Fifty Years: What Do You Remember?

I find it strange that I can remember something that happened fifty years ago. Surely I’m not old enough. When President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed on November 22, 1963, I was second grade student at F.P. Caillet Elementary School in Dallas, Texas.


I think this was my first grade school picture.

It seems so long ago, but I remember the moment I heard the news. It seems seared in my memory, and yet somehow dream-like, too.  I was outside in the schoolyard.  Was it recess? I remember standing by the fence near the street where we would leave at the end of the school day.  But who knows if this is a true memory or not.  A boy came up to me and said, “President Kennedy was shot.” I looked at him and said—in my little girl know-it-all voice, “That’s not very funny.”  Back inside, an announcement over the loudspeaker confirmed his not-at-all-funny statement. I never thought about this before, but now I wonder now how the boy had heard the news. There were no cell phones or computers then. No Facebook posts or Twitter tweets. I believe the sixth graders had gone to see the president that day. Perhaps one of the teachers called the school, and the boy overheard the news. I guess I’ll never know.

All of the recent news coverage has made me reflect upon my own past at that time, and at the vagaries of memory. I remember the announcement, but I do not remember being picked-up from school that day. Certainly, the housekeeper who picked-up my younger sister and me from school, and then later my parents most have been discussing the tragedy. I remember my not-quite-seven-year-old self being confused, and my parents sad and angry. I realized something enormous and irrevocable had occurred. But then—because we did not actually understand– my little sister and I wanted to watch our usual TV shows instead of all the news coverage. We were annoyed, and probably annoying, because our shows were not on.

Like most Americans, I’ve seen photographs and film clips of the day, of Lee Harvey Oswald, and Jack Ruby, but I don’t actually remember seeing the events unfold.  My memories are the media. What do I remember, and what do I simply think I remember?

Memory is strange. Some moment you think you’ll remember forever disappears from your brain. But I remember what I and others around me ate at various times and places.

I wonder how the memories of people in the past might be different from our own?  The telegraph helped to spread word of President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, but the news still took time to reach many people in remote areas of the United States (and two weeks to reach Europe.) Now events occur, and people all over the world are informed immediately.  Do we remember the event, or do we remember the photographs, the videos, the tweets?

I’ve never asked my parents or older siblings what they remember of that day in Dallas. It’s too late to ask my dad, but I can ask my mom.  Both of my parents have told me about when they heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. My daughters remember the events of 9/11—a day that forever changed their worlds. All these events are tragedies, similar in that, as tragedies, they involve human death and suffering–all different and all incomparable.

I have not been back to Dallas since we moved when I was in seventh grade. In my head, the area and people remain as they were decades ago, in my memory.

Update: I just learned last night that on the day of the assassination, my dad was out of town. One of the men who worked for my parents had gone into downtown Dallas on a business errand for my mom. His car was stopped and searched. My mom doesn’t remember how she learned of JFK’s assassination, but she vividly recalls seeing Ruby shoot Oswald on TV, as she was about to turn it off because our family was going out. She yelled to my father that something had happened. . .

The school looks the same and different to me now. I don’t remember the sign, or the English and Spanish announcements.

The Magic of Snow

These 40+ year old sleds are completely origin...

These 40+ year old sleds are completely original and still work great! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Snow-Storm

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end.
The steed and traveler stopped, the courier’s feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last night it snowed, just a little bit, just enough to cover the grass in a cloak of white. The velvet surface was broken here and there by the prints left by the wild creatures–raccoons, opossum, and maybe even deer that wandered through our yard in the darkness. The air was still. It was magical—until the reality of scraping ice off of cars and clearing steps set in.

Children experience the magic of snow for a far longer period. They feel anticipation and delight in the falling flakes, the crunch of boots through the frosted surface, the glee of making angels and snow creatures, and the joy of having an unexpected vacation from school to stay in pajamas and drink hot chocolate.

In Dallas, snow appears occasionally, but not often, and usually only in trace amounts. As children, my younger sister and I were so excited when it did appear. We took turns trying to pull each other around our yard on the sleds stored in our garage. They were real sleds made of wood with sharp steel runners, relics from our life in Philadelphia. My older brother, away at college, had probably used one of them to slide down hills in Germantown with his friends. Of course, they were not of much use in the minute amount of snow that dusted our Dallas backyard.

During our Christmas breaks from school, my family usually traveled back north to Philadelphia to visit with family and friends.  We often stayed at a downtown Sheraton Hotel. From the wide windows of our hotel room, my sister and I gazed down at the tiny ice skaters gliding across the ice at the Penn Center Ice Skating Rink. We watched them twirl and sometimes fall. There was a wide ledge under the window that sat over the room’s heater and air conditioning unit. On one visit, perhaps bored with watching ice skaters, my younger sister and I marched back and forth across that ledge singing an advertising jingle, “Franco-American where sauce is king.” Seeing how annoying it was to our older sister, we continued to do it over and over and over again, until we finally collapsed in laughter.

One day while staying at that Sheraton, my family boarded the subway to visit my dad’s best friend, a doctor, and his family. It was just beginning to snow as we walked to the subway’s entrance. It was still snowing when we arrived, and it continued to snow through the night. We were snowed-in!  My mother was probably not pleased, and she was concerned that we didn’t have snow boots and other snow gear. None of that mattered to me. Here was real snow that could be played in and formed into snowmen. We were having a real adventure. At some point—I can’t remember if it was that night or the next day—my father and his friend trudged through the snow to a Jewish delicatessen. They returned with enough food to feed us–and several other families, should any happen to wander in through the snow—if need be, for days. The large, dining room table was piled high with bagels, lox, rye bread, corned beef, and other delicatessen staples. (Yes, my love of food is inherited.) I don’t know where my parents slept that night, but my younger sister and I bedded down on the carpeted floor of the bedroom of one the teenage daughters of the household. Warm and cozy under a layer of blankets, we dozed off to the chatter of the older girls and were content.

I don’t particularly love the snow. I don’t go sledding, skiing, or ice skating. If ever forced to do so, I would be the person sitting inside the lodge with a warm cup of coffee in my hand and a good book on my lap.  I’ve been through other snowstorms since that long ago time in Philadelphia, and I’ve experienced “the magic of snow” with my own daughters. Still, I guess it’s true what they say: you never forget your first. . .snowstorm.