More than once, my mom spoke of what it was like to hear the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
If I recall right, she heard it on the car radio, when she was driving with my sister and I, ages two and four, in the back seat. She was stopped at the light on Reidville Road right by the old J.M. Fields shopping center and the Phillips 66 gas station. She tried to hold it together—play the “everything is okay” mommy—but couldn’t.
It was something I understood, yet didn’t really ‘get.’
On 9/11, I thought back on her descriptions. I could finally relate. We were a country in shock and in mourning. From that day forward, our societal history would be divided into the before and after. We lost our innocence. We lost confidence that you could go to work and make it out of the building alive.
Though I was alive, I don’t remember anything at all about President Kennedy’s assassination. I do know that it was important to my parents and that they were deeply disturbed. After their deaths, I found the Life magazines and the Warren Commission report they had kept.
This week, seeing the 50-year-old newsreels of shocked Americans brought vivid images of my parents to mind. When I see the grim faces on the old reels, I see my parents in those strangers’ eyes. I feel their shock and disbelief. When I see the footage of the NBC anchors announcing the news, I wonder if these were the voices my mother heard. I imagine my parents sitting on a couch that evening, watching every minute of the coverage. I’m sure my mom was crying. My dad, the engineer, was probably realizing the logistical implications, such as no more parades with a president in an open car.
It brings home why memories matter. It also makes me thankful for all the people willing to share their memories.
What do you remember about President Kennedy’s assassination?