Last Sunday in this space we ran “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus,” which is the all-time classic newspaper editorial, written by Francis Pharcellus Church and first published in the New York Sun in 1897. We like to run it every year, shortly after Thanksgiving.
But that makes me a week late with this, another version of which we ran in 2013. Herewith, a few thoughts about what happened 55 years ago on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.
There were teachers crying — something I’d never seen before. Pretty sure they knew more than we kids did; maybe they already knew the president was dead but didn't want to be the ones to tell us, so they sent us home.
Regular dismissal time at Berlin High School was 2:07. 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.
I recall walking home from the bus. One neighbor was standing in her front yard — just standing there, looking sort of dazed, as I remember now (or as I think I remember; I'm no longer sure, because my mind has had 55 years to fine-tune this memory). "He's dead," was all she said.
I remember going to a classmate’s birthday party the next night. Both of us 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."
Turns out that the discovery of Old London Waffle Snacks is my only upbeat memory from that dreary weekend.
I remember that the whole rest of the weekend was a blur and we mostly watched TV, but regular programming was suspended so 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 curling up from their cigarettes; that's how long ago this was.
On Sunday we got into the Oldsmobile and went to church, but I don't remember a word that was said, and then we got back into the Oldsmobile and went to the Owl Supermarket in New Britain, the nearest such place that was open on Sundays way back then (“Lock the doors,” Mom would always say when we went to New Britain).
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 on the car radio that Lee Oswald had been shot, but we had no idea what that meant, 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. Haile Selassie. Anastas Mikoyan. U Thant. Thursday was Thanksgiving.
That's about all I remember.
Reach Glenn Richter at email@example.com.
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