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. 

Popular Posts