Every U.S. citizen alive at the time probably remembers where they were when they heard the news that President Kennedy was dead, assassinated. Sometimes whole populations can share a common emotion, although this one wasn’t necessarily grief, but more like disbelief. I’m sure not everyone grieved, even throughout the days of public mourning; after all Kennedy was a very political man and had those in Washington DC and around the country who disagreed with his policies. Still, like on 9/11, the television played constant images, with a continuous stream of speakers in endless dialogue. I wasn’t at home to see Walter Cronkite’s announcement, but at school. I’d see that clip played again later.
I was in Mrs. Goodrich’s ninth-grade English class. Although I can’t remember the lesson, I remember Mrs. Goodrich sitting at a student’s desk at the front of the room, the desk turned so she faced the Class. Principle Walker’s voice came from the intercom interrupting the class. He announced that Kennedy had been shot. Mrs. Goodrich said nothing, and looking back, it seems to me now to have looked stunned, probably much like her class looking back at her, appeared. A few minutes later the national anthem played through the speaker, after which Mr. Walker said the President had died and school was dismissed. Gloria, one of the Catholic girls in our class, shrieked and folded forward over her desk crying desolately over the loss of our first Catholic President. No one moved to console her.
Everyone quietly picked up their books and left the classroom. I emphasize quiet. That is my overwhelming memory. Even in the school’s corridors, passageways usually so noisy with talk, laughter, shouting, running steps, banging lockers, and ebullient emotion were eerily quiet. No one talked, not even the upper-classmen. I saw seniors with their faces uncertain or worried-looking, filled with disbelief. Sounds like the shush and clomp of sliding footsteps, general movement, and the soft metal clang of locker doors carefully opened and closed must have been present, but I didn’t hear them. It was a very strange moment. I knew how the government worked but was not familiar or interested in the actual events. Grownups took care of all of that.
I walked home where the television already played, my Mom watching. I saw the photos of Vice-President Johnson taking the oath of office, and the funeral procession on the 25th, including John-John’s salute to his father. What is strange is I can’t remember if I had school the following week or not.
Time passed so slowly and yet so fast. I remember my grandmother telling me that when President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, her family didn’t learn of the event until a month later. She would have been ten at the time. Times had certainly changed. Like this year, Thanksgiving was on the 28th and went on much as our usual family event. Life went on. The world must have changed, but what I think I learned was no one person, however important, was the lynchpin to the future.