This week, the world remembers 50 years ago when President John F. Kennedy was gunned down just as he’d begun to catch his stride as our country’s leader.
It’s fascinating to hear and read so many individual stories from folks old enough to recall where they were and what they felt when they received that tragic news on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.
I don’t think I’ve ever told my kids about my experience, so this is a good opportunity to go on record.
At McComb Junior High School, it was lunchtime, and junior staffers for the high school newspaper – Tiger Rags – were out hawking our wares for a dime along the covered walkways between the three-year-old facility’s tan brick buildings.
An eighth grade friend of my sister dashed up and said, “President Kennedy’s been shot. He’s dead.”
I looked at her with a bit of amazement, not quite sure if she were kidding. What a terrible thing to say, I thought to myself.
Of course, thousands of grown-ups across the South hated John Kennedy. He was a Catholic, a liberal, an Ivy Leaguer, a rich boy.
It made me remember the uneducated disagreements from my early sixth-grade year when a boy and I regularly wrangled over whether the pope was going to run America, if Kennedy won the election that year.
This may have been the first time I ever gave politics a minute’s glance.
But flash-forward to 1963 and the shock that seeped across the junior high campus. Afternoon classes began, and I recall being in the girls’ gym, where it felt like twilight, girls sitting with their backs against the walls, some weeping.
In another class by mid-afternoon, I could see out the north-facing windows that a cold front was headed our way. The dark, heavy clouds were overrunning the warm air so common for a late fall day.
And then, the entire sky went black. It makes me think of those movies about Jesus and the crucifixion, where the scene grows progressively darker until he dies, the sky goes pitch dark and lightning shocks the silence like a scream.
We went home that afternoon in a bewildered mood. None of us, yea, not even our parents or grandparents, had experienced anything like the assassination of a U.S. president.
Oh, our elders told us about FDR’s death, but that wasn’t the same thing. He was an old, sick man. John F. Kennedy was vibrant, handsome.
That night, MHS was to play its old rival, Brookhaven, in the football contest of the year. It always was, no matter whose season was better.
The game was postponed until Monday, I think, and the half-time band show was a solemn, respectful program with muffled drums.
Across the weekend, we’d watched TV and marveled at the history before us.
The throngs of weeping Americans, the little son who saluted his father’s cortege, the beautiful widow whose whole world was shattered.
We were shattered, too, in our innocence that such a dreadful thing could happen in America.
Patsy R. Brumfield writes a Thursday column. Contact her at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.