told us

told us


I had never seen teachers crying before — that’s the first thing I remember. And later there was a vague feeling that maybe they knew more than we did; maybe they already knew he was dead, but didn’t want to be the ones to tell us, so they sent us home knowing only that he had been shot, in Dallas, and rushed to a hospital.

There was nothing in the announcement over the PA system that seemed to suggest he was going to die.

The official word didn’t come down until around 2:30, when Walter Cronkite interrupted a soap opera to tell the world, but we were still on the school bus then.

And I remember walking home from the bus. One neighbor was standing in her front yard — just standing there, not doing anything, looking sort of dazed, as I remember now (or as I think I remember; I’m no longer sure, because my mind has had 50 years to fine-tune this memory). I looked at her, and she looked at me. “He’s dead,” she said.

And I remember going to a party that night at a classmate’s house. Or was it the next night? No, I’m pretty sure it was the same night — Nov. 22, 1963, a Friday. I had just turned 15 and I recall having these two deep thoughts: 1.) “Gee, this is weird, having a party when the president has just been assassinated,” and 2.) “Gee, these waffle-shaped cheese things (Old London Waffle Snacks — I had to google it) sure are good.”

And I remember that the whole rest of the weekend was sort of a blur and we mostly watched TV, except for going to church. This was the heaviest TV coverage we’d ever seen, but TV wasn’t on 24 hours a day back then, and they made no exception that weekend. The big antenna on our roof could pull in Channel 3 in Hartford (CBS, with Mr. Cronkite), Channel 8 in New Haven (ABC) and, with the help of the maroon UHF converter on top of the massive blond Admiral console, also Channel 30 (NBC) and Channel 18, plus a fuzzy signal from Channel 22 in Springfield, with weather man John Quill, who always wore a bowtie. That’s it.

But regular programming was suspended and we just watched as famous TV news guys — Chet Huntley, Frank McGee, Charles Collingwood — did their best to fill time. And at certain moments you could even see the smoke from their cigarettes; that’s how long ago this was.

On Sunday we went to church, but I don’t remember a word that was said, and then we got back into the Oldsmobile and went to Cousins Bakery in New Britain, because most stores were closed on Sundays, under the Blue Laws, but pharmacies and food stores could be open, I think, and there were no big stores at all in Berlin, so we went to Cousins and the Owl Supermarket, on Hartford Avenue. (Here’s another clue as to how sleepy things were in those days: I’m pretty sure the closest store of any kind that was open 24 hours was Arthur’s Drug in Hartford: “Always Open, Never Closed.”)

Anyway, we were on our way to the Owl when we heard the news on the radio that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot to death, although at the time we had no way of knowing that Jack Ruby had just opened up a whole new world of conspiracy speculation that continues to this day.

So we watched TV. Monday was the funeral: Jackie, the children, the riderless horse; DeGaulle was there. Thursday was Thanksgiving.

That’s about all I remember.

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