Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering Where I Was, How I Felt, and Why

They say days like today, you always remember where you were when you got the news. I was in my classroom, it was lunchtime, and a fellow student rushed in, out of breath, and announced, "Kennedy's just been shot." I was too young, I suppose, to understand what that would mean, though I recall going through the rest of the afternoon with a feeling of tenuousness in my stomach and I couldn't wait to get home. 

Two years earlier, during the presidential campaign, an older teacher admonished our class that if JFK was elected, "we'll be under the Pope." Obviously, that never materialized but it reflects the mindset of some at the time. Change was difficult for them to envision and embrace, not unlike it seems now. All I knew was, my parents voted Democratic, they liked Kennedy's youth and energy, and neither cared whether he was Catholic, Baptist, or Jewish. He served in the military as had my father and we watched PT-109 (1963) with pride. 

That night, though, we watched the news all evening long. The information was mixed and we weren't certain from one minute to the next whether he'd survived or not. All I really remember was midnight and the screen flashing the American flag. The national anthem played, my mother wept, and so did I. Dad, as always, was the pillar we leaned on, but I vaguely remember him wiping his eyes as he led me down the hall to bed.

Days later, I stayed home from school and we watched the funeral. Everything and everyone moved so very slowly, to me it seemed endless. I had met death twice by then, my dog and pony both having passed away two and three years earlier. But I'd never encountered it in human form and seeing John Jr. and his sister, I was so glad it wasn't my father we were laying to rest.

In November 2000, it would be, replete with military honor guard, the firing of rifles, and a bugler playing "Taps." I wasn't thinking of John Jr. and Caroline then, nor was I thinking of their father. Not until later, when Barack Obama was running for president and I felt the same optimism and hope my parents talked about in 1963. Not until a snowy day in Portland when I met John's brother, Ted, campaigning for the president. And not until today, when I remembered where I was and how I felt and why.

(Creative Commons image by the smuggler via Flickr)
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