What is it about certain childhood memories that keep them so sharp over time? Something as simple as a smell, a song, a taste can trigger a special moment you’ll never forget.

For me, it’s a brilliant blue September sky, combined with the smell of caramel corn, the taste of cotton candy, all of which meant the Clark County Fair in Las Vegas, Nevada. That year I was 8 years old, and didn’t see my dad all that much. He had been working nights as a 21 dealer in the casinos, or else as a security guard. Now, he was a security guard at the atomic test site, with a schedule of being there 24/7 for four days, and home for three.

My dad and I were close; he’d take me to the Stardust on the Vegas Strip, where he knew someone who would let us swim in the Olympic pool, or the Sahara, which had the best hot fudge sundaes in town. We’d go horseback riding, or just out to the airport to watch (and grade) the planes on take offs and landings.

But on this particular Saturday, he was home, and we were going to the fair, going earlier in the morning before the crowds were too big. My favorite part was the rides, especially the Ferris Wheel where I could look out across Vegas all the way to Mt. Charleston.

This day seemed different. Few people were at the fair, but instead were lining up along the road leading to the Las Vegas Convention Center, close to the rides. Whatever it was, I knew it couldn’t be as exciting or as fun as going on those rides.

We were practically the only ones on the Ferris Wheel, making it all the more exclusive, and special to me. And then we stopped … at the top … no one was getting on, we had just stopped. So, I just enjoyed the view, while my dad pointed out different landmarks.

And then … we heard it … off in the distance, people cheering, and it gradually became louder. Looking down the road leading into the Convention Center, I could see some cars moving slowly, with people lined up on both sides of the road, jumping up and down and waving.

One car in particular was a convertible, with the men in it waving back to the crowds. That’s when my dad leaned forward and pointed. “See that?” he said. “That’s the President! That’s President Kennedy!”

I think my mouth dropped to the bottom of the Ferris Wheel. Wow!!!! The unofficial Holy Trinity in my household was God, JFK and Walter Cronkite. So I watched, gripping the bar across the seat, as the President and his motorcade slowly wound its way past the fair rides, our Ferris Wheel, and on to the Convention Center.

My dad looked at me, I looked at him, and we both just beamed. That was a moment we had shared, and would never, never forget.

I don’t remember the rest of the day, or even remember telling my mom when we got home, or the kids at school about it on Monday, although I’m sure I did.

But I do certainly remember two months later, when my mom and I spent four days in front of the television, watching a much different, somber parade of sorts. No cheering, only silence, except for the muffled drums and the sound of horses’ hooves on pavement. I felt such sadness that the man I’d so admired, the man I’d just seen waving to crowds on a sparkling September day, was now gone.

I felt especially sad for his daughter, two years younger than me, who I was sure adored her dad as much as I did mine … only now she wouldn’t have him to take her places, or listen to her secrets, or comfort her if she was scared. And to be without that, well, I couldn’t imagine it.

May 29 marks what would have been President Kennedy’s 100th birthday. Many will recall his push to go to the moon, or guiding us through the Cuban missile crisis, or on the White House lawn, arms outstretched as his children ran towards him.

Me? I’ll just remember a perfect September day, watching the sunlight bounce off the shiny convertible while I sat with my dad atop a Ferris Wheel, watching the President ride slowly past in his motorcade.