Living through history -- 11/22/00

As time passes "current events" gradually fade into "history."

Every generation has its defining moments, critical events... For my parents I suppose these were things such as the stock market crash in '29 or Lindberg's flight over the Atlantic or the attack at Pearl Harbor... more recent events might be the lunar landing or the Challenger disaster or whatever... but I am of the generation that will always know just where we were and what we were doing on the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963.

(Bev Sykes also talks about this in her entry for today.... and, come to think of it, Bev and I are the same age.)

I had attended C.W.Post College for two years but had switched to SUNY at New Paltz. That fall I had a marvelous schedule -- all of my classes were on Monday through Thursday -- I had no Friday classes! Mike, one of my best friends and former roommates at Post was getting engaged that weekend with a big party planned for Saturday night, so that Thursday evening I travelled to Long Island and stayed over with my friends. It was a bit odd, revisiting the very apartment I had shared with them during the previous school year.

On Friday I rode over to the C.W.Post campus with them, hanging out in the dorm where we had lived during our freshman year. I was with three or four guys I knew, just sitting around in a dorm room, talking about nothing much in particular when someone came down the hall and yelled in door "Hey, somebody just took a shot at Kennedy!"

I looked up and laughed... "Yeah, who? Rockefeller?" (The New York governor was considered to be a leading contender for the Republican nomination in '64.) Someone else followed up by suggesting some other politicians.

"No, this is no shit, somebody just shot him!"

One of the guys reached over and turned on his radio. The voice of an obviously rattled disk jockey told us that these were just preliminary reports, he'd bring us further details as soon as they were available but the Associated Press was reporting that President Kennedy had been shot and was being rushed to a hospital.

We ran down the hallway to the floor lounge. Someone had already turned on the television. The screen was filled with a sign, something like "NEWS BULLETIN" with the voice of Walter Conkrite saying that President Kennedy had been shot. In another minute or two the news bulletin sign was replaced with a live picture of a shaken Walter Conkrite sitting at a desk in the CBS newsroom. People were scrambling about in the background. He began to recount the sketchy information available: the motorcade, shots being fired, the president being rushed to the hospital, no news from the hospital although some sources indicated that he was undergoing surgery. More information... Governor Connally of Texas was also shot. Mrs. Kennedy was apparently uninjured. The television lounge gradually filled with students. Everyone's attention nervously glued to the television screen as Conkrite talked... and then he said that it had been confirmed, President Kennedy had died.

That Sunday, I was on the New York State Thruway, heading back upstate, listening to news broadcasts on the car radio, suspect Lee Harvey Oswald was being moved (from the jail to a court house, I don't remember) when suddenly Jack Ruby leaped out of a crowd of onlookers and shot him.

Sunday evening sitting in the living room with my parents and my brother watching the endless news coverage and the endless line of mourners walking past Kennedy's casket.

Monday watching the funeral, little John-John's salute, the riderless horse, the foreign dignataries, the silent crowds...

And Tuesday morning, back in the real world, back in the daily grind of school, hanging out at the cafeteria at the Trailways Bus Depot, morning coffee and a buttered hard roll (Bagel? Bagels were a New York City and Long Island thing, maybe New Jersey, we upstate types ate hard rolls... cup of coffee and a buttered roll, twenty-five cents) and the New York Daily News and the New York Mirror (another morning tabloid, now long defunct... newspapers were a nickel each... upstate price, only three cents in NYC), catch the local commuter bus I usually took to get to school... and it hit me, really hit me... not about a politician, not about a president, but about a family, about a man who died, a man who would never see his children grow up, a young widow, two little children who lost their father... and I grieved, sitting in the back of this rickety old bus, grinding through its gears along winding secondary roads from hamlet to hamlet, taking almost forty minutes to cover a less than twenty mile trip... I grieved for their loss, grieved for that little boy and girl, turned to face the window as if fascinated by the same scenery I saw every morning, attempting to hide the tears that ran down my face.

Thirty-seven years ago.

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