A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Monday, November 2, 2009

1963

This morning I watched last night's episode of Mad Men (thank you, Tivo). The show is exquisite and probably my favorite thing on tv right now. For those who haven't watched it first, shame on you! Second, it takes place in New York in the 1960's with all the slickness, drinking, smoking, womanizing, etc. of that decade. Last night's show revolved around the Kennedy assassination.

Throughout the episode, tv's in all the scenes were showing various stages of that awful weekend from the first shot to the notice of Kennedy's death, to the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. I found myself crying all over again watching Walter Cronkite announce that the president had died.

Any of us who are old enough remember where we were that day.

I was in my senior year in high school that year and in Journalism class. We were all babbling about needing a big story for the front page of the school paper when one of our classmates walked through the door and said, "The President has just been shot!" We all started laughing and said, "We don't need something quite that big." But then we realized he was serious and turned on the classroom radio. We had a phone in the classroom so all took turns calling someone - our mothers, best friends, dads - just needed to connect with someone.

Next class was Chemistry. My teacher was this very large black man from the South who was one of the best teachers I ever had. He actually made chemistry fun and we learned so much. He was well over six feet tall and had been a football player so had arms and thighs the size Texas and was a big, tough guy who always had a smile on his face. Class that day consisted mostly of talking about what was going on. He was sitting at his desk in front of the room just letting us have conversations with him and with each other. Shortly after 1:00 the Principal came over the loud speaker and announced to the school that President Kennedy had died. We were horrified. Our teacher looked up at the PA speaker, looked at us, then put his head on his desk and sobbed. We watched his shoulders shaking. This strong man felt apart in front of our young eyes. That told the story of how devastated we all were. Within a few minutes we were all crying and trying to comfort each other.

Our age of innocence was over. School continued for the rest of the day because they weren't allowed to let us go home early. But we all just drifted from class to class crying, talking, and waiting for the bell. When school was finally out and my mom came to pick me up, she was crying. Her eyes were so swollen and puffy.

We were glued to the tv all night. Stayed in front of the tv all weekend and I remember I was drying dishes and watching when Oswald was shot. By then we were so numb that I just sat on the floor and stared at the tv. What more could possibly happen.

Then the funeral, then John-John saluting his dad. It was a horrific week. I don't know that Kennedy was all that great a President. I was much too young to know enough to make that determination. He certainly had his faults, as all Presidents do. But he was young and charasmatic and the first President that my generation really had. His death was such a stunning blow to our way of life and all that we thought we knew.

Mad Men captured all of this perfectly. It made me cry, made me remember.

2 comments:

Mellodee said...

All of us who were living at that time went through essentially the same experience. My first class after lunch was history. We walked into the room without knowing anything and our teacher, a fiesty, no nonsense, great teacher, was sitting at her desk in tears. Nothing will quiet down a room full of teenagers faster than seeing a teacher fall apart. After the bell rang, she said, "Just sit quietly in your seats. The president has been shot." Life was never the same after that time and we'll never forget it. Even 9/11 didn't have the impact for me of the last week in November of 1963.

susana said...

Even though I was only 5 yrs old, and barely understood, I remember it well. The sadness of my mother was profound. Although, I wasn't sure what it meant. I clearly remember going out to the tire swing and rhythmically, swinging and chanting, " the president was killed, shame, shame, shame..."