Friday, November 22, 2013

As though it was yesterday

November 22, 1963, South School Playground, New Canaan Connecticut:  We only had 20 minutes to eat lunch before the teachers would shoo us outside for recess. The younger grades ate first, first grade, followed by second grade, …. We were in sixth grade and ate last so it always annoyed us, me anyway, that we had to leave the warmth of the cafeteria after precisely 20 minutes on all but the coldest or wettest day. This was a chilly and gray November day. It was cold and windy enough so that no one wanted to play or be out on the playground. We just milled about and tried to keep warm until the 1:45 bell brought us back inside. It was the kind of day where bullies, out of boredom mostly, would pound their victims mercilessly and I spent most of my time avoiding them. Everyone knew who they were, both male and female.

It was about 1:15 when I saw her crying uncontrollably. Her father was a policeman and I had had a crush on her since first grade. My eyes followed her everywhere. My father had died in August of that year, 1963, so I immediately thought the worst had happened. I wanted to run up to her and put my arms around her but I was scared of her, I was scared of all girls then. Still I inched close enough to listen to her friends, who were now balling uncontrollably too. Someone had been shot, someone had died. "Dead," I heard them say and I thought the worst had happened, but she didn't run inside or run home. It wasn't her father. We just stood there, a growing circle of comrades, feeling an enormous weight coming over us, still not knowing what had happened or to who.

The gym teacher came out first, blowing her whistle and waving for us to come in quickly. Then, four or five somber faced teachers rounded up those that did not respond instantly to the whistles shrill. We knew the world was ending. No one said a word, no one had to, yet we still did not know what was happening. When we walked towards our classroom, teachers in the hall were crying. Men, who were men, our Principal, were crying. I felt the urge to cry … yet.

The black and white TV, the same one we had watched Alan Shepard and John Glen fly into space with, had been wheeled into the room and was blaring the static of the age. Something about Dallas, something about the President, something about the Vice President, something about a shooting. It was quite confusing. Had the President been shot? No, it couldn't be, shot at perhaps. Then Walter Cronkite came on. He looked at the clock on the wall and took off his glasses. I knew then what had happened, he didn't have to say, "The President is dead."

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