Friday, November 22, 2013

The Lunch Ladies and JFK

Wearing my red shoes and watching TV with my big sister
For some reason, I had been allowed out of class. I was walking across the cafeteria/gym in our little elementary school, the resined wood shining in the fluorescent light, when I heard the sound of crying. I looked into the kitchen and saw the lunch ladies, clustered around one another, sobbing. Midway across the gym floor, I came to a dead halt. What's wrong? I asked. 

The President has been shot, they said in unison, choking on the words. He died, one of them added, and they leaned on one another. I stood for a moment and watched them, their hair nets wrapped around their buns, the plastic cat's eye glasses. The white aprons.

I remember feeling a sense of unreality. I had never seen adults I didn't know express such strong emotion - especially in public. I had been given important information, I realized. Perhaps my teacher doesn't  know. 

I hurried down the long hallway, the waxy linoleum slippery under my feet. Desks were shoved up against walls that were decorated with brown and orange construction paper turkeys and Santas with cotton ball beards. 

At the end of the hall was my classroom. I walked through the door and saw my teacher writing on the blackboard at the front of the room. Her voice was normal. I watched the backs of my first grade classmates, listening attentively to what she was saying. My teacher looked at me and I realized she didn't know the horrible thing that had happened. All of a sudden everything stopped.  It was up to me to deliver the news.  The words came out, the importance, the effect of what I had to say heavy in my mouth. 

President Kennedy is dead. 

I don't really remember anything else that day until it was time to go home. I got off the orange bus and walked down our driveway. Mom opened the front door and I looked at her; her red lipstick against her olive skin, her cobalt eyes that matched her hair. The way she kissed my head and asked me if I wanted a snack told me she didn't know. Once again, the feeling of unreality, the sense that I was being given a grown up task crept over me; I had to tell her too. This was an adult's job, I thought. Not mine. As soon as I told her I remember the shock, followed by her running to the sun porch where the stereo was. She snapped on the dial and turned up the volume. In the following hours the house was filled with the somber sounds of news anchors' voices and the black and white images on TV, that flickered on into the night. 


Many of you weren't born yet at the time of JFK's assassination, but do you remember how you learned about it? In school? Or at home?

And for those of you who were alive, do you remember where you were when you heard that JFK had died?


Thanks to my little sister, Amy, who suggested I tell this story. 

15 comments:

  1. Wow Amanda, that's a lot of responsibility for a small child.
    I was in high school and home sick that day when I heard it on the news. Those were the days of Walter Cronkite and news traveled slowly compared with today. Kennedy's assassination marked the beginning of major upheaval in the changing of our culture. Kennedy, MLK, Robert Kennedy, Vietnam, LSD, peace marches, Happenings...

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    1. Rubye, so great to hear from you! Thank you for sharing your memories of that fateful day. Were you living in northern California then? If so you must have had a front row seat to all these happenings as you say. An unforgettable time for sure.

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  2. I wasn't born yet, but this is a segment of our history that was a true turning point in our nation.

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    1. Some say it was a loss of innocence for our nation. Even though our country had been through two world wars, the Kennedy White House symbolized new hope and a new beginning. With JFK's assassination it seemed to many, in some ways, that hope was extinguished.

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  3. I was in grade school...I think 3rd grade. Kiki and Susan had sneaked out to the bathroom together, we were only supposed to go one at a time, and the rest of us knew and were jealous. The teacher was writing on the board. Suddenly the door flew open and both Kiki and Susan came in yelling that the president had been shot. Our teacher ran out of the room, found out the truth and came back crying. School was closed early that day and we walked home anticipating telling our mothers. My mom was waiting on the street with tears in her eye. We watched the TV for days and I remember Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, and even to my childs eyes, it looked odd and suspicious.

    I remember feeling so badly for the family, such shock they were in. Awful.

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    1. Oh my gosh Mim - I can't imagine what seeing the Ruby shooting on TV must have been like for a child.This was a traumatizing time for the entire country if not world, but as an article my daughter sent me yesterday, we're only just realizing how traumatizing it must have been for the children of the time. BTW awesome memory regarding your childhood classmates' names Kiki and Susan :))

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  4. It's not history of my country but surely it's a part of the world history
    Just think-still so many mysteries around it!

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    1. True that Ola, and the mysteries endure...

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  5. Amanda, you described the time capsule so well of that horrific day! Fateful for you, to have such tragic news to announce! I remember the nuns in their habits converging like origami as they shared the news and prepared the announcement. Everyone was crying. At home, our boxy black and white TV was on constantly from the initial news, the shooting of Oswald, through to the funeral. Thanksgiving was never so somber and the entire nation was in shock. It seemed the end of an age of innocence.

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    1. Nuns in their habits converging like origami - wow - an incredible visual you paint, Renee. I don't remember, but Thanksgiving that year must have been a very somber time.

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  6. Little sister in the middle ~ I was in 7th grade attending Junior High in the old Excelsior High School building. It was the class right after lunch as brother Zonny mentioned, when Mr. Cunningham came barging into the Choir Room taught by Miss Tammen. He announced that Kennedy had been shot and was dead. We thought he maybe was kidding, since he was a wild and crazy art teacher (beloved) but we all stood there on our risers in our soprano, alto and bass formation without hardly speaking or moving, in mild shock.

    We got let out for an early dismissal. I don't remember what Mom said or did, but we watched our black and white TV for the rest of the next few days. I too remember seeing Jack Ruby shoot Oswald live, and it still sticks in my memory as the power of "live" news. And Walter Cronkite announcing that the president is dead in his newsy voice, only to take off his glasses and have a silent sob.

    Little John John was born on the same birthday as our little sister sister. So this time of birthdays (mine too) holds lots of complicated emotions. Murder on TV was a new thing and our innocence was shattered.

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    1. Sistah - You remember all your teachers' names - incredible. In my mind's eye I can see you standing on the riser in your choir robe with your friends, stiff with shock. I never knew that both you and Zonny saw Ruby shoot Oswald on live TV. That in itself is traumatizing - how many children - not to mention adults - saw that that day and carry it with them? Yes, this anniversary comes at time of your's and Amy's birthdays and Thanksgiving. All those celebrations were muted that year, and this year must bring back all those memories in full.

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  7. This post brings back such memories. I was at school, I think in 5th grade, the news was broadcast over the school loudspeaker so that each class could listen. We were all let out early. I can remember how surreal it was. I too saw the Ruby shooting live on tv. Did you know that Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis also died on that day? I did not know that at the time of course, only later did this strange fact become known to me. x

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  8. I wasn't born yet when it happened and I am not sure where or when I heard. What struck me about this post is the difference between the speed at which news travels today versus 50 years ago.

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  9. It is one of those things that I feel like I have always known, so I have no idea how I found out about it. My mother on the other hand was 18 and had only moved to the US four days before it happened, I cannot imagine how scared she must have been by it all.

    P.S. Love your snazzy little red shoes! :)

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