I remember that afternoon vividly. I was in the sixth grade and our teacher, Miss McCann would teach us math after recess. She was very stern but we loved her dearly. I remember her distinctive gait and posture. She was very proud of her Irish heritage and thanks to her I know a few Irish songs and blessings by heart. That tragic afternoon, she walked into the classroom at a very slow pace and she tried to hide her face. Her blue eyes were blood-shot and her hair was disheveled. Everyone looked at each other wondering was was going on. She usually walked in the room swiftly asking us if we were doing something productive. There was always a mischievous smile on her face.
Everyone was unusually quiet. There was dead silence in the room. She looked confused and bewildered. She did not say a word for a few minutes. Normally five of us would have been sent to the chalkboard to solve a math problem during the first five minutes of class.
All of a sudden she began to weep frantically. I for one cannot see anyone in tears. I get misty eyed almost immediately. She sat in her chair and just stared at us. She snapped out of her stupor when a boy in the class had the nerve to ask her what was wrong. With a huge lump in her throat and watery eyes she finally told us. “Our President is dead boys and girls, she whimpered. Some of us cried and others remained very quiet and in shock. It was not as if we had not experienced death before in our lives. We had lost a classmate earlier in the school year. He had died from Leukemia. So collectively we had suffered loss. She finally calmed down after a while and the principal came in to ask us how were coping. His eyes were a little red also.
I remember getting home and turning on the television right away. All the programming on the major networks was in reference to the president’s assassination. There were no cable channels or CNN but the reality of this national tragedy was all anyone could think and talk about. It went on for days.
It’s amazing how a tragic event makes us see things differently. You are more appreciative of the simple things. My mother hugged me extra tightly that evening. I saw my dad in tears. He had cried in my presence once before when I was very ill with a high fever and the flu. The doctor would make house calls and he must have said something to upset my dad and I heard him crying. It was not until years later that I knew why he had broken down. Apparently the doctor wanted to admit to me to the hospital because I had such a high fever. The fever subsided and I never did go to the hospital.
I watched many of the tributes today on the television and heard and read accounts of how people were affected by the untimely and tragic death of our beloved president. I remembered my teacher and my dad most especially. We were all family then. It was a time to mourn and reflect and fifty years later I suppose it still is.