Kennedy assassination and its afermath seems like yesterday

November 21, 2003

Forty years have passed since I sat waiting for my German class to begin and wondered why a radio commentator was talking about presidential assassinations.

The year 1963 was before cell phones and CNN. You could spend a whole day wrapped up in ordinary life - hurrying back and forth to class, hanging out - without a clue about what was going on in the rest of the world.

But that Nov. 22, the rest of the world intruded, slamming hard into our emotions. The events that followed the shooting of President John F. Kennedy were indelibly imprinted in our brains. Forty years is a long time, and yet, when the events of that late November are recalled, it seems like yesterday.

By the time German class started, I and everyone else in the class, in the building, had heard the news. We sat there like zombies. Herr Doktor Professor Gerhard Probst told us we were free to leave; he did not think it appropriate to hold class. Or perhaps he knew it would be wasted time trying to fit German around all that was racing through our minds.


Any other time, if a class had been dismissed, we would have emptied out the room in about five seconds. We sat. I don't remember much talking. We sat, hating to leave group comfort.

Finally, the professor told us to leave.

My next stop was the journalism building where an Associated Press teletype clanked and chattered out the news (the low-tech version of CNN scrolls at the bottom of the TV screen). It was hard to get a view so many students were huddled around the small window that gave us the glimpse of the paper scrolling off the news. Seeing the black type brought reality home.

My then-husband and I had no television set. One wasn't a mandatory home appliance in the early 1960s. From the 22nd until the funeral was over, we hung out a lot at my parents' soaking up every bit of the drama we could.

There was one break: a Kentucky football game, as I remember with Tennessee. Obviously, there were some portions of everyday life that had to keep going. The mood was somber. The UK band marched in black raincoats and played subdued music.

Funeral day found us on the front row at my parents' house glued to the television screen. I don't remember my father being there; likely, he was stripping tobacco or hauling it to the warehouse.

But there were four of us in front of the television. My mother, my husband, me and the Raleigh man. He had been making his door-to-door rounds. The funeral coverage was just getting started when he rapped on the back door. We invited him in since it was obvious he didn't want to miss the coverage. His day's work stopped as he joined us - pretty much strangers - to watch the black and white images flicker across the television set.

We were watching the passing of an era that we didn't even know was an era.

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