It was just before noon. We were all in the study hall putting the books from our morning classes into our desks and getting ready to go to the cafeteria for lunch. Just like they always say: it was just an ordinary day. Then my history teacher stepped up to the mic at the front of the room.
“Wait please,” she said “Can you just wait. Um…. Sit down please. Ah… the Principal…um …is coming in to make an …um …announcement.” This teacher never said “um” or “ah”. She seemed nervous. Why? What was going on? The principal never came in to make an announcement at this time of day. I sat down. Some of the students who had already started toward the doors came back to their desks.
Then the principal came in. She walked to the front of the room. She took the mic in her hand.
“Silence please. I need your attention. Now, please.” With that a curtain of silence descended on the room. “The President of the United States of America has been shot.”
Gasps and from the back of the room a girl’s voice: “No, No!” Then she began to cry. I knew it was one of the American students. There were about four of them in the school and they were all at the back. The principal went on. “If the American students would like to come to the office you can use the phone to call your family. The rest of you please go to the cafeteria for lunch. We will be having lunch in silence today so we can listen to the radio for more news.”
November 22, 1963. There were no cell phones, no twitter, no Facebook, no social media whatsoever. If we wanted to know what was happening, we would have to wait and listen to the radio. There was no suggestion of putting the school into lockdown. The word “terrorist” did not exist in any of our vocabularies. But “Cold War”, “USSR”, “atomic bomb” and “nuclear holocaust”, those were all familiar to us.
We were in western Canada and the radio was tuned to the CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The news sounded chaotic. The President had been in Dallas, a motorcade, shots fired, he was shot, Parkdale hospital….. There was no need to ask us not to speak. We were all stunned. This kind of thing did not happen in the world as we knew it.
Then, just as we were finishing lunch, the voice on the radio told us he was dead. President Kennedy was dead. We filed out of the cafeteria. The American students were gathered in a corner of the hallway, two girls were crying and all of them looked stricken and stunned.
I don’t remember the rest of the afternoon at school. It is a blank in my mind. Here’s what I do remember. After school I went to the barn and went for a trail ride with two friends. We did not feel like doing any serious riding. We set off along a riverside trail. None of us said a word. Usually we would be chattering away about the Christmas dance, or that awful math quiz we’d had that morning but on this day, we were all absorbed in our own thoughts.
My mind was racing. What was this going to mean for me? The next year I was going to be in California. Would I still be going now that this had happened? Would there be a war? The threat of a nuclear disaster was very real in all of our minds at this time. In the USA, they still had nuclear fallout shelters everywhere. To us the threat of a nuclear war was very real. Was this assassination the start of something like that? Was it the Russians who had killed him?
And…he looked like a pretty cool guy this Kennedy. He was handsome and his wife was beautiful and so smartly dressed. How could he be dead? Dead. Just like that.
My horse was named Willie. I think he knew something was up because we were all behaving oddly. He knew. He knew something had happened. But I knew he would not be worrying about it. He would not worry about whether or not he was going to California next year. He would not worry about a war or if there would be hay in the fallout shelter. He was living in the present moment as he always did. As we rode on through a forest trail I decided that I should stop worrying about all my human worries and just enjoy the ride. I knew that when I got home my Dad would explain everything to me about the implications of this.
I was fourteen years old. That was 53 years ago, but that day is still etched in my memory. When the Word Press challenge “transcribe” was posted with the idea of transcribing things from our archives, be they written archives or mental archives I decided to write about the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated and my ‘archival’ memories of that event.
Where were you when JFK was shot?
Photo credits: PD. USGOV, Wikipedia, Savinjackiek.com