Yesterday, the 22nd, was the 56th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas. For kids today, that far back must seem like McKinley’s 1901 assassination did for me.
It was a Friday afternoon in 1963. We had just returned to the classroom from playing in the church parking lot during lunchtime. TV was on for our Spanish lesson, airing at the public-broadcasting channel out of Newark, N.J.
Our virtual teacher had exceptionally large teeth, evident by closeups of her mouth whenever she would say, “Repetan, por favor.” She reminded me of a horse. To this day, I can picture those large choppers and lips in my mind, like those of Patricia Quinn from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as seen at the top of this page.
Slap my face for being muy grosero. That’s what our teacher, Sister Mary Elephant, would do if she heard us poking fun at Mrs. Garcia, the TV host. The program was interrupted by a news report that John F. Kennedy had been shot and was being taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
The entire class remained silent, except for the sounds of muffled crying and sniffling as we watched footage from the melee, until an announcement came over the PA system, telling us school was being dismissed immediately.
I lived only a block away. My mother had the television set on, watching the turn of events. The president had been pronounced dead at 1:00 p.m. that afternoon. For the entire weekend, all that was broadcast on the TV networks were reports of the fatal shooting, the capturing of Lee Harvey Oswald, the charged assassin; news about the funeral arrangements, scenes from the Capitol’s Rotunda, followed in between by very low-key music, appropriate for a funeral parlor.
After church on Sunday, I had picked up my slew of 98 newspapers from the depot to deliver in my neighborhood. While up the street from my house, I heard Mum’s frantic yelling for me to come home.
Upon my arrival, she told me about how Jack Ruby had just killed Oswald, which was broadcast live on television and replayed continually. I couldn’t believe how an actual killing was being shown on TV.
Meanwhile, the president’s body had been flown back to Washington, D.C. His coffin was brought via a horse-drawn military caisson to the U.S. Capitol, to lie in state for the remainder of that Sunday, followed by his funeral at St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Monday the 25th, and his interment at Arlington National Cemetery afterward.
My family watched the entire funeral proceedings on TV. Dad stayed home from work that day. School had been cancelled until Tuesday. It was truly a sad event, especially seeing the footage of John Jr. as he saluted his father’s coffin after it was brought down the cathedral steps. The youngster stood next to his mother, Jacqueline, with Robert Kennedy—his uncle—standing behind him. That image remains indelibly etched in my memory.
My only time in Dallas occurred 22 years later in 1985. I was passing through Texas on the way to California and stopped to visit old college friends who lived in Denton, one of whom brought me through Dealey Plaza. Tom pointed out the Texas School Book Depository as we passed it. What an eerie feeling prevailed while I peered up at the sixth-floor window from where Oswald shot President Kennedy, a direct line of sight to where we were driving.
Not intending to be disrespectful after dedicating this week’s entry to a terrible part of American history, allow me to end my remembrance with the following. I dedicate this to Mrs. Garcia.
If we couldn’t laugh, we’d all go insane – Jimmy Buffett 1976