Saturday, November 21, 2009

Day 175/365 All the News in Black and White

I think November 22, 1963 set the tone for the rest of my life.

Ever since then, I've never accepted the government's explanation for much of anything, from a parking ticket to the war in Iraq. That day was the beginning of my distrust of any "official"

And it was the only time I ever saw a teacher slap a student.

We were sitting in third grade and Stephanie had been sent to the principal's office with some note or the other. She came back and said no one would take her note, that they were listening to the radio. No-nonsense Mrs. Parnham insisted that was silly, and Stephanie said the principal told her the president had been shot. And Mrs. Parnham slapped her, and said that was a horrible thing to say and she shoud be ashamed of ever saying something that awful.

It was only the first in a long line of awful things that week.

Being that my school was in Lousiania, Catholic bastion that it was (is?), the Kennedy's were very popular there. Our school was dismissed immediately while the parochial school on the side of the playground fence was hurrying to mass to pray. The nuns had tears running down their faces with handkerchiefs clutched in their hands, and the kids looked as confused as we were.

I found my mother sitting in front of the TV, crying, while Walter Cronkite fought to keep his composure. Dinner that night was a peanut butter sandwich because no one could tear themselves away from the TV screen.

Dad came home early from work, and while watching the evening news, I heard him say "Johnson finally did it." Later, when it was discovered that Oswald had been living in New Orleans, it was almost impossible not to jump to the conclusion that the mob had something to do with the assassination. After all, it was a long-standing tradition in New Orleans that the mob had something to do with everything.

I had been given a new scrapbook several weeks before and still wasn't sure exactly what I was suppose to put in it. Pretty photos of nature? Interesting animals? That weekend I put my first picture on page one: a grainy black and white newspaper photo of the riderless horse with the stirrups turned backwards as it followed the cassion in John Kennedy's funeral.

While I glued it in place, the TV ran in the background, the sound of those drums permanently sticking in my memory.

For someone my age, in 1963, the president was still The President, the only guy bigger than your Dad. The government was trustworthy, and Americans were good people. Bad things didn't happen to our country -we had the good life.

It was literally earth-shattering to have a president assassinated. Coming a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, it was terrifying, particularily living in southern Louisiana, well within range of Cuban missiles. As young as I was, the assassination was much worse than 9-11. It was a very personal event, as if a family member had been lost.

Someone pulled the rug out from under us, our world was shaken and turned upside down,and life shifted into black and white, with nothing quite ever again as it had been.

As it turned out, it was just the beginning -the top of the hill before a very, very long descent.

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