An Eerie Silence

Like most people my age, I can remember where I was (first grade classroom, Swift Elementary School) when President Kennedy was assassinated. Our principal made a tearful announcement and released school early. I didn't know much about Presidents but I did know he was the Commander in Chief so my assumption was that we must be in a war. My dad worked near downtown Dallas so that was a real and immediate threat to a 7-year-old.

But for me, whose father worked in the textbook business, it was the years following that haunt in addition to the loss of a beloved leader. My dad's company did not have an office in the Texas School Book Depository in 1963 but they moved their office there a few years later. Most of his friends were "bookmen" and many either worked or knew people who were working at the Texas School Book Depository on Nov. 22, 1963. Their children were my friends as we lived in the same neighborhoods. I can remember Saturdays when dad had to work and I would tag along, set free to play in the very warehouse that contained the "snipers nest." When I returned home from my first semester in college, it was arranged for me to work at the depository warehouse between semesters. By this time the depository had moved from downtown Dallas but still employed men who were there in 1963 and knew Oswald.

Despite those eerie connections, what haunts me now is the silence. We never discussed what happened that horrid day. After college I worked for many years in downtown Dallas. The depository was empty but always there. The only time I remember a discussion about the assassination was when my company hosted visitors from out of town. Those of us who lived and worked in the shadow of that building never brought it up. Where did that silence come from? Without a doubt, November 22 was a historical inflection point that happened in my back yard but I never asked so much as one question when the opportunity to do so was at hand with people very near to the actual event.

As I watch the coverage of the 50th anniversary one theme comes up over and over again. How people and the country were changed after Dallas. My life could not have changed from this event. I was only seven. But the Dallas I grew up in was altered by that day and my life has been shaped from living here. Was it a collective shame that hung over us? Oswald was not raised here, although he briefly lived in Ft. Worth as a teenager. There were right-wing elements in Dallas that publicly opposed Kennedy but it wasn't their politics that influenced the assassin. He was a Marxist. Yet, it seems to me that my community struggled with our involuntary role in that terrible day. Perhaps best to not discuss it, not remind ourselves that the second president assassinated in the 20th century was killed here. But now, fifty years later, I wonder, maybe we should have.