Fifty years ago this Friday, I was a sitting in the first chair of the third row in Mrs. Williams’ fifth grade class at Levy Elementary School in Wichita, Kansas. Mrs. Williams was old and crabby, and she called us kiddies. And, I can still vividly recall two of the times that she embarrassed me: once when she turned down an apple I brought her because it had been in my coat pocket, and once by telling me that she didn’t even have to check her records to fill in a missing penmanship grade on my report card—it was a C, and she wrote it down with a flourish. I feared more embarrassment so I avoided her as much as possible by not making eye-contact, by not raising my hand, and by trying my best to be invisible. She was cold and insensitive. She didn’t like her job.
On November 22, 1963, Mrs. Williams came into the classroom crying. She had on a dark gray dress with light gray flowers, her veiny hands covered the lower half of her face, and she was sniffling. She mumbled, “Our principal has been shot,” grabbed a Kleenex, and left the room. We were all stunned. Tough old Mrs. Williams was weeping.
Randy Wolford, the boy across from me said, “I bet it was the Commies.”
Huh? Our principal had been shot by Commies? What are Commies?
Well . . . I soon found out that Mrs. Williams had said, “Our president has been shot.” It took a little longer for me to understand why she was crying and what Commies were. The next Monday evening I watched television coverage of President Kennedy’s funeral, and Mom and I both cried. It was Mrs. Kennedy’s veiled face, the drums, and the riderless horse with backward-turned boots in the stirrups; it was the first time a news broadcast meant anything to me.
Our trip to the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas last month and the news stories this week commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination have brought all those memories back. There have been many, many news stories that have had great impact on me, but none quite like the events of November 22, 1963. One newscaster this week said that the nation lost its innocence in November, 1963. He may be right.
“If anyone is crazy enough to want to kill a president of the United States, he can do it. All he must be prepared to do is give his life for the president’s.” ~John F. Kennedy