I might as well put my “where was I” two cents in

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

It was nothing special, actually. I was in 8th grade Math class, and another teacher knocked at our classroom door, asking to speak to our teacher, Hubert James (and yes, I remember most of my teachers’ FIRST names). He went out in the hall, then came back clearly distraught. He could only say that President Kennedy had been shot in the head. He said little else, and there was no discussion of the matter. We merely finished whatever exercise we were working on until the bell rang some 10 minutes later, then we went to lunch.

In the middle of lunch, Steve Barker, my history teacher, took a microphone to announce, very slowly, “It has been confirmed that President John Kennedy is dead!” I had never heard a lunchroom get so silent so quickly. No one broke down in tears, but I’d see a lot of that later in the day.

I had just turned 13, and didn’t know or care much about politics at the time. My parents were still about four years away from re-registering as Democrats, even voting for Barry Goldwater for president in ’64, but we were living in Arizona, his home state, at the time. They were not fans of the Kennedys, and the one my mom particularly hated was Jackie, with that faux-Marilyn Monroe voice. This is not to say they weren’t as deeply affected by the news as most other US citizens.

Like myself, most of the students seemed to take the news lightly, plus we still had three classes to go following lunch break. Our English teacher, Rosemary Blackhurst, chose to not talk about it, but merely wrote on the blackboard, “The Day President Kennedy Died,” very odd reaction I thought at the time, and still do. Shouldn’t we WANT to talk about it? Should we even be in class? What importance did any of the lessons have at this juncture? In my science class, Joe McLoughlin carried on as normal, making only a brief reference at the top of the class. My reading teacher Jeanette Groves, a total heartless bitch, if I can say so in retrospect, chose to lecture those who had transistor radios, reminding us that they are not allowed in classrooms, but under these circumstances, she wouldn’t send anyone to the principal’s office today. How incredibly big of her.

That evening, for some reason my brother was off with friends while my dad was in New York visiting his sister and mother. (Coincidentally, he was also on the East Coast when Robert Kennedy was slain in 1968.) So my mom and I watched TV news coverage for most of the night, with most of it seemingly speculation and/or re-hashings of that which had already happened. There were many interviews with people on the street, and I remember thinking at the time, “What if they asked someone, and the person professed to be happy with the news?” You couldn’t cut to commercial in that situation! No one did, and no one swore, either, probably a bigger concern given the high emotion of the day.

More crazy was the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and his assassination a mere two days later. For the first time, people witnessed a murder on live television. I remember being appalled even then that when people were asked their opinion of what had just happened, some were suggesting that Jack Ruby, Oswald’s assassin, should be designated a national hero. Idiots! Even 50 years later, there still appears to be little certainty that Oswald was the (only) one, made even more muddled by the fact that most of the people who knew anything at the time were dead within 3 years, Jack Ruby included. I always recall Bill Hicks line about taking the Dallas assassination tour: “And we went to the Texas School Book Depository, and just like in 1963, Oswald wasn’t there!”

There have been no presidential assassinations since, though Robert Kennedy was a front-runner for the office when he was killed by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles. Martin Luther King was slain two months earlier. As for presidents, there were two thwarted attempts on Gerald Ford within weeks of each other in 1975, and Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981, only three months after taking office, but survived and served two full terms. That there’s only been four presidents killed while in office (In contrast, 26 popes, but surprisingly only ONE British Prime Minister, have been victims), and that we’ve gone 50 years without such a tragedy, both facts can be rather astonishing, considering the plethora of gun nuts out there and the hate that every president in office tends to inspire. Obama gets probably more death threats every day than any other in history, but still manages to soldier on. Hopefully, common sense will prevail over his remaining three years.

Also passing away that ignominious day 50 years ago: Aldous Huxley, author of “Brave New World.” Talk about getting upstaged!

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