Where were you on November 22, 1963? I was sitting in my class at Ardmore Street Elementary School working on my penmanship (which is still terrible) when an announcement came over the intercom that the school was closing immediately and that all children were to go straight home.
I was terrified.
Earlier that year we had been issued dog tags to wear that had our name, address, phone number, religion, blood type, and parent's names. We were instructed to wear it always. It was never to come off. Mother and Daddy had explained that I was responsible for my brother and new sister if I were sent home from school. I had detailed instructions for what to do until they got home. They tried, as many folks did, to explain the stupidness of our world and that there were countries that wanted to kill us for being Americans. We were near one of the places they would drop an atomic bomb on. I could survive, we could survive, they stressed, but I was to stay home until they got there. Food was in the basement. Mrs. Tucker was next door.
So, you can imagine how I felt that morning as I, along with all my classmates, was instructed to go straight home. I kept looking at the sky, nearly running, taking every shortcut, the three short blocks to our colonial two-story grey asbestos-sided house. No sirens. No planes. Maybe I had beat them; Mother would still be home as she didn't leave for her job at the hospital until 1:45. Daddy would surely come in from town. We'd all be there. Safe.
When I opened the door, Mother was standing and ironing. Napkins, tablecloths, underwear, sheets, clothes, clean, some from the closets, surrounded her. This wasn't a good sign. She only ironed like this when she was really upset. She was crying softly. The TV was on and Walter Cronkite, my hero as I wanted to be a journalist, was reporting the events of the day. He took his glasses off, took a deep breath, and quietly said, "President Kennedy died..." Mother burst into sobs. I did, too, because I didn't know what else to do. After all, I was only eight and didn't understand this crazy grown-up world.
Much has happened since that sunny November day so long ago. In some ways our world is kinder, gentler, yet, in others, we are harder, more divisive, more angry. It is trite to say innocence died that day. However, just as September 11, 2001, something shifted in our world. I only wish it were for the better.