fifty-six years ago…that sounds impossible! Still, like most people in my generation, I can pinpoint where I was on this day with uncanny accuracy:

A third-grade student sits in her desk at St. Julian Eymard School in Algiers. The principal interrupts every class, sharing the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy over the intercom. My teacher, Mrs. Boudreaux, looks at us in shock before her face dissolves into tears. Why are all the teachers rushing into the hallway crying, holding on to each other? What is a President; who is this man Kennedy? As an eight-year old, I instinctively feel this is a meaningful occasion, although I haven’t the knowledge to understand why.

As my brothers and I walk the six blocks to our house, every door we pass is open in this warm Louisiana November. Black and white images from impossibly small television sets repeatedly flash images of Kennedy as a young Naval lieutenant, surrounded by his crew, aboard the PT-109. Kennedy being sworn into office. Kennedy laughing, holding hands with his young son John, as they walked to church. Kennedy holding his infant daughter Caroline. A smiling Jackie Kennedy in her signature pillbox hat, riding in an open limousine with her husband. And then, a bloodstained pink suit captures the nation’s attention as Jackie stands next to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, as he takes the oath of office.  These confusing images only made sense to me as I got older.

I turn to my older brother to ask what a President is. He is in fifth grade, so he is ever-so-much wiser. He explains in words that are still beyond my comprehension, but he ends by saying this President, this man, this father, was shot by a gun. He was killed today. He would not be going home to his children. That a father could leave his young daughter and son…this is what I cannot quite wrap my head around.

“You think it hurt?”

“Of course, it did.”

My question is still indelibly stamped in my memory. To this day, I am unsure if I meant the bullets or his children’s hearts hurting as they broke. To hear your father is never coming home and your mother is not there for you. The Kennedy children must’ve been told by a relative, also shrouded in their own private grief. When we turn the corner on the street where we live, the scene from the school’s hallway is echoed. Neighbors hugging neighbors, crying in hushed circles. Everyone is outside, as if they’re expecting something else to happen and they need to be close together when it does.

Inside, on our small television, the images continually replay. The commentator solemnly details the afternoon’s events in Dallas, Texas. 24-7 cable news and the Internet are decades in the future. Only three major news outlets to choose from, and like most of the world, my folks choose “Uncle” Walter Cronkite, hoping he will announce this was all one awful mistake.

My parents send us to bed earlier than usual, as if they haven’t the energy to return to normalcy just yet. I say my prayers, kneeling by my bed. My mother has opened the windows, but the air is heavy, muggy. She has replaced the summer curtains with the heavy corduroy drapes that she made. Nothing moves; the only sounds come from a chorus of crickets and frogs outside. I’ve no idea how long I’ve been asleep when I am awakened, feeling the certain presence of someone in my room. There he is, seated on the foot of my bed, that President-man, the one from the television. He wears a dark blue suit and tie. He looks kind, sad and weary, but not at all frightening. I want to ask him how it felt to be shot, whether he misses his children, but I am too shy.

“Our country experienced something awful today, Madelaine.”

How does he know my name?

He speaks adult words with a different accent than I am used to hearing. I do not wish to be rude, so I nod in agreement.

“It may be years before you understand what has happened. But I want you to remember, your generation has the power to change the future. Don’t waste that chance, okay?”

He smiles, pats my head and walks right through the window. The curtains sway a bit as he disappears. He leaves behind the unmistakable scent of men’s cologne. To this day, I am certain I did not dream this; I feel certain that he came to speak to many other people that night because I am no one special. It will be years before I can tell anyone about this experience because I do not want to be made fun of or accused of lying. I keep this to myself until I am in high school and when we study this period in history, I confide this story to a friend and a cousin. It never gets mentioned again until I am well into adulthood.

Camelot…As Baby Boomers, we lived through the confusion and tumultuous changes that defined the 60s. With the other eighth-grade girls in my class, I flirted shamelessly with a classmate’s handsome brother who was an altar boy at our Friday masses. He disappeared for a good while, returning to that same altar in a pine box, from a village in Southeast Asia whose name we could not pronounce nor find on a map. This was a far different landscape we were learning to maneuver as we entered adolescence, ambiguous in a way the Depression and World War II were not. Our parents watched draft-card and bra burners, sensing the other fires burning inside of their children. We wanted freedom from parental and societal restraints, although we had no idea what we would do with it. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy soon joined JFK as their two assassinations flashed across the television waves. Camelot’s promise had detonated in our faces; we became cynical and numb.

