Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Day The President Was Shot

Little Janet was in the fifth grade at Ray Bjork Elementary School in Helena, Montana the day of the "Assassination". I clearly remember getting into a political argument on the playground with a boy named Rex three years before. I was in the second grade but I knew even then I was a Democrat. Rex liked Nixon but I liked Kennedy and we got into a shouting match right there by the merry-go-round. I wonder what ever happened to that boy--I should google him. He is probably being indicted for some sort of GOP shenanigans.

But then that terrible terrible day came three years later. My parents loved the Kennedys--they were the same generation--and Kennedy was so smart, handsome and exciting. His wife was magazine gorgeous and his children were darling. After WW2 and the Korean War, both of which my Dad had fought in, we were ready for a charismatic leader who would protect us from the rise of communism, establish the United States as a world power, and lay the foundation for a new era of peace. There was just so much hope. Eisenhower had been the president for all 8 years of my life and there wasn't anything wrong with him but I remember thinking that he was totally boring and banal. So along comes John F. Kennedy!

On a cold November day I walked home for lunch as usual but there was nothing usual about lunch that day. I walked in the back door off of the alley that ran between our house and the Victorians and saw my Mom at the ironing board in front of the TV with a terrible look on her face. I knew immediately that something awful had happened. She told me the President had been shot. "WHAT? Are you kidding?! No!! No!! No!! Please NO! Is he dead?"

"No, he is not dead but it's not good." A spark and glimmer of hope but I knew what guns could do to animals. My Mom was upset and I felt a profound devastation. The bottom of my little world had dropped out. How could something so horrible happen to someone so wonderful? Our President--my president elected in the first election I had any knowledge about. It didn't take much for me to cry--still doesn't.

I had to go back to school with a red nose and watery eyes. I wasn't the only one. The rest of the day and the week were devoted to this major historical event. In those days, it wasn't easy to have a TV in the classroom but we managed to get one. There were two or three channels but only channel 12 had very good reception. And we watched and we drew pictures and we colored them with crayons---me, a picture of the White House.

I have always said this was the moment that marked the beginning of my generation's discontent. The shock that this could happen made us question everything, and from this point, in a few short years, we faced the assassinations of two more great leaders and the Vietnam War. To top it all off we had the murders of college students by the National Guard at Kent State in 1970 and Watergate in 1972 and 1973. All of these horrific events were bookended between my 10th and 20th birthdays.

My small diary in those days did not have much room to write anything but obviously, I stayed up very late into the night on November 22, 1963. We evenually learned the beloved President was gone--tragically in an instant:

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"Dear Diary, SNOW 12:30 AM November 22, 1963
President John F. Kennedy shot in head and neck--lived half an hour, died, (sad); Lyndon Johnson president. Looking for man, think they found him.

Dear Diary, snow, age 10 3/4, November 23, 1963
Lee Oswald charged for president's death. Kennedy's casket on same stand as Lincoln's 100 years ago. Jackie K. sad in church staring at alter her and husband gave. Family by casket in East room of White House.

Mom and Dad hunting. Not home yet. Now home, nothing.

Kennedy took to Rotunda.

Dear Diary, snow melting, age 10 3/4, November 24, 1963
Lee Oswald shot and killed by Jack Rubenstein.

Jim and Daddy went hunting, nothing.

Dear Diary, November 28, 1963, Thursday
Went to church for Thanksgiving."

And our hopes for a new era of peace were dashed and nothing was ever the same again.