It started to sprinkle on a cold, cloudy Friday afternoon when I heard a girl’s voice from across the courtyard.
“Hey Anne, you’re late!” She pointed a finger at me. For some reason one of the most popular girls in junior high, Jan Potts, was talking to me. The bell for sixth period had just gone off, and students scurried to get to their classes. Confused, I waved back, truant as always. “Did you hear?” she yelled, “Kennedy’s been shot! In Dallas!” and she shook her head as she went through the double doors. “Oh no,” I said to myself. The news weighed me down. Who could do such a thing? He was so young. He was one of us, how awful.
Now, rather than skip class, a sense of panic made me hobble into the big study hall filled with about 200 students, everywhere from 7th to 9th grades. Here, they were crowded into groups, squabbling and crying in disbelief. Vice-principal Mr. Butz then solemnly entered the room. His face was crimson and looked like it could explode. He walked to prop himself against the front of his desk and sputtered, “President Kennedy is dead.” There were screams and moans. Amid the chaos, a bunch of wayward senior boys stood up and clapped. I threw a book and actually hit one of them, completely surprised at my aim. Agitated, Mr. Butz yelled, “Okay. Stop it right now. You all sit still and be quiet. Not going to say it again!” Strained whispers and muted sobs were heard as Mr. Butz sat down. He pulled out his big brass key ring and tapped relentlessly on his desk right until the closing bell rang, and he exited pell-mell. This was strange because he was always the last to leave.
I saw the nearby malt shop was closed, so I headed home where I found Mother sitting on the living room couch in front of the TV, her hand covering her mouth in disbelief. Massive tears had spilled down her cheeks, and used Kleenex was strewn about the room while my younger brother, also daunted by the news, aimlessly shot basketball hoops outside.
All I could do was sit down at the kitchen table and pretend to do homework. Around 6 p.m. my father appeared at the door holding a large pizza. Only he and my brother sat down and ate, talking about sports or something. We later joined Mother on the couch, not saying anything, watching reruns of the horrible news, which ran well after midnight when airwaves were usually dead.
It would be impossible to forget the implausible pause, the quivering voice, and teary removal of the heavy-framed spectacles as Walter Cronkite confirmed the worst:
“From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 p.m. Central Standard Time, two o’clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago … “
Finally Mother got up and said she was going to bed and went upstairs. My little brother echoed, “Me, too,” and walked to his room and closed the door. My father rose and silently cleared the table and rinsed the utensils, placing them in the sink. As I stood in the hall I could hear Mother still weeping. I turned and asked Father if things would be all right. He took a deep breath and said, “Yes. It’ll be okay. But it won’t be the same.”