Memories of That Day in Dallas
By Robin Parow
Lately I've felt barraged by sound bites and old TV footage as we mark the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. Questions like "where were you when it happened?" invite time travel back to Hyde Park and Netherwood School where we third graders were enjoying an unexpected afternoon recess on November 22, 1963. I vividly remember that day, a little kid running around the soccer field in a dress and wool coat, the dark clouds and biting wind lending some excitement to the day. Then, like a switch flicking off an era of innocence, we were urgently, quickly called back to the classroom. There was an uncomfortable silence as we returned to our desks and were instructed to "wait for an important announcement from the principal."
I sat dazed, staring at the PA system — a fabric-covered box on the wall — waiting for the voice of Mr. Anderson. Suddenly, his words came: The President had been shot in Dallas, he was being rushed to the hospital, and we should pray. That this was a public school where prayer was neither encouraged nor mentioned had no bearing on the moment. Extreme circumstances call for unprecedented measures, and we prayed.
At home, my family sat stunned as we heard the announcement on TV of JFK's death, saw live footage of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby, John John saluting the casket, and the lighting of the eternal flame at Arlington National Cemetery. How does an eight year old make sense of this? My heart ached; my parents were devastated and silent, and in my sorrow I wrote a letter, "Dear Mrs. Kennedy ..." Whatever followed that salutation, I've long forgotten. Perhaps the text provided a bridge from that moment of innocence on the Netherwood School playground to a different, jaded world where the unthinkable happens.
I will mark Friday's anniversary with a wish for that innocence to return to our world — and with prayer.
Robin Parow is chief communications and publicity officer for the Association of Marian Helpers, based in Stockbridge, Mass.