November 22, 1963, Jackson, KY. At a little after 1 p.m. I was walking through town to my English Lit class at the local college where I was a transfer sophomore.
The day was cloudy but warmish for the time of year. I was kinda plodding along in a stupor, much like an old horse taking his drunken master home after his master’s late night of boozing. Probably thinking about the coming weekend…
There was hardly any other foot traffic to distract me.
But, as I passed the Breathitt County Courthouse, I noticed that the number of pensioners seemed bigger than normal. Plus, there was more jawin’ ‘n spittin’ going on than usual. I noticed, but figured local politics had ’em riled up…
But, it did make me get out of my head and start looking around.
By then I was walking past a couple of retail stores. And, shop girls were standing in front of store doors sobbing, hugging, and moaning things like “I can’t believe it” and “why, why, why?”
Being a southern gentleman, I couldn’t walk up and ask them what was wrong, or anything like such.
As I turned left, and started walking up the hilly street leading to the campus proper, people were running out of the Ford dealership in front of where I had to walk.
Some of them seemed to be crying and sobbing, bawling, actually.
And, I thought I heard snatches of words like: “he’s been shot! Oh God, they’ve shot him!!!”
As I was trying to skirt the outer fringe of the small crowd, a wild-eyed middle-aged man breaks through the people and is about to run me over in his haste to get wherever he thought he had to go…
Before he plowed me over, I raised my hands defensively and yelled at him, “Hey, what’re they talkin’ about? Who got shot?”
He barely paused, and shrilly answered, “Kennedy, Kennedy! They shot the President!”
Like most college students back then, I was caught up in the glamour and excitement of Camelot. And, I was stunned with what I’d just heard.
Later, I’d realize that the pain quickly squeezing my guts into knots, was anger, not the two Ale-8 sodas I’d drank on an empty stomach at the Corner Lunch. (We called it ‘pop’ not soda)
Whatever I was feeling, for a little bit I had to stand still while I fought to not retch those Ale-8’s up onto the sidewalk and street.
Somehow, I eventually stiff-legged on up the hill and sleep-walked into my English Lit classroom.
About half of my classmates had also managed to made it. Of those present, most of the girls were crying and us ‘men’ were grim and white-faced.
Mixed with the sadness and despair was a sense of overwhelming disbelief. Things like this just wasn’t supposed to happen in America!
Anyway, when the prof didn’t show up in the allotted 20 minutes, we drifted out and dealt with our feelings as best we could. Some of us went on to join the Peace Core. Some of us went to Vietnam. Kinda ironic, I guess.
Oh well, like used to say in ‘Mam, (a lot) sh*t happens…
We can’t tell what’s true about someone’s inner being, their feelings, their intentions and their possible future growth.
Still, I think John Kennedy was a brave, patriotic, goodhearted man, who thought he could improve the lives of his countrymen.
Media people have long liked to talk about Jack Kennedy’s assassination marking the end of our country’s innocence.
Some pundits even wax poetic about how much better America would be today, if JFK had lived to serve out his presidency.
Me, I don’t know.
After all, Kennedy was the president who starting sending over military advisers, and weapons, to South Vietnam. He’s also the man who promised to support the Bay of Pigs fiasco and withdrew his support at the last moment. Fairly instructive of the his political nature, I think.
If he hadn’t been assassinated, maybe we would be a better country. Somehow, I doubt it, though.
Ideas for me, your aging related story, or comments are very damn welcome.