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Posts Tagged ‘1963’

The day before President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, my elementary school class lined up along Broadway in San Antonio to view his motorcade. Here is my story…

It was 1963 and school buzzed with excitement. I wore my Sunday best, just as the teacher told us, with two petticoats billowing my skirt like an umbrella, and my lace-edged socks peeking up over my shiny, black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. Mommy made me wear my finest sweater with pearled buttons and roses embroidered on the front.

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courtesy of eureka.org.il

The bell sounded and, just as we practiced twice, we paraded single file across the playground and through the chain-link fence to stand along Broadway. Fifth graders lined up first, then on down the line to the kindergarteners. I was ten, so my 4th grade class lined up next. Teachers handed out little American flags for us to wave. We waited. The sun bared down on us from a cloudless sky—it was November, and the seventy-three degree temperature meant an Indian summer lingered in Texas. I sweltered in my sweater. Excitement mounted when we heard the roar of motorcycles and the honking horns coming around the bend.

San Antonio, Texas was known for parades because every year there was a celebration of Texas Independence from Mexico called Fiesta Week.  Kind of a Mardi Gras, Texas style. Bands marched as twirlers tossed their batons high in the air. Each year we would line up as King Antonio rode by in his Cadillac convertible and threw Fiesta coins and candy for the school children. But today wasn’t anything like that. It was ten times more exciting. Today, the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy was coming.

“I wonder what color it will be?”  Sherry, my best, and fashion conscious, friend asked.

“What?” I had to yell over the din of the motorcade.

“Jackie’s hat. Think it will be yellow?”

I barely had time to respond when there she was, prettier in person than on television,  sporting a cream colored outfit and a black scarf-like hat, waving next to her husband—the President of the United States. And Governor Connolly, too. I sucked in my breath.

The motorcade stopped. President Kennedy got out, walked over to our class, and shook children’s hands. Jackie followed, smiling. So did men in sunglasses and dark suits. They were not smiling.

The President shook my hand. His smile dazzled me. I dropped my little flag. My teacher picked it up and whispered some stern words. I didn’t care. I still felt his strong, warm grip even though he was now headed back to his limousine convertible.

I had heard about people who meet movie stars and didn’t wash their hand for a week. I figured a president deserved at least a month, but I doubted my mother would approve. Still, she agreed to make an exception and excused me from washing my hand that evening at dinner. When I took my bath before bed, I held my hand on my head so it wouldn’t get wet. The next morning, I didn’t wash it for breakfast either.

When I went to school, I was determined to keep that hand as clean as possible. Since it was my writing hand, I knew that wouldn’t easy. In fourth grade, we were using real ink cartridge pens instead of pencils. I didn’t want to smudge my thumb. When we stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I put that hand over my heart and felt extra proud.

Then, during Spelling time, the principal announced over the loud speaker for all children to report to the auditorium and all teachers to come to his office. Dutifully, we filed into the lecture hall, seated in assigned rows as we always did for assembly.

We sat in silence wondering what was going on. A few students dared to whisper. The wooden curved back of my chair no longer felt cool on my spine. The upholstered seat itched under my knees. I swung my legs back and forth to keep them from tingling. My feet were too short to touch the floor.

The doors to the auditorium opened. I turned and squinted as the light from the hall pierced the darkened room. Our teachers walked slowly down the aisles. Several were crying. My teacher blew her nose into her laced handkerchief and stood silently besides our class. The principal stepped to the stage.

“Children. May I have your attention.” His voice cracked. It didn’t sound like him. He cleared his throat. “Today in Dallas, the President was shot. He is dead.”

Sherry grabbed my left hand. I squeezed back, then looked down. I stared at my right hand and spread my fingers. I turned it over to view my palm.

I remembered the feel of his big, warm hand in mine, and I was glad I hadn’t washed it.

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