As a young girl living through it, I never thought the day, marking 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, would ever come. So much was sealed, so much kept from the public at the time with a promise that way into the future, all would be made known. To all. Since then, some releases. Not many. Not enough.
In the wee hours of this morning, November 22, 2013, my brother Jeff emailed me with memories of our mother that fateful day crying in the kitchen as he returned home from his kindergarten class. That big yellow country kitchen.
It was the first time as a 10-year-old, I had ever seen my mother cry. Really cry. Sobbing as she listened to the radio on the kitchen counter, hunched over. You couldn't see her face. Just hear the sobs.
I was in sixth grade, the oldest of five children, the only daughter. As Roman Catholics belonging to St. Bernadette Parish in Westlake, Ohio, we were so proud of our nation's first Catholic president.
I was the Lieutenant of the school crossing guards at Maple Elementary School in North Olmsted, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb near John Hopkins International Airport. We wore badges on white elastic sashes stretched around our waists and across our hearts. The Captain of the guards, was Doug Read, who coincidentally lived up the street from us on Ambour Drive.
Doug Read and I learned President Kennedy had been shot as we started taking down the American flag from its flagpole to fold it up as we did every afternoon at the end of the school day, only to end up leaving it flying at half mast instead.
I walked hurriedly home from school as I cut through backyards on Maple Ridge Road. Later that weekend, I watched the black-and-white television coverage with my dad on a couch in the basement rec room. I was with my dad when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald in the gut as he was being escorted by law enforcement officials, one on each side of him. How could this happen in America?, I wondered as a child living in Cold War America. Flanked by police officers, no less.
Everyone immediately believed it was the Russians who were behind it. Aiding Fidel Castro in some way. The Cuban missile crisis the year before where we as kids were sure the whole world would be blown up and we would all be goners, still fresh in our minds. Other stories advanced later included the mob, the CIA, whoever killed Marilyn Monroe the year before (thought to be a murder, not a suicide as ruled by the coroner), and the list went on. No one believed the single bullet or single shooter theory. Not with all the carnage.
The president's funeral was televised nationally that Monday, November 25th, his son John's third birthday. My birthday was the next day, Tuesday, November 26th. As a youngster, I thought I was quite cool because I was a Thanksgiving Eve baby and my birthday was the day between John's and his sister Caroline's; she was born on November 27. I felt a special connection to the Kennedys because not only were they Catholic like me and my birthday was squeezed between John's and Caroline's, but John was born on my great-grandmother Anna Voegtlin's 87th birthday.
Didn't feel so cool three years later in 1963 though when the president was assassinated right around my birthday. I was turning 11. Don't remember a thing about that birthday, except I didn't have a party as I had the year before when all my school and neighborhood friends showed up. Probably had a cake, but don't remember eating it.
For our birthdays and other special occasions, my mother liked to surprise us with carefully designed cakes she'd bake. A cake shaped like a butterfly for me one year with yellow and blue crepe paper streamers coming down from the ceiling attached to the edges of the kitchen table at our first house on West 44th Street in Parma. Another time, Cinderella's pumpkin coach with a peeled banana painted with green frosting for the stem.
My brother Jeff born near Valentine's Day, got a heart-shaped cake one year, which I dropped and smashed (not on purpose) when us five kids were posing for pictures, sitting on the basement couch as I tilted it forward at my dad's request to get the writing on the cake in the shot. Little did I know at the time that I would witness a far greater tragedy than dropping a cake a few short years later sitting on that same couch with my dad watching coverage of the death of a president with the added shock of Jack Ruby murdering Oswald on live TV.
Didn't care to hang out in our rec room basement much after that. Just wasn't a fun place anymore.
Like much of America. Just wasn't a fun place anymore. Not just for me. But for our whole generation.
What a way to lose your childhood innocence.