Remembering JFK . . .

21 Nov

My husband and I just had one of those talks that are so good that you always wonder why they occur during the busy morning, instead of at night when you have time to let them linger. And why is it that when you finally go out for that romantic meal, you can never remember those topics anyway?

Probably something to do with living in the moment . . .

We were remembering where we were when we heard that JFK had been shot, that the President was dead.

As I recall, the two announcements were almost simultaneous. But I have subsequently heard that there was a bit of controversy about when the death announcement should occur. And news media, back then, did not race to announce things, even if they ended up being wrong. They waited to confirm their information with the authorities. The White House press secretary wielded tons more power in those days . . . (see any article ever written about why JFK’s affairs were not made public till after his death, but I digress, and I truly want to honor the man, not soil his memory).

I was in kindergarten in the fall of 1963. I remember being sent home from school that day, November 22, 1963, at right around 2:00 in the afternoon. That would have been noon in Dallas.

I walked to school back then, a journey which still, in my mind, seems like it took forever. It actually was just about four blocks, two up my street, then two from Wendell Street, our dirt road with small but well-built starter homes, to busy thoroughfare Burton Street where I had to cross to get to my school.

There were three ways to get from Wendell Street to Burton Street, two of them paths and one of them alongside busy Cascade Road, which actually ran in front of our next door neighbors’ house. I usually avoided Cascade Road but, as I recall, I came back from school along Cascade Road that day. The paths seemed too tenuous, as though I could get lost there and never be found.

You see, my dad had built us a shelter in our basement during the Cuban Missile Crisis and so, when I heard that the President was dead, I thought doomsday had come and the world was ending. I didn’t cry. I have rarely cried in moments of great personal sorrow and confusion. I just got home as quickly as I could to await the end with my family.

Such is the mind of a five-year-old.

Noel, on the other hand, five time zones away from us and seven from Dallas, was watching television in the early hours of the evening when his dad told them all to hush and follow the news bulletins coming in from Dallas. This would have been huge for my (now late) father-in-law as he was Irish-Catholic, settled in Britain during World War II, and would have greatly identified with our first Catholic president and the controversy he had to overcome in order to occupy the office (people actually thought he might be beholden to the Pope as president. Some actively campaigned against him on those grounds!!!).

So our Irish-Catholic president stirred the heart and emotions of my Irish-Catholic father-in-law.

Noel just remembers thinking of our country as the vast empire across the sea, and feeling that this must be huge if the leader of such a great empire had been killed.

He was eleven and, like all city kids in Birmingham, England then and now, took the city bus to his school. Most European countries do things that way and have, since buses were invented.

This morning we marveled that the world seemed so much safer then. My mom, with two children younger than me, could send me out the door for afternoon kindergarten alone (I didn’t have any same-age friends in the neighborhood to walk with me to school–the two who were a year older would have already been at school when my afternoon session started and my other friend was still a year too young for kindergarten). I later on, when I reached full day status in first grade, had fears about some boys who sometimes chased me along one of those paths to school when I was alone, but bullying back then consisted only in making me afraid, not in actually attacking me. A more innocent age.

And Noel marveled this morning that he blithely took the city bus to school back then while, just this year on that same bus route, a schoolgirl of about age 10 was stabbed to death on the upper deck of the bus while on her way to school.

Yes, a more innocent age.

I do remember Camelot and I honor the man who believed he could build it.


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