Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years ago

Time to weigh in on the topic of this particular day, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, with a rather wide brush. 

I am indeed old enough to remember it. I was eight at the time, so it's rather vivid in my mind - in part because it was such a big deal, and I had started to have an interest in public events. I have memories of times before that, but they were more personal in nature.

It starts with a term that I never hear any more: split session. In my New Jersey elementary school, there were more kids than desks and teachers. So the Wayne school district sent some of us to school in the morning, and some of us did their studying in the afternoon. I was in the morning group, so I was home by 1 or 1:30.

My mother was watching "As the World Turns," like she did most weekday afternoons, when the bulletin came on CBS that the President had been shot. We watched the coverage for the rest of the day I believe. I was too young to realize just how novel it was for television to cover a story like this in wall-to-wall fashion at that point. It probably seemed natural.

By the way, I learned an interesting fact about that afternoon many years later on an Internet message board, of all places. We had an elementary school principal at Pines Lake named Mrs. Rodda. Most of my memories of her center on the way she demanded on absolute quiet in the school lunch room whenever she walked in, which seemed unrealistic for children of that age then as well as now. When the news was released that President Kennedy had indeed died, Mrs. Rodda went to every classroom in the building to tell that news to the children personally. Class move.

Oddly, my other vivid memory of the weekend came on Sunday. The National Football League played that weekend; there's an article in Sports Illustrated this week on that decision. We had season tickets to the Giants, so Mom and Dad went. I recall Mom saying that someone who sat next to them complained for the first half that it was improper to play football on such a day. Finally, Dad turned to the guy and said, "Why exactly are you here?" Way to go, Pops. The guy left at halftime, and I believe the Cardinals beat the Giants. When my parents came home, I told them about how the babysitter and I had watched someone named Lee Harvey Oswald get shot on live television in a Dallas police station.

The story about the assassination has remained a subject of conversation for 50 years. The history student in me likes to ponder the effects of the events of that day. Still, the talk of a conspiracy that has gone on for 50 years has become distasteful to me.

I can understand some of it. People invested a lot of emotional capital in President Kennedy for a variety of reasons, and those feelings came to a tragic ending. I can imagine that it is difficult for those in that situation probably have had trouble coming to terms with the concept that one lone mentally ill gunman could end those hopes. But otherwise, people are still capitalizing on the idea that Oswald didn't act alone. Been in a bookstore lately? Lots of volumes with the "definitive" answer on the subject.

But let's face it. Have you ever read a conspiracy theory that comes close to passing the smell test? Castro ordered it? The Soviets? The CIA? Lyndon Johnson? And how many "conspiracies" have gone on for this long without someone talking? Maybe the Warren Commission didn't cross every T in its investigation, but I still haven't heard a much better version of what happened.

We're better off pondering how that day changed us in a variety of ways, and hoping that we don't go through anything like it again.

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