Certain days will always reverberate through history and on November 22 at 12:29 Dallas time when the motorcade comes into sight nothing ever changes. It has become immutable no matter how much I want it to change that certain slant of light in the Zapruder film each time it's played...

    Click. The Presidential limousine glides though a Houston street making a sharp left turn onto Elm.
    Click. The President is smiling and waving.
    Click. Mrs. Kennedy looks at him with concern.
    Click. The president reaches for his throat and slumps toward her.
    Click. The Governor of Texas in the front seat falls forward.
    Click. Mrs. Kennedy rises and reaches across the back of the limousine.
    Click. She is pushed back into the car by a Secret Service agent.
    Click. The limousine disappears from view beneath an underpass heading for Parkland Hospital.

Attending an Episcopalian school in Marietta, Georgia during a Spanish bazaar, the principal announced that President Kennedy had been shot. Ready to dance in a long red silk. It's from Spain I whispered to best friend Sally. Narrow black lace trimmed the neckline and the bell sleeves, while wide black lace defined the two gathered tiers of a ruffled skirt. The princess bodice was lined and closed in back with a long red ribbon. The black lace mantilla trimmed with a red satin rose; fit under my hair with. Altogether a muy bonita senioretta.

School was immediately dismissed.

This is Daddy's boss and of course Dad is gone and the country is on high alert. It isn't uncommon to wake up in the morning and find he had left to places unknown, but I could pretty well guess where and why.

I sat on the church steps and cried until a neighbor picked up my sister and I. A few days later school was closed as we watched President Kennedy's funeral. It is still hard to watch Jon Jon salute his father's casket. A man named Lee Harvey Oswald had shot him from the Texas Book Depository. Feeling an odd connection to these events in a strange sort of way since at that time all the books used in public schools in the United States, as well as American ones overseas came from that building. I had always noticed, even looked for the words Property of the Texas Book Depository stamped inside the covers of all the books I studied from no matter where I lived. Some sort of security was ripped away that day.

Two weeks later the school burned down; the President dead and Dad gone, it was very frightening to a young girl in grade school. John F. Kennedy was assassinated November 22, 1963 for reasons that remain largely unexplained to this day.

That film runs fifteen seconds. And an eternity. Looking back, it seems as if it was a point where it all started to come apart it would take years decades to overcome. Nothing changes except those who watch, they watch a generation of Americans who would never be quite so young again. After that nothing was the same...

    Click. Vietnam.
    Click. LBJ announces he will not risk running again.
    Click. Robert Kennedy in a pool of blood after his victory speech in an LA hotel kitchen.
    Click. Another president resigns in disgrace.

Never again, I thought each time, would I take my country so lightly, my institutions for granted. But time passes, marriage, children; fortune smiled on me in this most blessed nation I found it easy to forget, become complacent... hubris is the child of forgetfulness...

    Click. Jetliners strike the World Trade Center again and again and as much as I would like to blot it from my memory I cannot and I am jerked to wakefulness, once again reminded how fragile this society is and understand that familiar feeling, that my way of life is not a machine that is run by itself but one that requires daily heroism.
    Click. The sentinels change but the uniforms that watch over us while we enjoy our freedoms do not.

Updated: November 23, 2001

I was in the hallway of my public school. It was during class time, and I don't know why I wasn't in class. Someone in the hall told me the president was dead.

Like sensei, I thought it was odd, because I have a prime minister. And why, or how, a Canadian schoolchild could have found out, in the middle of the day, I never found out.

sensei is also right about all the things that are not associated with Kennedy; he died before we really could connect them. And LBJ got the rap for them all.

The period in the early 60's, with Jackie, was the time of Camelot on the Potomac: as the youngest president with a beautiful wife, the economy doing great, and a country ready for new challenges. The news media then were lapdogs--and only showed the myth--not the watchdogs they were during Watergate, nor the attack dogs they have now become.

For many, the assassination of JFK is considered the beginning of the consciousness of the 60's. The end of which was the shooting of the 4 students at Kent State.

For people my age, the question invariably changes to "Where were you when the O.J. police chase happened?" Just as anyone who was conscious when Kennedy was shot can tell you exactly where they were, I have yet to meet anyone who didn't know where they were when O.J. jumped in that white Ford Bronco and began a low speed chase down the highway before surrendering outside his house in Brentwood. It by far surpasses the similar question "Where were you when the Challenger exploded?", because most people I know were in elementary school when that happened.

For the record, I was watching people play basketball behind my high school when O.J. was riding down the freeway. When we found out from some kids who were watching the interrupted Knicks game, we all raced home to be a part of history. How sad is that?

As for J.F.K., I don't even think it was fair to say I was an itch, or a thought, or a stain... since it happened 13 years before I was born.

I was stardust, but here are the words of a woman who is stardust now on the subject…

from the journal of Eleanor

on November 22.1963, while I dusted my living room, the radio broadcast to which I was listening suddenly halted, and a shaky voice reported the shocking, unbelievable news that President Kennedy was shot. The tragedy occurred while he was riding in a procession in Dallas. Governor Connelly of Texas was also injured. The sniper fired from a window of a tall building.

Shaken, I stopped dusting and concentrated on the broadcast. The car carrying the wounded men moved rapidly to a hospital. Not long after, another voice added to the trauma—“President Kennedy is in serious condition. The President is moribund". Soon after , the dreaded words were spoken, “The president is dead.”

