Wednesday, November 22, 2006

JFK 43 years later

Where were you?

I was in second grade. Sister Willia was called out of the classroom, and came back in very serious. She was a young and bubbly sister but we'd never seen her act like this before. We had a TV in our classroom (very unusual) and she said something like "children, something very serious has happened and we will watch TV and see what is happening."

TV in the middle of the school day? Without its being one of the classes from school going to Bozo's Circus? We always got to watch a few minutes of that, to see them march past the camera and wave.

I don't remember everything but we watched TV, which was full of confused newsmen and whirling blurred camera shots, and we got the message: the President had been KILLED. Sister was crying (we didn't know Sisters cried OR went to the bathroom or had legs, even, at that age, and in those beautiful habits). A girl in my class, Lorena, who cried for everything, cried right on cue. I didn't: I was too stunned. We were herded over to the church, prayed (I can't remember what) and were sent home early. That dates me: they could be sure that our mothers were home, or for the few whose mothers worked, they could go to a neighbor or with one of us.

The weekend was very sad. The local "downtown" stores had their window curtains drawn open only wide enough to show a portrait of the President with a spotlight (where did they get all those portraits in a hurry?). TV was nothing but news. Nothing like this had ever happened before.

The next thing I remember is the funeral. We didn't have school, and I was sitting in my father's big chair with my feet off the floor, watching TV and my mother was vacuuming around the chair and me and crying. It was as bad as when my grandfather died.

We had a memorial Mass for the school the next day and they had a casket with an American flag draped over it. Sister explained over and over that the President wasn't really in there, but it was a "catafalque" (never underestimate the power of even 7-year-olds to understand new concepts). We prayed for him and secretly prayed that everything would go back to normal.

I wrote "President Kennedy assinated President assinated" over and over in the margins of a joke book I had. I found it years later and now I wish I'd kept it.

Since then, we've had Martin, and Bobby, and Oklahoma City, and Waco, and 9/11. You get "better" at fielding the shock and unsettlement of your soul, unfortunately.


Tom McMahon said...

I was in 4th grade in a public school in suburban St. Louis. We heard the news as we were going back to class after an assembly about Good Posture. I watched Oswald get shot live on TV. I thought it was fortunate we only had two days of school the next week because of Thanksgiving. Everybody kept being rather sad until The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. The little bits and pieces you remember . . .

Therese Z said...

It's like a mosaic. I have no contemporary memory about Oswald and I don't remember connecting Thanksgiving with timing of the whole affair. It was awful and it was over, in my memory.

And "Good Posture!" That's a funny extra!

Justin said...

I was a gleam in my Daddy's eye, and the sparkle in my Mother's hair. They were both in their early teens.




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