Friday, November 22, 2013

The Ultimate FAIL

If you are my age or older, or perhaps a bit younger, you will never forget what you were doing 50 years ago today, when you heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot.

I was in my classroom at school. The  day was over and we were all preparing to leave, excited about the weekend ahead. I was kneeling by my desk, looking for a book to stuff into my schoolbag. I heard our teacher ask, "Class, who's the president of the United States?" I thought it was an odd question because lessons were over, but a few voices piped up, "Kennedy" and "JFK".

"He's been assassinated," she said quietly.

I was shocked. JFK was a popular and well-known figure, even to children in Canada. We lived less than an hour from the American border and most of our television stations originated in the US.  I had a set of Jackie and Caroline paper dolls, with several matching mother and daughter outfits. On my bookshelf was a paperback volume of single page cartoons from a comic strip called "Caroline". The now-defunct weekly Look magazine had recently published a charming photo story about the President and his son. I still have that issue.

The assassination gave the teachers plenty of scope for creativity during the following weeks. We used the topic for classroom assignments, and the ability to write poetry and essays gave us a constructive way to handle our grief.

By the next day all the shops and businesses in the city had pictures of JFK posted in their front windows American flags were prominently displayed, and Canadian flags flew at half staff.

I remember the funeral too. Jackie and her children kneeling beside the coffin; the funeral cortege with the casket on a caisson pulled by white horses; the riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups; the the young John, saluting his dead father on his third birthday.

Over the past two weeks we have watched several television programs about the assassination itself, as well as about the president, his family, and his peccadillos. Would JFK have been so profoundly mourned and so fondly remembered if his wayward ways and seemingly endless sexual escapades had been public knowledge back then?

Maybe not. But I still prefer to think of him as he was then - a young, handsome, vibrant man with a strong passion for leading his country.

From Hermione's Heart


Roz said...

Wonderful tribute Hermione, and thank you for sharing your personal story of what you were doing when JFK was assassinated.

Whether we were around at the time or not, this is something we are all profoundly aware off. The images of Jackie and the children at the funeral and John Jnr saluting his father are so iconic.


abby said...

I was in school also, it was just before dismissal. So many telling images from those few days...thanks for the post.
hugs abby

Underling said...

Very nice post, Hermione.

The assassination happened before I was born (although not by much!), but I could almost believe I remember it because of the way the 'shot that was heard around the world' has also echoed down the years.

The events of 9/11 are similarly imprinted for the younger generations, of course. It is odd how shock news seem to crystallise our memories of where we were and what we were doing when it first broke.

I'm sure it's true that history wouldn't have looked so kindly on Kennedy if not for the shooting - untimely death certainly has a way of mythologising the victims - but there's no doubting the charisma of the man.

ronnie said...


A lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing your story.

I was at home watching the TV when we heard the news. I remember running into the kitchen and telling my grandfather what had happened.

Yesterday they showed pictures of Jackie and the children.

I'll always remember that day.


Our Bottoms Burn said...

I was in the Navy, stationed at Treasure Island in San Francisco. Bacall was a Freshman.

Kennedy had superb press promotion. Of course, he had the looks, charm etc. that made it all possible.

How he looked after his men when his boat was cut in half told me all I needed to know about his character.

Most Canadians live so close to the border, they get, for better or worse, US stations, so they well understand what's going on here. The CBC also covers the US. Can't say the same about US stations. News from the great white north is about non-existant here.

They say he was in pain all the time, I wonder how he managed sex with a bad back?

Daisy Christian said...

Very nice tribute..I wasn't born mom was an adult and tells how the world cried for handsome young and vibrant

Anonymous said...

I was in the auditorium in school. Suddenly, the presentation stopped and we were told about the assassination. I remember spending the weekend watching TV.

For me, I remember his inauguration speech and his desire for peace in the world.


sixofthebest said...

Hermione, Thank you, for this say, This magnificent tribute to J.F.K. Thank you.

georgek said...

Hermione, thank you. I was in school at the time and suddenly the PA system came on and broadcasted the news. I will never forget seeing my teacher start to cry.


Aimless Rambling said...

Thank you Hermione. Lovely

I'll never forget that day either, or the days that followed.

Hermione said...

Roz - It's something that had a lot of impact on everyone for the past 50 years.

Abby - Those images are very poignant.

Underling - 9/11 is another day no one will ever forget. Whenever I see a perfectly clear, bright blue sky, I think of that day.

Ronnie - My grandmother died a few months before, and one of my first thoughts was what she would have thought of it.

