Friday, November 22, 2013. Another Fifty Year Anniversary.
50 years ago today it was also a Friday. I was in the second grade at St. Benedict’s in Seattle. I remember sitting in my desk when the intercom crackled to life and suddenly the voice of Mr. Adamson came on. I remember thinking it was strange that he, the one male teacher in the school, was speaking, not Sister Cecelia who was the principal of the school and always made such proclamations. “Attention please,” he said. “I have an announcement to make. President Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas, Texas.” I remember the gasps, the shock in the room. I remember kids asking what “that word” meant. I remember the view out the windows from the school’s second floor, how grey and dismal it looked. John Kennedy and his family were idolized by many, including me. I think it was because of his youth, his exuberance, his beautiful wife, Jacqueline, their young children. The fact that they were Catholic, and so were we. There were just these ties that bound.
We were dismissed early from school; everything stopped, was cancelled, including my Brownie troop meeting scheduled for after-school. I remember walking home in the damp, chilly, bleak November afternoon. I remember going in the house and seeing my mother sitting in front of the T. V., something she never did in the middle of the day: for the next four days, that black and white screen would be on all the time, a rarity in our house. I remember watching the funeral, the black and white procession down wide streets lined with people, the horses, the soldiers; the continual drumming sound stays with me even now. The young widow. Her young children. It was this sad tragedy of such immense proportions, that much was clear. For me though, it was a visceral connection to my dad’s death just 9 months earlier. And, being the same age as Caroline Kennedy, I remember thinking I should write her a letter to let her know that I knew how she felt.
I consumed books on the topic for years. Read all there was to read on that day in Dallas, the Kennedy family; I followed the lives of Caroline and John as they grew. Five years later, as the Vietnam War roiled on, Robert Kennedy was gunned down in L. A., just months after Martin Luther King had been in Memphis. The shootings vividly revived the feelings of 1963, the uncertainty. There was no stability in my country. The nation was devouring itself.
In December 1977 I visited Washington D. C. for the first time, a place I had always wanted to see. On a cold winter afternoon, we walked from the Washington Mall across the Memorial Bridge and climbed the hill to that eternal flame flickering on a snowy hillside. After paying respects in this almost mythical figure from childhood I remember looking west across the Potomac to the city that looked black and white in winter light and snowy outlines.
For the second time this year, it is hard to believe fifty years has gone by.