Friday, November 22, 2013


It’s a bit of irony that some of us seem to have difficulty remembering what we ate for breakfast and yet there are monumental events that we recollect with total clarity – even if it was 50 years ago.
I remember the exact moment I learned that President John F. Kennedy was dead, killed by an assassin’s bullet in Texas.
I was walking home from school along the Bronx streets where I lived. I was nine years old and in fifth grade. The faculty at my grade school never treated us like adults and apparently believed that any “difficult words” needed to come from our parents so even though it was obvious that some of the teachers were upset, the students weren't told anything.
I noticed small clusters of people talking in whispers, some crying, during my three block walk and I had no idea why. In front of a building just a few doors from where I lived I saw the woman whose children my sister babysat; she was very upset.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She blurted out, “The president is dead. He was shot.” And she cried.
In my sheltered child’s mind I couldn't comprehend the magnitude of her statement. My first thoughts were, I’m embarrassed to admit, about my school class president and I had just seen him.
“No he’s not.” I was terribly confused as I answered her.
She yelled at me out of upset. “President Kennedy is dead!”
I stood there in shock as she ran away from me after sighting her children.
I don’t know how many thoughts ran through my mind as I ran the rest of the way home and up three flights of stairs. How could President Kennedy be dead? He was our American President, he had people protecting him. He couldn't die, who would take care of our country? What was going to happen now?
My mom was waiting in the doorway as I reached the landing. She saw my face and knew that I had heard the news and she held me and told me what had transpired in Dallas. I didn't want to believe it but she told me that it was true. And I cried.
I knew my sister was going to be upset when she got home from school, I knew that she would know. In high school the teachers tell you these things. And while I sat and waited for my sister so that we could console each other, and while I watched the news reports on the black and white TV in the living room, I just remembered…
I remembered a day a few years earlier when my sister told me that our next American President was campaigning a few blocks away. She had volunteered to hand out signs and she took me with her to see that great man in person. And we both shook his hand and I remember him being so nice when he asked my name.
The world was supposed to be a safe place. I grew up believing that my dad could fix anything that broke and my mom could make anyone feel better. That day the world changed. 
Yes, I had heard folks talk of important events that had taken place before… I had heard about WW2, the concentration camps, Pearl Harbor, the Depression and other frightening calamities. My parents even told me how they got married the day that FDR died.
To a young child it was just words. Now the nation was in mourning, it was something that I saw and I heard for myself.
November 22, 1963 was the end of innocence.

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