In the midst of the momentous, it is the mundane that often stands out.
That has hit home again and again as I have collected readers’ reminiscences of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 50 years ago this week.
Just as today’s youth ask themselves, “What were you doing on 9/11?”, older Americans ask themselves, “What were you doing on Nov. 22, 1963?”
It is the small details that stand out in stark relief for many local residents: the name of their grade-school teacher, or the eerie quiet in the classroom after the news was announced. “You could hear a pin drop,” people wrote, again and again, in what often seemed to be the same story with different names and locations.
It could have been my story.
I was 7 years old, in Sister Ann Dominic’s class at Ascension Grade School in Kettering. We knew we would never forget any of it: Not the stark announcement over the loudspeaker, not the days on end of strangely parent-sanctioned TV-watching. Not the riderless horse, not the heartbreaking salute by John-John, now himself faded into history.
One reader said that his fourth-grade teacher predicted that he would forget all of other his other teachers but he would never forget Mrs. Laurence, because she was his teacher the day that Kennedy was killed. Her prediction proved correct.
Equally unforgettable are the memories of Kennedy’s visit to Courthouse Square on Oct. 17, 1960.
I was four years old. I walked side by side with my mother, proud to be a big girl, as she pushed my younger sisters in their Taylor-Tot metal stroller. We walked only a few blocks to the intersection of Dixie Drive and Big Hill Road, where we waited for an hour with other families for a glimpse of the candidate in his white convertible.
My aunt, Julie Krautmann of Kettering, came with us, along with her toddler daughter Nancy.
“He looked so handsome,” Aunt Julie recalled. “The motorcade moved slowly and he would look at one side and then the other.”
It didn’t matter if you were a Democrat or a Republican; everybody was equally excited. “He was very popular, and very charismatic,” Aunt Julie recalled. “And that great big smile of his!”
Merry Wells of Franklin remembers, “He had the prettiest hair color I’ve ever seen on a person.” Her front yard, which was on the motorcade’s path, was crowded with her homemade campaign posters. Wells still chokes up with emotion when she recounts the story that JFK read every single one of her posters.
Wells now lives in the home she grew up in. Sometimes, even now, she marvels, “John Kennedy was right here in front of my house.”
Since I was only 4 the day that Kennedy came to town, so my memories of the candidate are fuzzier. But the day itself remains as vivid as a favorite family snapshot: the anticipation, the sense of something important about to happen.
We all felt that way, as a nation — and then that promise was taken away.
It’s a loss from which many Americans have never recovered.
“I have never known a president with as much charisma,” said Gloria Sears Summey, 69, of Huber Heights. “To this day, I mourn his passing.”