Few things are more evocative of memories than smell. That lingering scent of a man’s cologne convinced me that I had not dreamed that visit. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was a young President who became idealized and mythologized in our lifetimes. Today’s historians look back at his brief tenure in office, uncovering many doubts and shortcomings, cracks in his hero status. He was an imperfect husband, an oft-distracted father and a flawed leader. Doesn’t matter. He became an enduring symbol for a generation that did fight for many changes, albeit not always effectively or fairly.

The war eventually ended in Vietnam, leaving us to question whether we needed to ever be involved again in forcing our brand of democracy on other nations. Although race relations continue to persist, we made some solid gains when the Supreme Court voted on Loving v. Loving, and the Civil Rights and Voting Acts became laws. Along the way, we also made progress in fights for more equality for women, the LGBTQ community and persons with disabilities. We got to the moon too, something JFK had once dared us to do. Along the way, we made technological improvements in how we communicate with one another. (Yes, Steve Jobs was a boomer too!)  Our music outraged and worried our parents, but we’ve nothing to apologize for there. Woodstock, Motown and the Fab Four earned their places in history. And don’t forget, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street and Charlie Brown wove kindness through our childhood…when we took time to listen.

President Kennedy left us with many quotes about service, country and courage. This is a personal favorite:

The stories of past courage … can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide     inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his        own soul. What really counts is not the immediate act of courage or of valor, but those   who bear the struggle day in and day out.

What did his visit mean to me? What had been its purpose in my life? I am unsure if I will ever have an answer, yet over the decades, I have learned that self-absorption has a very short expiration date. There will always be causes greater than my own problems, opportunities for change that beckon me to step up. At the end of our lives, don’t we all wish to leave legacies that demonstrate that we’ve noticed some of these and acted upon them? After all, he also counseled us that we were not to ask what our country could do for us, but rather what we could do for our country.






  • Felicia Wiggins

    March 3, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    What an opening! You have perfectly described the emotion felt by so many of us. And the continuing questions we turn over and over. Congratulations on your book! Looking forward to a good and thoughtful read!


    • admin

      March 3, 2020 at 7:32 pm

      Thank you my friend. It is exciting and humbling.


  • Felicia H. Wiggins

    May 4, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    I Have the Right to Remain Silent…But I Lack the Ability
    By Madelaine Brauner Landry

    As someone who has been involved in many political issues during my lifetime, and reluctantly, continue to be, it is often a challenge to discuss politics back here in my south Louisiana home town. So mostly, we don’t discuss it.
    My friend, Madelaine Landry, grew up in Algiers, Louisiana, attending an all-girl Catholic school, and, in her book, describes her interactions with the confident, dynamic teaching nuns and shares irresistible story nuggets about her close-knit family upbringing. She married after high school, started a family, later became involved in Parish politics, and was a stringer for a newspaper, covering the local Council meetings.
    Her book takes us from there to her second marriage, and eventually to a farm in south Louisiana and running for Parish (County) office. She describes her campaign and relates heartfelt stories about the voters in her district, weaving in her love of communication theory, which was the subject of her Masters Degree. She shares “…if we never initiate the conversation, we cannot begin the search. If we do not collaborate, communicate, or compromise to seek reasonable solutions, why are we even part of a community? What would be the point? The American dream needs shoring up everywhere… Starting locally seems logical.”
    As we progress (we hope) in this ‘new normal’ world, it is more important than ever to be connected and learn to listen, really listen, to each other. Madelaine’s book can give us great ideas to chew on if we heed her insight that politics is definitely personal. We may not change each other’s minds and hearts, but we need to be able to hold that opposing viewpoint up to the light, if only for a short while. Our divides are sometimes not as horrible as we make them. As Madelaine says, “politics is the art of the possible.”


    • admin

      May 4, 2020 at 8:06 pm

      Thank you, my friend, for this lovely review.


