At sometime in our life, we don’t always know exactly when, the age of innocence seems to leave our young lives, and we are thrust into adulthood, in a manner few will know or understand. I have NEVER related this story to anyone. It is known only by my sister, our long past cat, and me.
It was a fall day in San Diego, California. A cool day. A nice day for a sweater. The air was cool and clean, and hardly a cloud passed by. It was 11:15 am pacific time, on that fateful Friday morning, November 22, 1963.
I was preparing to do my job as a crossing guard that day. I was in the 6th grade, and all of 11 years old. As I took my post that day, I was unaware of the tragedy unfolding in Dallas, Texas, a few thousand miles away. My attention was focused on making sure the little ones crossed the street safely that day.
I don’t remember when exactly, but I’d say about 15-20 minutes into my shift, a lone car pulled up to the side, near where I was working. A lady emerged from the ancient station wagon….she was sobbing uncontrollably. I didn’t know someone could be so sad. Rarely in those days, did you see the display of such raw emotion. She spoke to me — in uncontrollable sobs at first — but she was later able to blurt out: “The President’s been shot!” “Oh lady don’t even say such things!” But I could tell by the blank stare in her face, something awful had happened.
She crossed the street, and went into the administration building of the Elementary School I attended in California. I was left wondering about this lady and her mutterings. Could the President really be shot?
As my shift ended, we prepared to go back to class. A general announcement had been made, “President Kennedy had died in Dallas, Texas, at approximately 11 am, pacific time.” I could not believe such a thing! It seems to incredible, it was unbelievable. Your mind doesn’t want to accept something that horrible.
The rest of the school day seems a blur. I was there in body, but my mind continued to wander — What if….what if all these horrible things they are saying are true? Was my sister safe? She went to the same school as me, but she was in the 2nd grade.
My sister Cyndi and I bolted out of school that day, and raced home. We were greeted by our gray and white cat when we arrived home that day. She was a beautiful Persian Angora with long coat. I looked over my shoulder, and there it was: the portrait picture shot of JFK my Mom had hanging in the kitchen. It was the only President we ever had a picture of, in our home.
We only lived about a 5-10 walk from the school. While we were fortunate enough to have a Television in those days (Black and White), Cyndi, I, and the cat tuned into the radio for news. As we stood there, in our garage and listened to that grand old National Shortwave radio, we tuned it to XTRA News, it all seems surreal. Somewhere words like “assassin” and “assassination” find there way into your vocabulary.
We remember hearing on the radio, the swearing in of Lyndon Johnson as President. We knew life would continue, but how?
America would mourn the loss of it’s beloved President that weekend. Names like Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby would be etched into the minds of American’s everywhere.
And somewhere, during this grand adventure, young kids like myself and my sister would grow up and face the uncertainty of yet more unspeakable words like Nuclear Bombs and Shelters.
America lost its innocence that day — and we all grew up facing a decidedly different future.
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