I'm a pretty stoic person. It takes a lot to move me.
I've hurt others; others have hurt me. But I will never, ever forget coming home from school for lunch on November 22, 1963. I watched Cronkite inform the nation that our President was dead. I was hurt, but didn't understand how hurt in the moment.
When I went back to school after lunch, the adults were crying. Maybe because I was in third grade, I didn't really understand why the emotion was pouring out of the very people that I expected to be stoic in whatever the situation arose.
What I didn't realize in that moment is that Ms. Smails was human. She wasn't just my teacher - she was a first degree authority figure. I don't know any other way to put it, but if you asked me to recall the names of any of my teachers, even through high school, I'd be hard pressed.
Ms. Smails was a mess that afternoon. But before school dismissed immediately after we returned from lunch, she told us she loved us. Every single one of us. There were black kids, white kids, and chicanos and none of us gave a good flying damn about the ethnic or racial heritage of the friend who sat at the desk next to us. We were all in the same boat - sad and scared.
How can you be 9 years old and not be scared when every adult around you is a blubbering mess?
In the following days, I watched the TV, just like everyone else, as a nation mourned. It was surreal, and even 50 years hence the pain remains. The assassination of JFK was probably one of the first true world changing events broadcast in near-real time, through to the live murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by a strip club owner.
To this day, I don't believe that we know the full truth, and yet it really doesn't matter. November 22, 1963 is when my world changed.
A few years later, my dad was driving my sisters and me to Six Flags in Arlington, Tx. He had asked us where we wanted to go for vacation. Six Flags was only a dream for bumpkin kids from the high plains of New Mexico. But he went for it. And so we were enroute; staying overnight at some no-tell motel in the middle of nowhere. The next morning, in the newspaper box, the headlines screamed:
Alright, ok, we were in Texas. And there was one part of me that really, really wanted to believe that, even in 1968, the headlines were from a very old newspaper.
You might or might not be able to figure out the rest of the story. The times were pretty tumultuous, and in ways not known to me back then, formative. Even as I write this today, I pause, trying to string together the words. It's really that hard for a geezer like me.
When I started to put this diary together, it was only Monday night. By circumstance, I happened to catch Whoopi Goldberg's homage to Jackie "Moms" Mabley on HBO. If you can watch it, don't miss it. Mabley had a deep, civil-rights driven connection with JFK and MLK.
50 years. Mother of God, was it that long ago?
Even today, as I write this, the pulse pounds in my ears.
What we, as a country, could have been.
What we, as a country, were even then as we entered into the quagmire of Vietnam.
What I, as a young man, believed and dreamed possible.
What we, as a country, would be today given the chance back then.
Maybe it was all a dream. Maybe it was all manufactured bullshit, not all that much different from what we deal with today. But there's a part of me that would like to believe that it wasn't bullshit - that there really was an America that could rise to the challenges and future that Jack Kennedy put in front of us. He challenged our nation to go to the moon.
In 2013, government can't keep the grass cut in median of the local Interstate highway because we've been conditioned to not want to pay the bill.
I long ago gave up on my flying car.
Thanks for suffering through the memories of a borderline senior citizen. In the immortal parting words of Kenny Powers:
“Yup, I’m finished.”Carry on...
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