Bogey - We watched a show about the seven days that molded JFK's character, and the PT 109 incident was simulated in graphic detail. What a brave man!

Daisy - Many people cried that day, and in the week that followed.

Joey - I remember the inauguration speech also.

Six - It was an honour to do so.

George - Wasn't it frightening to see an adult cry when you were a kid!

Leigh - I can't believe it was so long ago; it feels like only yesterday.


Erica said...

Beautiful post.

You know what is so bizarre? I was six years old; old enough to remember. But I remember absolutely nothing of it. Nothing at school, and nothing at home. Maybe it just didn't register.

Such a sad time. And just three months later, depressed Americans were cheered by the appearance of four exuberant boys from Liverpool. I think they helped us heal.

elle :) said...

I actually didn't know much about it. I wasn't born then, my mother was actually born that year, but it has been on the news a lot here lately. I've seen a lot and have been fascinated. I've always been fascinated with the family.
I love that you had the paper dolls. That's so sweet :)
Great post.

Cat said...

What a lovely tribute Hermione! I think those of us old enough remember, know exactly where we were...I was in school and it was also the day before my dad's birthday. We didn't celebrate that year. :(


Anonymous said...

my recollection was we had just finished writing some midterm examination, and they had been collected, when the teacher told us that JFK had been shot.
So sad... and still sad today, even though we now know he was not quite the knight in shining armor that we thought at a young age.

smuccatelli said...

I was in the fourth grade and we had just come back in from lunch period and the teacher told us. I think school let out early that day...

Kennedy led a seemingly charmed life up to that point, except not so much. He suffered for the rest of his life from the injuries he got during the PT109 incident, yet he wouldn't have been there if he hadn't been banging a Danish countess named Inga something who turned out to be a Nazi sympathizer. J Edgar Hoover found out about it and JFK lost his cushy billet in Washington and wound up in combat. He also disobeyed orders and was responsible for his PT boat getting cut in half by that Japanese destroyer. He wasn't supposed to be there. He wasn't as healthy as everyone thought either, suffering from Addison's disease and, as previously mentioned, a bad back, for which he was being treated with large of amounts of painkillers (and amphetamines) via injections. That might have had something to do with him being able to have sex. That quote on the memorial that was featured wasn't his either. Most of his speeches, including that one, were written by Ted Sorenson. If it weren't for the circumstances of his death and the romanticizing of his legacy, he would have been remembered as a far more mediocre President, accomplishing very little in his first term. Of course that also precludes what he may have done in his second term. Who knows what he MIGHT have accomplished?

Michael said...

What a touching tribute, Hermione. For the past two weeks Season and I have also seen and read many television specials and news articles about John and Jacqueline Kennedy, but your personal account is truly heartwarming especially that his picture was in all the store windows. Thank you so much, Hermione.

Bobbie Jo said...

I was in school when my math teacher came in to core class and announced that both the president and the governor of Texas had been shot. We later learned of JFK's death. They were going to send us home, but they couldn't find the bus drivers so we had to wait. By then the reality had sunk in and as I sat in my math class, all of us were quiet or crying. No talking. We just stared at each other. It was obvious my math teacher had been crying.

I was alone when I got home, so I went over to the neighbor's. It was very tough.

One thing I remember about the funeral that was kind of striking to me was at the front of all the world leaders who walked to the funeral was the tallest leader, Charles de Gaulle and the shortest leader, Haile Salassi. They reminded me of Mutt and Jeff. Yeah, I am dating myself.

All the world mourned for him and while it is true he was not exactly the best morally, he was a force in the world for freedom and he did do some good things.

Thank you, Hermione, for a nice tribute. It is a good picture of Black Jack, the riderless horse. He was a handful.

Anastasia Vitsky said...

Very poignant, Hermione. This may sound a bit out of touch, but I didn't even realize it was today.

He had beautiful children, and his memory lives on.

Hermione said...

Erica - Thank doG for the Beatles. They brought us light in a very dark time.

Elle - Yeah, the dolls were so much fun. They had a light glue on the back to make the clothes stay on. The forerunner of post-it notes!

Cat - I couldn't imagine a celebration at that sad time.

Red - We heard about RFK's death just before writing a History final- a departmental exam necessary for graduation. Wish they had waited till after.

Smuccatelli - Yes, he wasn't perfect by any means. But then, he did a lot for desegregation.

Michael - The pictures were quite touching. Newspaper clippings mostly - anything to show respect.

Bobbie Jo - I'm sorry you were alone at that sad time.

Ana - His children are carrying on the family tradition. Caroline is the American ambassador in Japan.