An Associated Press Article written by Saul Pett in 1963 describes what followed:

"And the word went out that time and place
and cut the heart of a nation.
In streets and offices and homes and stores, in lunchrooms and showrooms, and school rooms and board rooms, on highways and prairies and beaches and mountain tops, in endless places crowded and sparse, near and far, white and black, Republicans and Democrats, management and labor, the word went out and cut the heart of a nation. There was a great slowing down and a great stopping, and the big bronze gong sounded and…the New York Stock Exchange stopped, just stopped.”

We were leaving the gym that afternoon, in our PE outfits. Goddammit, I hated PE. Even though, now, looking back on it, it was quite good for me. I watch what schools call PE now and just have to laugh at the lax standards to which we hold our kids. It's a national disgrace to have this many fatass kids slopping around eating Cheetos. Hmm. . . Oh, what? . . . What was the subject?

I don't mean to make light of this, but the response from the folks in the place where I was at the time of this event would not please you. And I wasn't one of them grinning and saying "the nigger-lover deserved it" and all that. But it has been hard for me, thinking about that phenomenon as time has etched its mark on my soul.

There have been a lot of mistakes made from all sides on this political war we’ve had for so many years. Right now, I watch Paul Begala paint a map of America where he says all Republicans come from the land where blacks are tied behind trucks and dragged to their deaths, and where gay men are tied to fence posts and left to die, and so on. I don't think there would have been one politician who would have called JFK a nigger-lover in public. So I wonder where the hate really starts, and where it can ever end?

As a matter of personal recollection, the live image of Jack Ruby killing Oswald in broad daylight has always stayed with me more than the destruction of the President. I saw this on live TV as it happened. Can you imagine the balls it took to do that, knowing that every camera in the country was focused on you? Can you imagine how evil to the core the folks were (are) who concocted that plan?

I guess we could ask Ruby about it all, eh? Oh, wait...

For so many people now, the answer to this is, as my grandma used to say, “Why, I wasn’t even a gleam in my daddy’s eye.”

But I remember, I remember.

I was in Bar La Querce, just down the street in Florence from the villa where a bunch of fellow students and I were doing our “year abroad”. It was evening for us. We were drinking wine—ah, to be 19 and able to order wine—and arguing about the virtues of American vs. Italian “rock and roll” with a group of Italian students. And British—the Beatles were first hitting; they hadn’t really made it to consciousness in America yet, but everyone knew them in Italy.

A man rushed in, shouting “Kennedy has been shot”-- in Italian of course. We’d only been in Italy a couple of months; our spoken Italian was rusty. But we were reading a novel in Italian class about soldiers in WWII, and we knew the word “shot.” We simply didn’t believe it. I remember a friend trying to look up the word in his dictionary, there at the table, trying to find some other meaning.

The TV went on, and if only from the pictures, we knew. We stuttered in our flimsy Italian, trying to express in an unfamiliar language the unthinkable. At one point, I was trying to say: “He must only be wounded.” It came out, “He must just be castrated.” The Italians were gentle with me.

Later that night, someone took pot-shots at the Villa and we huddled inside with the shutters closed. We never knew why: most Italians loved Kennedy, the first Catholic president. His picture was often next to the Pope’s in Italian homes we visited.

We learned a lot of spoken Italian in the next few days. Italian television dubbed all the broadcasts from the US—this was long before satellite TV beamed the world live—and I watched Johnson take the oath of office in Italian.

Despite the pot-shots, the outpouring of sympathy from the Italians was amazing and full. There was a Requiem Mass in the Duomo, a huge cathedral full to bursting with sorrowing people of all nationalities. That Winter Break, I went with an Italian student group on a tour of Eastern Europe and Russia. When anyone found out some of us were Americans, people gathered around and offered condolences. There may have been an Iron Curtain, a Cold War, politically, but on the human level we were welcomed, respected as bereaved, consoled, connected.

The day Kennedy was shot, I was in first grade at Fairlawn School, a rather toney elementary school in Akron, Ohio. Nothing was said. There were no announcements.

The teachers sort of gathered purse-lipped in the hallway, speaking in hushed tones. They didn't know what to do. We sat at our desks, wondering what was happening. Then we were sent out for recess. A long recess, which didn't offend anybody. It was warm, sunny, and kickball was good. Finally the teachers called us back in and told us to gather our stuff. We were being sent home.

I was so happy! I figured Mom would be suprised to see me home so soon, but she wasn't. The biggest surprise was that Dad was home. That was unsusual. Dad didn't get home from work until well after my brother, my friend Kim and I had massacred a couple hundred imaginary Nazi soldiers. But there he was sitting there with solemnity he reserved for those times when I was about to get paddled. "Boys," he began, "the President is dead."

Now I had just turned seven, but I knew who the president was. He was the leader of our country. He had a young wife, a bunch of kids and had recently buried an infant son. Everyone was really sad when that happened, it seemed like we'd lost someone too. And now he was gone. I knew death was final, but I hadn't lost anyone yet. No one I remembered, at least.

TV sucked for the rest of the weekend. Nothing but news, spoken in hushed tones. For endless hours the cameras focussed on a flag-draped coffin in the White House, guarded by stern faced Marines. And my parents kept it on. Okay, the president was dead, but I was barely seven? Surely a presidential assasination isn't enough to pre-empt Woody Woodpecker? But it was.

The only break came one afternoon when a network got smart and played PT-109. That was cool. If the weather hadn't been decent I would have been driven nuts. Then came the funeral. The coffin was carried on a horse-drawn caisson. I watched as Jackie lit the eternal flame. A day after that, television improved.

That, in a nutshell, are my memories of President John F. Kennedy's assasination. I didn't understand until years later what it all had meant. It's hard to be somber when you're seven.

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