Where were you when our President died?

Eternal Flame, JFK, Arlington. Stock Photos

“The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” John Kennedy

When Kennedy was inaugurated I was only 6 years old. The excitement I saw in my parents and their families was palpable. I was in 4th grade when Jack Kennedy was murdered. It was the first death that struck home with me. My teacher and my classmates were in tears that day. I sadly walked home from school. We were sent home early. The next few days we watched all of the memorials, news coverage, and more. The world seemed so very off center; so many people, sad and crying.

In a very real way, the country never was the same. But we were regularly reminded of Kennedy,  due to the existence of the Peace Corps, the Space Program, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and so much more. My generation did dream of lighting the world.

But back then I was just a little girl. I remember crying, and being very sad. President Kennedy’s assassination began a year of loss for me. The following spring (1964) , one of my little neighborhood girlfriends died during a tonsillectomy. She was the kind of girlfriend you just never forget. Her little brother had died the same day as Kennedy’s little baby Patrick died; and her little brother’s name was Patrick, too. Then, in November of 1964, my maternal grandma died ~ just a few days after Thanksgiving. It all left me reeling, at least as much as one reels when one is 9 or 10 years old.

I felt a bit in shock, a stunned little girl. I just kept wishing I could magically turn back time, rush to Dallas, and warn the President, and prevent tragedy. I think I thought that if I could stop that one, I could stop all of them.

So this week, when they talk about how the country lost it’s joy and wonder when JFK was killed, I know what they mean. As I have grown up and moved on, I feel the loss more deeply than I could have when I was only 9. Where was I when Kennedy was killed? I was a sweet little child. I was in school. I was supposed to go to my Girl Scout troop meeting after school. It was my turn to bring the bucket of treats. Mama had made brownies, one for each girl and the leaders. I sadly walked home with the bucket of brownies, crying and eating a brownie or two. I didn’t see my friends for days, except my little neighborhood girlfriend. We watched TV and especially watched little Caroline, John-John and Jackie. I don’t remember dinner happening that night. Maybe I ate more brownies.

In a small way, when JFK was killed, I was a little girl believing the world was perfect; and then, I wasn’t. I went skipping to school that morning, wearing my Girl Scout uniform, carrying my book bag and treat bucket. I made my way home crying and in shock. The pretty family in the White House was shattered. He had a little girl, and I was a little girl. Her daddy was dead, and it felt so very personal.

This week, as I watch the news clips, I have a deep hunger for the way we were. I long for what was lost. I am mindful of the cynicism and fear that gradually followed, after oh so many subsequent losses and setbacks in the following 50 years. It is hard to believe it has been that long. Yes there have been triumphs, yes there has been progress. We shall continue to pass torches, and light the world.

But today, I miss the kind of skipping I did that morning.

About Kate Kresse

I love to write, I love to talk, I love to uplift people when I can. I am a woman in love with life. I am a wife, mom, tutor, writer, and I am a perennial optimist. (OK not every single minute but you get the point! :-)
This entry was posted in Family Life and Issues, politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Where were you when our President died?

  1. 7th grade band class. The Principal announced the sad news over the Intercom, and declared one minute of silent prayer. In a public school. Right there, in front of God and everybody, we all bowed our heads and closed our eyes. Probably most of us did not know how to pray, but we were free to do so.
    How much we have lost since those days…

  2. gwen07 says:

    I was in 7th grade and the whole school was called to the library and we watched Walter Cronkite clearly breakdown at the news of JFK’s death. I walked the long walk home not sure what to think as an African-American girl living in Compton, California. Was it because of my ethnic heritage that I did not dare put myself in the place of JFK’s daughter? Interesting now to look at the emotions of a 12-year-old me. I do remember thinking that they were rich and beautiful and in spite of this tragedy they were still lucky. All of this was swirling around me even as I watched Jack Ruby being shot – a surreal moment so much like the moment of watching a T.V. in the faculty room just as the 2nd plane strikes the second world trade center building – Yes it was an innocent time – a time in which honor and decency could still be worn – like a desired coat. Today, what with news – good, bad, and news manufactured as such, that coat has been tossed upon the grave of decency – tattered and frayed. I went on in this fog of sorts even as MLK was killed in April of ’68, and then RFK the following June of ’68 – killed two months later. I was stunned – It was as if the entire weight of the huge and hideous word assassination – had finally crushed my heart. I remember preparing for majorette tryouts and searching frantically for my lost baton – I crumbled in the front hallway closet and cried (for what seems like hours) all the tears that had been pent-up over the previous five years. It was after this I began writing stronger sentiments, eschewing the fluffy poetry I had been prone to write. I began wearing a different hair style – the Afro – that gave me a political – radical look – a look I so needed to deal with my raging emotions of the time. I guess I am truly a ’60’s child –

    • Kate Kresse says:

      Gosh Gwen, we were both so drawn into the events of our childhood. Perhaps it was our differences in ethnic heritage that made our reactions a bit different when it came to the Kennedys. For me, perhaps it was because they were Catholic. We certainly did not share their economic status! I envied the huge clan—and yet came from a sizeable extended family myself.
      Caroline is younger than us both. but she had a little brother near the age of my little brothers. Perhaps that was part of it, too. I lived in MN at the time, and came from a politically involved clan. But my real political awakening came on a different day. My dad was in DC the day of the march on Washington. He was at the Martin Luther King Jr speech, and came home to tell us all about it. He told us how moving it was; how important and life-changing it was, for the nation.
      The next, and far deeper sorrows came when I was in 8th grade. Our teacher had us involved in political campaigns (for Bobby) and in the Civil Rights movement. He had us writing letters and researching the rationale for Civil Rights. We were devastated when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. so devastated. I remember to this day Bobby Kennedy telling the crowd in Indianapolis about the assassination, and him reaching out. I remember him saying that his brother was killed by a white man, too.
      Bobby was killed on 6/4…We graduated from 8th grade on the 4th or 5th. (I can no longer remember which). Many of my classmates and I got together to watch the funeral on TV. We were devastated. devastated. Why were these such personal times for our generation? Perhaps because we believed that we were going to change the world; only to find out that sometimes the world changes us or brings us to our knees. Gwen, I wish we had known each other when we were children. We could have a lifetime of shared memories and experiences.
      The good thing, though, is that we can continue to share our times. Forgive my lengthy reply. Your writing always moves me. I wanted you to know that.

      • gwen07 says:

        Thanks Kate, After re-reading my response I sounded like a fairly callous a 7th grader – It wasn’t until -’68 – and the double barrel assassination of RFK & MLK – that literally crushed me in that closet. l clearly remember believing, knowing that if these major figures are not safe – no one is safe. Fearful times. Yes we would have been good friends – But now is good. Thanks for your always thoughtful blogs that continue to show the beauty in ‘believing anyway’

  3. I too was in fourth grade and echo your sentiments. Our safe little world was changed that day — really during all of the 60’s decade.

    • Kate Kresse says:

      So many changes. So much of the music of that time reflected it, too. I hear the music from those times, and I can almost feel what it felt like then…..songs from Woodstock; the Beatles; PP&M; so many social commentary type songs….

  4. Mike Fisk says:

    At the time that was such a scary time for me as a third grader. Now I’m…well considerably older. Those times seemed so much simpler, so much safer than today. So glad I know that the one who held my yesterdays holds my tomorrows. Thanks Kate

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