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Story: JFK–Remembering That November Day

By William Norris

 John F KennedyThe lunchroom buzzed in anticipation of Thanksgiving. Don was first, his role to stake out our table. His eyes framed Karen Palou. She’d saunter by, wearing a tight gray dress; her mere scent brushing our appetite to the floor. Some laughed at Don’s antics.

 Then, overhead the PA system crackled above. Mr. Sawyer’s controlled administrative voice saying, “I have a brief announcement: “On a trip to Dallas, President Kennedy has been shot. We will keep you appraised of developments.”

It felt as though we’d be at church and something went terribly wrong. A thunderstruck silence gushed up from the table. Faces froze. We’d be stunned in this safe harbor of truth, etching young, eager faces.

I safely sat next to my seatmate, Ronald Westbrook. Mr. Richmond, our US History teacher, began discussing the day’s lesson. The PA again found us, revealing Mr. Sawyer’s dry, urgent voice: “President Kennedy was taken to the hospital, where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. I’m sorry to tell you that our President is dead.”

Mr. Richmond reached for the unoccupied table, weighing his left side against it; he’d appear to need fresh air. He composed himself, whittling some space between his collar and tie.

“You feel it appropriate, we could continue, people. You have the option of studying.”

 I had wanted to be alone in my room, by myself. I felt a part of me had been taken – somewhere around your heart, where you hold things so important that you only feel, think of these, at very special times. And from this day, I’d gradually realize we were not the same.

“This is so stupid,” my brother said, when we’d learn how the football games would not be televised on Sunday.

My father’s face reddened. “Out of respect, that’s why! Guys can’t see that? Respect for the man! The least we can do.”

Jacky and I pretty well understood. What felt hypocritical was the games were played anyway. I thought it an insult to us as a people. Some explanation surfaced of how the games could not be made up.

“It’s not fair,” I’d protest. “They just should reschedule the damn games.”

“Out of sorts,” my father began, “you didn’t move your parlay cards. Right?”

“No, dad. Just didn’t. Didn’t make my pick ups.”

He’d look at me as though he had trusted me with his last dollar, as if I’d done something right.

Then, I’d see his face strengthen, tighten around his mouth, forehead. His eyes gleaned this painful knowing: “See, that’s what he stood for – the working man, the guy who has to go to work for companies that cheat them, keep them down. And for once, we had a guy there for us.”

The H-bomb had not been dropped — yet something had taken our wondrous sense of where dreams align with our waking step in seeking pure, true light. It seemed there still, but much further than it should.


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