Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 22, 2013

Misty water-colored memories - take two

Those of us "of a certain age" remember many things clearly from the few days that followed that Friday 50 years ago today - the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was only 10, yet some images of that time seem seared into my memory

I learned the president had been shot when my fifth-grade teacher, Cleora Vestring, told us after lunch. Our classroom became very still. The bus ride home that day was much quieter than normal.

The next three days, Mom, Dad, brother Dave, sister Gaila and I were glued to our television set. We saw reporters and bystanders at the hospital in Dallas waiting for word on the President's fate. I recall seeing Jackie Kennedy with her blood-stained pink suit standing next to Lyndon B. Johnson as he was sworn in as our new president. I thought how hard that must have been for her. Then there were the images of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald; the procession taking the slain president to the Capitol rotunda; Jackie and her young daughter Caroline kneeling at the flag-draped coffin; long lines of everyday people waiting to pay their respects.

On Monday, the day of the funeral, we watched the horse-drawn caisson carrying the coffin, the riderless black horse following along, the president's brother Bobby walking next to Jackie, Jackie holding her children's hands, little John Jr. saluting as his father's coffin went by, the crowds lining the streets. I can still hear the solemn beating of the drums.

I remember feeling so sad for Caroline. She was only a bit younger than I, and I couldn't imagine losing my father.

Friend and college roommate Deb was my age.

"I remember being in fifth grade - the announcement came over the speaker and teachers really got upset and many cried. There was a boy in our class who won a national contest to receive a puppy from the President's family - I was so envious of him. I remember looking at him that day saying how lucky he was to have that puppy 'cause nothing will be the same again and [it's] unlikely anybody will ever win another one. It didn't really hit me the scale of this until I got home. My parents had planned this big social party at our house for that night and debated on whether to go ahead with it. They called guests and everyone wanted to still have it - but the topic of conversation, naturally, was the assassination and the mood was much more somber than normal for such a gathering..."

Dave turned 16 the day before Kennedy was shot.

"I was in Chemistry class when his shooting was announced. I remember many of my classmates - juniors in high school at the time - gathered around the steps leading to our gym. We were very silent, not knowing how something like this could happen in our country. The TV coverage was non-stop of the shooting and the funeral. I can't remember if any other programs were even on, certainly not in the evening hours.

The assassination was one day after I turned 16. Many juniors and seniors were involved in rehearsing for a school play in the evenings, and I remember it was very hard to concentrate on our lines. Mom even baked a cake for my birthday on the 23rd to have after our last play practice before the performance, and even that was a sad occasion.

We did not realize the impact this event would have on our country in the future, but it was by far the most remembered event of my high school years. The TV images are still in my mind, and how our country came together as one on those fateful days was amazing."

Gaila was a third-grader. Mom was her teacher at the time.

"I was in mom's class at school. She told us, but I can't remember how I felt at that moment. I just recall seeing photos and photos and videos and newsreels of his assassination and Lee Harvey Oswald and the funeral with the riderless horse and John-John saluting and [I] cried through it all. Think we got out of school for a couple of days too. Even today, I cry when I see anything about him and his family. Don't know why - I was so young, can't remember his politics - just his speech of 'What you can do for your country ...' I went to the Newseum in [Washington],D.C. this summer and there was a huge exhibition of John F. Kennedy and his family by his personal photographer and I cried looking at all the photos and listening to the audio. There was Walter Cronkite almost crying when he announced that Kennedy had died."

Husband Art was a student at the University of Wisconsin.

"... Oddly, what I recall more clearly was what transpired the following Sunday. As usual, Mom, [brother] Tommy and I rode in Tommy's car to Milwaukee County Stadium for the Green Bay Packers- San Francisco '49ers football game. We usually left about 9 a.m. for the 1 p.m. kickoff. Mom packed a lunch, part of which we ate before the game and part after...

Sometime after eating and before noon, we normally would go into the stadium so we could watch the teams warm up and Mom and Tommy would make a 'pit stop' as well. Since I did not, I often hung back slightly. That was what happened that day as I wanted to listen to the latest news about what was happening in Dallas. They were perhaps 100 feet away when I heard that Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. I listened a bit ... couldn't have been more than a minute as I could still see Mom and Tommy. Then I turned off the radio, locked the car and ran to catch them to give them 'the latest.' They were surprised, but also had sort of a what-a-bunch-of-Keystone-cops reaction."

But while these memories are clear, some are almost certainly not really memories. Some are recollections of films and later commentary. The president was already dead before I left school and so those "memories" of the reporters waiting for some word on his condition had to have come from watching films.

I'm not certain we had a color television at that time, but in my memory, I see Jackie's suit as being pink, probably because it was reported as being that color. The blood stains on her suit had to be imagined as she had been carefully positioned so they would not be seen by the cameras.

Art checked the details of his recollections as best he could and all fit perfectly, with one exception. He remembers the Friday as being the one after Thanksgiving, rather than the one preceding it.

Today is just three days after the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. Many of us have a mental image from our school-days of Lincoln giving that speech. Yet no pictures were taken while he was speaking. Published images were later impressions created by artists which, over time, have become a "memory."

In the column from the first of this month, the sometimes slippery nature of memory was mentioned. Memories of defining moments in our lives or of time spent with loved ones often play an important role for us. So it is disquieting indeed to realize that some of our most vivid ones may, in fact, not be memories at all.

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