Friday, November 22, 2013

A Personal Remembrance of That Day (with an OMG update!)

While I was waiting for my appointment at the dentist office yesterday morning, I picked up the latest issue of Time Magazine to read. The cover story was the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. I only had time to read this first paragraph before they called my name:

"Five decades later, the assassination of John F. Kennedy remains one of the few utterly signal events from the second half of the 20th century. Other moments — some thrilling (the moon landing, the fall of the Berlin Wall), others horrifying (the killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the Challenger explosion) — have secured their places in the history books and, even more indelibly, in the memories of those who witnessed them. But nothing in the latter part of “the American century” defined an era as profoundly as the rifle shots that split the warm Dallas air on November 22, 1963, and the sudden death of the 46-year-old president." (I would have added 9/11 to that horrifying list.)

My 6th grade photo

Because this anniversary was coming, I wrote three of my elementary school classmates on Facebook and asked them what they remembered of that Friday, when we were 6th graders at PS 25 in Fords, NJ. I was glad to see that they remembered the afternoon the way I did. We had been in our classrooms, when suddenly the teachers informed us that we were going to the school auditorium. Such a spontaneous gathering had not happened before. My class had to walk outside to get to the next building where the auditorium was. On the way, I walked next to my teacher Mr. Newberger. He told me that the President had been shot. I felt that news in the pit of my stomach. That was the craziest thing I had ever heard. It made me feel sick. When we arrived, students were seated and teachers were walking around, some with transistor radios to their ears. Everyone was quiet. Teachers were listening. We were all waiting. I remember a teacher started to cry. Then another. Finally, Mrs. Schwarick, a large woman with intense presence spoke out. She told us that the President had been killed. She told us that school was canceled for the rest of the day. She told us to go home. So we filed out of that room and took the walk home. There was a crossing guard at the major intersection at Ford Avenue. She held up her white-gloved hand, and the traffic stopped to let us cross. She fumbled with the whistle around her neck and said, "Pray for our country. Go home and pray for our country."

I didn't do that. I never pray.

I did watch the crowds go to the Rotunda to pay homage and say their farewells to the flag-draped coffin.

I did watch Lee Harvey Oswald get shot.

I did watch that horse-drawn caisson and that riderless horse.

I did cry a thousand tears.

OMG UPDATE:  At dinner Friday night Roger asked me in what year 9/11 happened. I said it was 2001. OMG, that's right, 2001, not the second half of the 20th century at all. A whole new MILLENIUM! No wonder the Times writer left it out. It didn't belong there. Holy shit, my lifetime isn't the parameters of history at all.


  1. Listening to what happened last nigh and the account form the agent who jumped on the back of the car after it happened Presedent Kennedy had no chance of liveing. I do remember seeing it on TV as a 12 year old but the relivence was lost on me as it happened in the US. I did think at the time we have lost a nice man

  2. I do remember all the major events you mentioned but I remember the Kennedy assassination the most clearly. He was the first president I voted for as a 21 year old. His horrific death was also the first national disaster I was exposed to. That day, all feelings of safety and security of my generation were stripped away. Pearl Harbor happened when I was only 2. Yes I had learned to duck and cover under my school desk in case of Atomic war. But that never happened.
    This happened and we all became vulnerable and diminished that day.

  3. I was in history class when the teacher came in and told us the President had been shot. I didn't hear until later when I was on the soccer field that he had died.

  4. As Americans on that fateful day, we were all united in the sharing of grief. The day the reality of the world really hit us 'boomers'. RIP JFK

  5. Yes, I'd add 911 to that list as well. Did you arrive home to find your parents glued to the television? I did. Being only 6, I didn't quite grasp it the way you did. Thanks for sharing your personal story.

  6. A defining moment, no doubt. The end of innocence and the beginning of many more eye opening tragedies. No wonder we look at the world as we do!

  7. Same age, same grade in school, same memories of marching to the cafeteria to be told the terrible news - although on the other side of the country in central Calif. Really a shared experience for all of us.

  8. Bill-- It was one of those defining moment in our country's history.

    Patti-- It breaks my heart somehow to know that you cast your first vote for him, to have his life end that way in such a horrific act of violence. You are so profoundly right that we all became vulnerable and diminished that day.

    Mark-- It's one of those memories that will stay forever.

    Muffy-- Yes, the day the reality of the world hit us. It's true. We boomer were truly innocents.

    Tara-- My father was home, but my mom was still at work. We turned the TV on and watched history unfold together. I watched the funeral procession with my grandmother.

    Annie-- I heard someone describe it as a tectonic shift. Yes, we entered an entirely new trajectory that day.

  9. Pete-- How interesting to know you had a similar 6th grade experience, 3000 miles away. Sharing one of life's sad defining moments. (Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.)

  10. I was in 6th grade, too, Robin Andrea. Select 6th-graders in my community of Garfield Heights, Ohio (outside Cleveland) were chosen to set up and show films, and it was my turn on November 22. I was in the process of getting the day's movie ready to roll in the auditorium when a teacher came in to give us the bad news.

  11. Your kind lively spirit shines in your sixth grade photo.

    I was a 14-year-old high school student in San Carlos, California, when the news that the president had been assassinated came to us through a speaker on the wall near the clock in the front of our first-year Latin classroom via what was called the "public address system." The shocked silence was broken by the boy sitting behind me who said, " Oh no! That means that Lyndon Johnson will be president." There was some laughter and then the teacher brought the class back to order. I don’t recall anything the teacher might have said. After that, we left the classroom and many of us then waited for the school buses to come to bring us home.

    As I remember, that Friday as an edgy and tearful day. I cried along with many of my classmates. John Kennedy was our president. I liked him and his wife and children. My Republican parents had, of course, voted for Richard Nixon, but I never heard my parents criticize President Kennedy during his term of office.

  12. Scott-- You make me wonder if you ever got to show the film, or did that day's events just cast aside the continuity of the time. I remember those old school film projectors.

    am-- So interesting that a boy in your class got the import of the moment so quickly. I was so caught up in the emotional pain of it, the political consequences never crossed my mind.

    On the Monday of the funeral my mom had to go to work, and she took my younger sister and me to our grandmother's house. Our brothers stayed home. My mom didn't want her mother to be alone on the day President Kennedy was buried. We watched the funeral in her apartment and cried.

  13. 3rd grader here-I remember the year before when all the teachers acted "strangely" and it turned out the cause was the Cuban missle crisis. This time they all were whispering again, hugging, some in tears but wouldn't tell us anything and when I walked to the babysitter's after we were dismissed I heard Walter Cronkite announcing that JFK had died. I understood a lot of the Camelot feel of things then, and felt optimism die that day. Later it almost rekindled and was snuffed again in '68...such dark days!


  14. In Canada we were all sent home from school. At first our school had no news of the events and I was the only one who went home for lunch so I had to run back to school and tell the teachers who refused to
    believe me that this happened.
    I remember this blog from years ago, I started the same time you did. cheers nora

  15. alan-- Yes, I remember the way the teachers responded to the Cuban Missile crisis as well. The 60s were truly the most turbulent years.

    Nora-- I really like knowing how the news was as shocking and horrible in Canada. So interesting that you were also sent home from school. Such a sad, dark day on the planet.
    I am glad we have connected after all these years of blogging.