Reflection by Mary E. Latela, 11.22.16
Of course, I remember. I remember every detail.
I was a college freshman, down in the commuter lounge waiting for friends and lunch.
I remembered to call Aunt Rose to say “Happy Birthday!” She responded quietly, “You haven’t heard, then. The president has been shot.”
“What? How is he?”
“Walter Cronkite came on and said it happened in Dallas. We’re waiting…….. oh no!. The President is dead.”
As the others filed into the lounge, the word spread. Some were weeping. Others hugged, because, suddenly, the world seemed too cold. A strange hush and a noisy frenzy mixed together. Someone suggested going to the chapel to pray. I joined them, but I couldn’t see what good prayer would do. President Kennedy, our bright hope, was gone. I was young enough to believe in a hero – such an intelligent, handsome, family man, who spoke with clarity and that Boston accent he’d never worked to erase.
I was nineteen, and college was my new safe place, my home away from home. I studied day and night, spent weekends with the books, stopped by to see Grandma every Sunday. I was majoring in Chemistry, because they said it was easy to get scholarships. This was during that initial excitement following this President’s promise to reach the moon by the end of the decade.
Stephen King wrote a chilling time-twister called 11/22/63. If someone could break through time, perhaps history could be altered to keep our President alive, to keep us from feeling lonely. I think it’s a fantastic work, injecting the promise of time travel into what turned out to be a national tragedy.
I remember Jackie Kennedy in her pink Chanel suit, blood spattered everywhere. She was silent as the oath of office was taken by Mr. Lyndon B. Johnson, whom we did not know at all. Then we gathered at home, sat in the living room viewing the proceedings. We knew Catholic funerals, but this was more pomp and extravagance than we had ever seen. It was like a very strange wedding, all white and gold, all serious and solemn.
Time passed slowly as we tried to eat, sleep, talk, do the wash, iron clothes, and talk on the phone. Sleep was elusive, but there was no need to rest, since we played – over and over – the scenes which had turned our day, turned our lives, upside down. In the following days and weeks, I was so sad, and yet, I could not change the truth. We would not see John Kennedy again.
When I returned to the Northern Plains some decades later, I still had a heaviness around my heart. I still wished I could rewrite history. I still wished that my brush with hope – so rare for such a sad young woman – would take me over and allow me to really say farewell to people who had passed away, to childhood, to hope, to the sweetness that comes from knowing that tomorrow will be a better day.