Tuesday, November 24, 2015

52 Years Ago This Week

I remember those days as one long grey fog.  I remember being aware, at the time, that I'd be remembering those moments forever.

I was walking up the stairs to 8th period math, distracted by the level of chatter in the stairwell. Something was afoot... no one was smiling... there was something about someone being shot... and it wasn't until we were seated and the bell had rung that the assistant principal's announcement came over the loud speaker above the blackboard:  Our President had been shot.

She told us to bow our heads and pray for him and our country.  I didn't know any Hebrew words to put to my thoughts, and I wasn't sure that G-d would be listening to my words if they came from my heart and not the prayer book, and then it was time to pretend to learn math.

We didn't get very far in the book that day; school was let out early.  I remember G'ma picking us up, my cousin and my neighbor and I somber but clearly delighted that school had been cancelled for the next day or two... until G'ma totally lost it and shouted at us with a new tone in her voice: "Great!  Maybe they should kill him again tomorrow!"

Grown-ups had never been that shaken before.  We shut our mouths and rode home in silence.

The next mornings were cloudy and cold and dreary.  There was nothing to watch on television except Walter Cronkite and the casket in the Rotunda of the Capitol and the lines of mourners and then the caissons and the little boy saluting and it was all so very sad and so very public and I didn't know what to make of it.

Our family wasn't big on showing emotion.  You dealt with your sorrows internally, unless you decided to lash out in anger.  Anger we understood.  Compassion was another story, entirely.  This week seemed to call for love and closeness and a drawing together, but my family wasn't big on public displays of affection, either.

Big hugs ended with a potch in tuches, a gentle smack on the rump, a reminder that getting comfortable might not be the smartest path to follow.  Or maybe it meant something else, or maybe it meant nothing at all.  I only know that relaxing into sorrow or delight was not something with which we had much practice.  And there we were, business and school closed down, our news sources filled with death and loss and Cold War worries, each of us in our own private silo, together but alone.

I don't think the sun came out until things returned to normal.  And here I am, 63 years old but still an 11 year old girl standing alone, out on the driveway, bouncing a ball and wondering how to think about a world which could make me feel so lost.

I was right.  I will be remembering those moments forever.


  1. Yup. Sitting in class; the teacher came in crying. We were all sent home. There was before and then there was after. I miss him and his family.


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