Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Elementary Retrospective - The Day John Kennedy Died

Grade: Fourth

Teacher: Mrs. Ernst

A couple of memorable things happened when I was in the fourth grade. One of them you already know about, the other, I'm pretty sure not.

On November 22, 1963, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, was assassinated. It is one of the three events in U.S. history that people peg to their own whereabouts and activities: Pearl Harbor (before my time, and, I'm pretty sure, before most of yours) and September 11th are the other two.

Mrs. Ernst announced the shooting to our class in the early afternoon and we all bowed our heads to pray for the President. Later, the Principal came by to give us an update and girls wept at the news.

In my sister, Rita's, fifth grade class there was a Czechoslavakian immigrant name Hilda. Rita's classmates swore that when the news was announced, Hilda laughed with glee. In the frigid depths of the Cold War, when everyone knew the Iron Curtain countries hated us for our freedom, it was just the reaction we expected. No one liked Hilda, or played with her, anyway. Her English sounded funny, a sure indicator she was a Communist.

I got my first pair of glasses that evening.

The optometrist's office was housed in an old Victorian in a part of town made nearly inaccessible by Urban Renewal. A federal grant had laid seige to the neighborhood, razing houses and closing down entire streets. Cold rain chased down the windows of the Buick and blurred fog devils rose from the tree-lawns as we wound our way there, with Dad cussing every time he hit a dead-end.

In the office lobby, non-stop coverage of the assassination played on the black and white Zenith as my parents talked soberly with the eye doctor about the tragedy. We weren't Catholic, but we were staunch Democrats, and as enthralled by JFK's charisma as Democrats today are by Mr. Obama's.

On the way back out to the car, I lifted my feet coltishly, trying to step up onto the plane described by my new glasses. My nose and ears were already smarting from the unaccustomed weight, but for the first time in months I could see Dad's headlights reflecting back from the rain-slicked streets as we made our way home.

Tomorrow: The lighter side of Fourth Grade


  1. JFK was before my time, but I do remember when I got my first pair of glasses. It was a life changing moment.

  2. If I ever form a band, may we call ourselves the Blurred Fog Devils?

  3. my first pair of glass was one of the truly memorable events in my life. The colors! the defination of shapes!!! who knew???

    hmmm...what's with all these memories...what's going on?

  4. I was only 3 when that happened so no memory, but have consumed everything I could learn about it once I reach jr. high.

    Still don't have glasses or need them...I can still read the phone book, that is how I gauge will I will need to see about them. Yay me so far...LOL

  5. Memories are a wonderful thing.

    I remember my first pair of glasses, and putting them on, and realizing that trees had leaves.

  6. I hate wearing new glasses, it is totally disorientating. Optometrists should use hypnosis to make you think the feeling is normal before you leave...

  7. I remember the day, as I got a haircut from a new barber I could walk to(Mom didn't drive!) He was my barber for the next 40 years...

  8. I can remember my mom watching the funeral on TV and I was only a few years old...could have been Bobby Kennedy, not that sure, but funny how it was my first memory at that young age...

  9. so sad about Hilde! She probably just picked up on what her parents talked about without realizing the implications.
    I always wanted glasses (thought they would make me look intelligent) but never got them!
    Are you the fifth from the left in the middle row (standing)?

  10. I was in sixth grade math class and the teacher just announced the shooting and went on with the lesson. I always remembered that. The next hour was history and that was when we learned that JFK had died. That teacher just sat and talked to us the whole hour and we got to talk too.
    The new glasses came in 7th grade and I discovered blades of grass!!!
    and leaves on the trees!!!

  11. We were walking between classes under the building in the basement of old Franklin, children bouncing off pastel flesh brick cold walls, oddly oversized bricks, and I distinctly remember hurriedly taking a drink of water and feeling for the very first time, that I was inhaling a moment of history as my childish head bowed to take in the metallic fountain again, afraid, but somehow connected to a future empowerment....separated permanently from the umbilical cord of childhood. It was a bad day, and I didn't want to take too much time away from the person behind me, with our eyes lowered.

  12. I caught my sister one day lecturing the younger siblings how it was so tragic since JFK was such a great leader and how it was hard for her when it happened. I did some math and called her on it. She was two at the time. I do remember being home sick watching the Price is Right when the Reagan assasination attempt happened though.

  13. I'm picking up my glasses today! And I was only around for September 11th. I will never forget where I was.

  14. Moments in time, I was in Seventh Grade when JFK was assassinated..truly tragic for all Americans. Some of the girls cried..and the boys tried not to cry. I was in Social Studies Class. It was the beginning of a time of great change in America. Similar to 9/11.
    I must have been born half blind, I was reborn after getting glasses..I could see trees and signs and the whole world became amazing. Wonderful post today! :)

  15. My mom was in high school when JFK died, but her story is very similar.


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