For those of us who were alive at the time, it just doesn’t seem possible that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 58 years ago today. If you were at least six or seven years old on that day, it’s probably a day you’ll never forget.
It was one of those life experiences like September 11, 2001. I’ll always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news of that attack. My parents’ generation always remembered where they were and what they were doing when the news came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed on December 7, 1941.
I was in the fifth grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. It was a normal day at school. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving, so I’m sure I was counting the days until that holiday because it would mean a four-day weekend. I was a good student, but it’s no secret that I didn’t like school.
Shortly after one o’clock that Wednesday afternoon, the principal came to the door and motioned for my teacher, Miss Judy Ford. The school building was built in the mid-1920s and there was no intercom. There was no way for a general announcement to be made to all the classes, so the principal went from room-to-room to tell each teacher that President Kennedy had been shot and skilled and school would be dismissed a few minutes later.
At the time, I thought Miss Ford was old. We all did. She broke her foot playing basketball that year, and we all were aghast! She was 24 years old. What was she doing playing basketball?
Now, when I think back on that day, I wonder what had prepared that young, second- or third-year teacher to come back into the classroom and tell a bunch of 10-year-olds that the president of the United States had been killed. Nothing like this had happened in our lifetime. Nothing like this had happened in her lifetime.
As I recall, silent tears ran down her cheeks and she calmly told us the bare facts. We got our personal things together, and in a few minutes the bell rang signaling that school was dismissed. I rode the school bus home.
As I recall, some students seemed happy. They were probably just happy to get to go home early, but some of the children were possibly happy because they’d heard their parents said unsupportive things about the president. I think most of us were confused. We didn’t understand the gravity of what had happened, and we weren’t sure how we were supposed to react. Having seen my teacher in tears, though, had indicated to me that this was pretty serious.
My mother had the TV on when I got home from school. Our family watched the coverage that evening. Since Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was from Texas, he and his wife had accompanied the President and First Lady to Dallas. As Jacqueline Kennedy stoically stood by, Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One.
Even on our black and white TV we could tell that Mrs. Kennedy’s suit (described as being pink) was stained with her husband’s blood. We watched TV the following days as Walter Cronkite kept us informed, but I still didn’t grasp what had happened.
Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder. Then, on Sunday afternoon, Jack Ruby shot Oswald at close range and killed him. It was a bizarre sequence of events that was witnessed live on black and white TV.
President Kennedy’s funeral procession was like nothing I’d seen before. His coffin was carried in a wagon pulled by horses. His young wife and children even younger than I stood as it passed and little “John-John” saluted. He was far too young to understand what had happened.
Somehow, it was through the black-and-white TV coverage of President Kennedy’s inauguration and funeral that impressed on my mind the importance, sacredness, and fragility of our government. I still remember seeing out-going President Dwight Eisenhower and in-coming President Kennedy dressed in their top hats for JFK’s inauguration in 1961 and the solemn pageantry of his funeral in 1963.
Since my last blog post
I’ve had a productive writing week. I’ve concentrated on deep point-of-view in my novel manuscript. I did some historical research about legal procedures in South Carolina in 1769, and I revisited the location in which most of my novel is set in Lancaster County, South Carolina.
I needed to get a feel for the common trees and their state of autumn color in mid-November. Even though the setting is only an hour from where I live, I found a couple of interesting differences between my location and the area around Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. Four books I had been on the waitlist for at the public library all came in this week. I’d rather spend my time writing this week, but I must make time for some reading.
Thursday is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. I wish my American readers a nice holiday. It’s a good time to stop and count our blessings.
I have everything I need. I hope you do, too.