Tuesday, November 19, 2013

50th Anniversary of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's Death

On the morning of November 22, 1963, my classmates and I waited for our 7th grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Doyle, to appear as she did every day to officially begin our school day. We waited longer than usual that morning.  Eventually, she entered the classroom closing the door behind her slowly. She appeared shaken, her eyes swollen and red.  Instinctively, we knew something was wrong as the class glimpsed at each other then back to Mrs. Doyle. When she finally spoke, it was with such deep sorrow with which I wasn't familiar.

"Children...", she stopped to regain what composure she had. "Children, President Kennedy has been critically wounded." She began crying. On cue, we did too. "There will be no further classes. You're dismissed." I don't think we quite understood what it meant for President Kennedy to be "critically wounded."  We walked out confused.  When I arrived home, my parents and siblings were glued to the television.  The news of the President's condition remained a secret for what seemed forever until news anchor, Walter Cronkite, with noted emotion, announced President Kennedy had died. We all sobbed. I knew why I did. I'm pretty sure why my parents, who adored him, did. As for the rest of my younger siblings, I could only imagine, while I tried to comprehend the enormity of his death. I couldn't. I didn't even understand the change in power to Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

What I kept thinking is how President Kennedy cared about us.  He wanted us to be the best we could be. You see, the girls' gym teacher, Mrs. Coony, along with Mrs. Doyle, my homeroom teacher, were Irish Catholics. The Irish Catholics adored President Kennedy who, being Irish Catholic, helped raise their heritage to higher grounds. The bagpipes, for which I have a deep affinity, seemed to have played more frequently at parades, at school functions, almost everywhere, louder, prouder.

But returning to Mrs. Coony.  She insisted that her gym classes would include President Kennedy's Physical Fitness Program for children. I'd always been enthusiastic about sports, perhaps because of my father's love of swimming, I too loved to swim; perhaps due to my younger brothers who enjoyed all sports, I too participated.

But performing sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and running weren't my cup of tea. However, this was a gym teacher's dream; an Irish-Catholic gym teacher's dream; Mrs. Coony's dream that we be the best we could be because President Kennedy wanted it that way. 

With time and certificates later, I literally felt more fit, more alive.  I was a healthy, robust twelve year old thanks to her, thanks to President Kennedy.  Then, I felt the connection to him.  I haven't since President Kennedy felt that connection again.  Perhaps I'd grown more cynical over the years; perhaps less enthusiastic about politics.  I believe his youth reflected the idealism of the baby boomer generation. We sought to understand the world, and try and make a difference. "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country;" a statement made famous from his inaugural address; one which would remain as we continued to search and waited for the return of Camelot.


Anonymous said...

I remember it as if it were yesterday Petra. :(


petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

I know, K.