  • admin

    May 8, 2020 at 1:07 pm


    Madelaine Brauner Landry may not have the ability to remain silent, but there’s not much else she lacks and this is a good thing. That became apparent to me as I read her carefully crafted recent book, I Have the Right to Remain Silent…But I Lack the Ability. She comes across as a well-read aficionado of many fields, but especially in the discipline of communication. Last fall, in her run for Police Jury in Jefferson Davis Parish, her home parish of Louisiana, during her campaign she made a valiant effort to reach out to every available voter with her special brand of touching lives and accomplished an especially Sisyphean task because she was a woman in the first place, but also because she was the first woman to run for this particular position, long held by her opponent.
    She describes her constituents as being from every level of society, ranging from well-off “good ol’ boys” to pig farmers slaughtering their own pigs. In her knocks on all doors, she ran into some edifying and some humorous situations mostly with people wondering why it wasn’t her husband running for office instead of her. Still, she gave it her all and was the better for it.
    She spoke to the people of her viewpoints on safety, health, bridges, and roads. Many were surprised she’d be educated or care about these topics. And she listened. Madelaine says that many times falling back on her gifts for gab and humor came in handy for maintaining a semblance of civility between people with differing viewpoints than the ones she was offering. She was labeled as a Liberal and a Feminist in a part of Louisiana, in a part of this country, where both are suspect among people. For one thing, she was born and raised in New Orleans so she was already considered an outsider. Just running on a Blue ticket in a Red state, she faced many odds and came out a winner, no matter the final voting outcome. She’d opened her mouth, gotten out into the trenches, and shifted some people’s thinking, whether they realized it or not. She’d run into more than one wife who said to her husband, “See! A woman can do such things!” In that sense, she won her race even though she lost.
    That was my feeling as well when I closed the last page. Madelaine has the true-grit that I like to find in my leaders and also in my friends. I loved how the reader gets to know her more deeply through the many vignettes from her personal life that she interweaves in each chapter. In her mind, writing this book was the next logical step to come out of her losing run for office. In my eyes, the next step after will be for her to have opportunities to talk to groups and communities about its contents, transforming the experience into nothing lost and so much gained.
    Linda Nelson Gardner
    My Life in Letters: Bane and Blessing


  • admin

    May 8, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks to these four wonderful people for their kind pre-publication endorsements.

    “In this wonderful memoir, Madelaine Brauner Landry is honest, funny, profound, and wise. Readers will love the stories about her fasci- nating life and the lessons she learned during her campaign for public office. Madelaine’s story is uplifting, moving, and inspiring. Read this book. Your life will be richer for it.”
    —Robert Mann
    Manship Chair in Journalism, LSU Manship School of Mass Communication, and author of “Becoming Ronald Reagan: The Rise of a Conservative Icon”

    “Knocking on doors she finds a constituent about to slit a pig from heel to squeal. ‘You treat all politicians the way you treat pigs?’ she asks. ‘Nope,’ he says, ‘can’t eat a politician.’ She’s a woman of her generation, born after Rosie was told to quit riveting, and start roasting and repro- ducing. She’s chased education, ideas, and insight, while raising a fam- ily. Kids grown and gone, she runs for office, knock, knock, knocking on country doors . . . and the ole glass ceiling . . . ”
    —Pierre Fontenot
    author of “Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories”

    “Whenever Madelaine Brauner Landry puts pen to paper it is always an occasion to rejoice. Her ability to turn a phrase or just string words together in an interesting and entertaining way has made me one of her many admirers for years. This memoir of an amazing person’s fascinating journey made me laugh, cry, think, and reminisce—everything I want in a book! That I can also call Madelaine my friend is an added bonus!”
    —Martin McConnell
    Ascension Parish Government, Communications Director

    “Growing up in a small southern town with her siblings and dozens of cousins, Madelaine Landry learned early the importance of having a voice. Her memoir, in some ways, chronicles her growth in learning to use her voice, as she navigates school, motherhood, and a variety of jobs that eventually lead her into the world of politics. Her commitment as a government employee, teacher, writer, and would-be-politician is born of her love of communication, politics, and feminist principles— and the responsibility she thinks we all bear to use our voice for the betterment of others. You’ll see her evolution and her ‘little displays of courage,’ along the way—even as they lead to the campaign trail—and you’ll be inspired by her courage and voice.”

    —Lisa Froman
    author of “Tao Flashes”


  • Edmond Wattigney

    August 11, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Great read indeed! At 65 yrs old, it’s incredible to stumble across story written firsthand by someone that was in the exact same place at the exact same time. You described the scene and the emotions I remembered. I was also a 3rd grader at your school and likely right across the hall in Sister Mary Norberts Class. I remember the announcement that came over the intercom system….( it had to be Sister George or Sister Emmanuel) new words..what on earth does “assassinated” mean?
    Our teachers started crying and we didn’t fully understand why, but we felt the sadness and cried also. I can’t post a photo here, but I have something you’d enjoy and remember. Maybe I can sent them to you if you reply to my email address. My father kept our Weekly Reader edition from Dec. 1963 devoted to JFK and it’s now a prized possession of mine. I can send you photos .. thank you tremendously for sharing your memories and experiencing the joys of writing. 🙏


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