Nov. 22 become no ordinary day

There is nothing remarkable about my memory of Nov. 22, 1963. It’s a universal story. Millions of baby boomers can tell the same one.

If you were a 10-year-old American kid at school that day, you remember what I remember, or something close to it.

It was a Friday, leading into a somber weekend.

I was a fourth-grader at Spokane’s Jefferson Elementary School. Mrs. Komp was my teacher. Teachers didn’t have first names in 1963, not as far as children knew. My teacher’s first name was Fern, which I learned years later.

Our class was in a portable building. That cold, ordinary November day, someone came to our classroom door. Soon after that, Mrs. Komp was lining us up in a long hallway.

That’s where we first saw teachers crying. Right then, we knew it was no ordinary day. It wasn’t lunchtime, but we lined up to cross the playground to the cafeteria. We had no idea why we weren’t in class.

The cafeteria had a stage, and there was a radio on. Only once before, during a World Series game, did I remember a radio playing at school. From the stage, a male teacher — Mr. Ryder, I think — announced that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. Stunned, we were dismissed from school.

My walking route that raw, gray day took me across Hart Field to our house on Manito Boulevard. If there’s a fitting word to describe the mood at home that weekend, it is hushed.

At the kitchen table, my parents spent hours in quiet, adult conversation. My father was an officer in the Washington Air National Guard. He was home, but may have been on notice or alert that weekend.

We had a boxy little black-and-white TV in the living room. My sister, brother and I were used to watching “The Jetsons” or “The Patty Duke Show.” Our television was on nonstop that weekend, which was odd. My sister and I saw on live TV when assassination suspect Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby at Dallas police headquarters.

That was a Sunday, two days after Kennedy was killed. My parents were in the kitchen, and hadn’t seen it on TV. At first they didn’t believe my sister when she told them about Oswald being killed. They scolded her for talking that way.

Together, our family watched TV coverage of Kennedy’s state funeral. It was Monday, Nov. 25, another day off from school. The images I remember best are of Caroline and John Jr., the president’s young children, so stoic and heartbreaking, and of the riderless horse carrying boots facing backwards that followed Kennedy’s casket.

After voting to end the partial government shutdown last week, the U.S. Senate made a unanimous decision. Senators Wednesday night confirmed Caroline Kennedy as the new U.S. ambassador to Japan. Almost 6 when her father was killed, she is now 55.

This week, I will turn 60. I look back on decades of history — American achievements, violence in our cities and abroad, wars, political scandals, diplomatic triumphs and the scourge of terrorism.

Nearly 50 years after the Kennedy assassination, I see what happened on Nov. 22, 1963, as a far-reaching tragedy that shaped the outlook and future of my generation. If you are old enough to remember, you know what was lost. It was more than one leader. In some ways, it defined us.

In the next month, reflections on the Kennedy assassination will be inescapable. An article by James Wolcott in the current Vanity Fair magazine eloquently addresses all the attention being paid to this sad 50th anniversary:

“It’s too much and it’s not enough,” Wolcott wrote. “It will never be enough. Readers will never be sated, because too many hidden dimensions and murky links remain, an atticful of unanswered (and unanswerable) questions, hints of the possible future of which we were robbed. History left us hanging.”

My memories are nothing special. Perhaps you have a link to that day that is extraordinary. If so, please let me know.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

JFK memories

Were you in Dallas or Washington, D.C., on Nov. 22, 1963? Do you have some other connection to events related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? We will share some of your stories with Herald readers next month. To share your memory, email jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com, call 425-339-3460, or send mail to Julie Muhlstein, The Herald, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206.

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