Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering the End of Camelot

A writing blog post didn't seem right for today.  Instead, I thought it would be more appropriate to take a look back in time.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  Those of us who witnessed this shocking and sad moment in time should pause and remember it.  Whether we listened on the radio or watched on TV, it's something we will never forget.

In the fall of 1963, I was in junior high, new to the small town where we'd moved a month before and the small school I attended.  The school building was only a few years old and had been built large enough for both junior high (7th & 8th grades) and high school (9th-12th grades) students and faculty.  We were doing our regular work in Mrs. Slater's 7th grade English class, when the loudspeaker suddenly came on.  There was no announcement, only the voice of a radio news reporter saying that the President had been shot.  I've never sat in a class that was so quiet.  If a pin had been dropped in that room, it would have been as loud as a large boulder.  I think that for a moment, none of us breathed.  Throughout the rest of the period, we listened in shock to the new reports.

Memories drifted through my mind.  JFK in his rocking chair.  Caroline and John-John playing in the Oval Office.  Jackie's beautiful smile and her stunningly perfect wardrobe.  It was hard not to like JFK.  His strong charisma made him one of the favorite Presidents of that time. Well, except for some in Dallas and other places.

After English class, the bell cut in, and we filed silently out of the room, then went to Mrs. Willis's World History class across the hall.  We found Mrs. Willis at her desk, crying.  Somehow, seeing her tears, we accepted the reality and let loose our own tears.  JFK was gone.

While most schools were closed on November 25, 1963, the day of JFK's funeral, we attended school.  The administration believed too many of us would use a day off from school to have fun, ignoring what was going on in the nation and world around us.  I have no doubt they were right.  We attended school that day, with TVs in the gym and most of the classrooms.  I remember sitting at one of the tables in Mrs. Adams' Home Ec room, watching the news.
The images of that day, along with the ones from three days earlier, were burned into my memory.  It was a quiet day.  A day of reflection.  A day of sadness.  Not only for us, but for people across the country.  We came together, most of us, as one, to say goodbye to a great man, our President.  Who can ever forget John-John's salute as his father's horse-drawn coffin passed by?  Or watching Jackie Kennedy kiss her husband's casket in the rotunda?  The lines of people who came to pay their respects on that cold, November day and more will forever be remembered.

The death of a President, the leader of our country, is a sad time, no matter what political stand a person had.  Because JFK was the second youngest President, Theodore Roosevelt the youngest, and his death was at the hands of an assassin, we will always remember November 22, 1963.

Fast forward nearly 44 years.  In the summer of 2007, I attended an RWA conference in Dallas.  One of the first things a person does after entering a hotel room is to take a look out the window, especially when on the 20th floor.  The view was great!  And then I saw some things I recognized.  Dealey Plaza.  The Texas School Book Depository.  Several days later, I made my way down to the plaza.  I wanted to visit the 6th Floor Museum, but time was too short.  I stood across the street from the building where Oswald fired the gun that (reportedly) killed JFK.  White Xs had been painted into the middle of Elm Street, where the motorcade had traveled that day.  With cars whizzing by on the busy street, I dashed out into it and took photos of the Xs.  I'm still wondering where I saved those pictures.

The year 1963 might seem long ago.  For some of us who experienced the 1960s, it was different.  We may be older, but our memories continue of a time when we believed our country was, for a short time, Camelot.

In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot. 
~ King Arthur (Richard Burton) in Camelot

RIP John Fitzgerald Kennedy 

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