Elections oracle Larry Sabato Tweeted this morning:
Eerie to be in Dallas on a November 22. Weather (early rain, clearing,sunny 70s) similar to 47 yrs ago. No formal commemoration.
So consider this your opportunity to share your memories of the day. And if you’re too young to have memories of day, well then who cares what you think? (Aw, now don’t go crying to your mommies about how mean the old man was to you…)
My favorite “Where were you?” story was the experience of Richard Nixon, which I read about once in a book about the 60s compiled by Rolling Stone. On this day 47 years ago, he was being driven through a residential neighborhood in an unfamiliar city, when suddenly a woman ran out of her house and looked around her desperately. She had just heard the news. Nixon, who had NOT heard the news, told his driver to stop. He got out of the car and walked toward the woman, asking whether he could be of any assistance.
The woman took one look at him, and then she really freaked out.
My own experience was atypical. I was out of the country, my Dad being stationed in Ecuador on U.S. Navy business.
We didn’t learn about it until later in the day. I was in the 5th grade at the Colegio Americano, which was way the other side of town. My bus ride home on Don Enrique (buses had names, and personalities) took about an hour. I was one of the last ones on the route. My best buddy Tony Wessler was dropped off six blocks before I was.
When I got home, I rang the doorbell at the security door at the foot of the stairs (we lived in the upstairs of a large duplex). My mom hit the buzzer, and as I started up the stairs I was startled to see Tony standing at the head of the stairs with Mom. What’s up? I asked. “The president’s been shot!” I kept walking up, and asked, “The president of what?” Mind you, I had already lived through one coup in Ecuador that year. So maybe there had been another, more violent, overthrow in a neighboring country.
“The president of the United States,” came the answer. So that was what had caused Tony to outrun the bus…
That hit hard. It was particularly strange to be in another country, as the dependent of a representative of the United States, and know that back home our president had just been killed, and we didn’t know why or by whom or what might happen next. (And mind you, since I was personally familiar with the potential instability of governments in a way that few Americans were, the feeling was intensified. “Seven Days in May” didn’t seem like such wild fiction to me.) It felt like being abandoned to fend for oneself. Wild thoughts went through my head. I thought of the .38-cal. revolver that my Dad kept on a shelf in my parents’ bedroom closet, which had been issued to him just in case. (I don’t think my Dad knew I knew it was there, but you can’t hide anything from kids.)
Then there was Kennedy himself, who personified the youthful strength, the can-do attitude, of my home country. If he could die, just like that… I had not been a big Kennedy supporter initially. For reasons I’ve written about elsewhere, I had been for Nixon in 1960, at the age of 7. But after that I had been fully co-opted into the whole P.T. 109/Camelot mystique, and was proud that JFK had various initiatives going on (to counter Castro, but I didn’t know that) to help Latin America, such as Alliance for Progress.
But not just expatriate Americans were shaken. I witnessed a generous mourning from Ecuadoreans, who identified with this Catholic president as they had no other. Our school yearbook for that year would have a dedicated page with the headline, “Kennedy Ha Muerto,” and a picture of the president and his bride and kids outside a church before or after Mass — Jackie wearing the obligatory veil on her head.
That was reassuring.
Anyway, that was my experience 47 years ago today.