Tag Archives: John F. Kennedy

Mom and Kennedy, Part II

(Part I is here)

Dad went to work the morning of the funeral. I could have bet he was at his hangout, the donut shop, watching the news on the old TV in the corner. He would sit at the counter, with his coffee, his glazed donut, and his Marlboros. Dad and the owner talked politics all the time, mostly complaining about Kennedy. On this day I imagined that they were commentating on the funeral.

It was a Monday, but school was cancelled. I was watching TV when Mom said, “The President’s funeral is going to be on, so you need to go play outside now.”

“I want to watch it, too.”

“You’re too young for funerals. Go on out.”

“What about Teddy?”

“He’s a baby. Go. NOW!”

I threw myself on the couch and kicked the cushion with my feet, but Mom hauled me up and rushed me out the door. As I slowly stepped down the front steps, I heard the living room drapes slap shut behind me.

For a while I stood in the front yard and stared at the front door. I looked down the street, to the older houses down at the end. I looked up the street, past my friends’ houses, and on up past the haunted house toward Gull Road. The neighborhood was totally empty of people. The gray sky helmeted me in gloom.

Around the back of the house, I noticed the basement window covered up for the bomb shelter, then peered into the one over the laundry room. All I saw was dark.

Out front, I kicked a stone across the street and then back again. Even the neighbor’s chow was not outside today. I wondered if it might rain. If it did, would Mom let me back inside? I prayed for rain.

It must have been hours that I crouched on the curb, waiting. The rest of the planet was inside, watching the Leader of the Free World being buried on TV, but I sat outside on my driveway, throwing pebbles at the hopscotch pattern Dad had painted on our driveway.

The design of my hopscotch court

The design of my hopscotch court

I got thirsty and knocked on the door, but Mom wouldn’t let me in. The temperature dipped, and I shivered inside my thin jacket. “Not yet,” she said. Her face was wet and messy and she dabbed a Kleenex at her nose. She wouldn’t let me in until the show was over and dusk had settled around me.

The day had felt like loneliness given substance. My mother’s sense of menace manifested itself in her over-protection. She was terrified of a world where our president could be killed and didn’t realize how much I needed to understand the world around me.

I finally saw the caisson on the evening news after Dad got home: Wikipedia image

I finally saw the caisson on the evening news: Wikipedia image


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

Mom and Kennedy, Part I

Part I

Fifty years ago, I was in third grade. I had no idea that I would remember that one day so well all these decades later.  The following story, which I’ve broken into two parts so that it’s not too long, is about the Kennedy assassination from my 8-year-old self’s viewpoint without much adult reflection.


The weather was warm for November in Michigan, maybe sixty degrees. The end of the day bell rang early. That was unusual, but we were used to doing what the teachers told us to do. Valerie* and I walked to the bus loading area in front of the school with our jackets over our arms.

Her brother rushed over to us with a transistor radio pressed to his ear. His excitement radiated from his body like heat waves. “Wait til you hear what happened!”

Valerie looked at her brother sideways, as if she didn’t trust him. “What?”

He seemed about to burst open with the words. “The president’s been shot!”

Valerie and I looked at each other. “Nuh uh,” she said. “Bob, you’re such a fibber.” I was speechless at his whopper.

Bob insisted, “No, really, I heard it on my radio. President Kennedy’s been shot.” Bob climbed on the bus, telling one kid after another that the president had been shot.

Valerie and I rode home at the back of the bus, while Bob spread the lie through the front. “Why doesn’t he shut up?” Valerie frowned at the back of his head.

“I don’t know. He’s your brother. “

“Yeah. I’m lucky,” Valerie said, but she didn’t mean lucky.

“If I lied like that, I’d get my mouth washed out with soap,” I said.


As I walked into the house, I heard a weird noise as if the tiny people called The Borrowers were having a party in the wall. Eyeing the coat closet door, I took a deep breath and pulled it open.

Mom stood inside the closet, with my knit hat crooked on her head. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and she was sniffling and rubbing at her eyes with mittens on her hands. I’m sure my eyes were goggling out of my head like Daffy Duck at finding a crying mother in the coat closet.

Pulling off the mittens, Mom stepped outside the closet. She didn’t say how she ended up wearing the stuff she was sorting, and I didn’t ask her.

“Something very important happened today. I want to talk to you.”

I dropped my belongings down on the armchair, then followed her as she walked into the kitchen. “I was cleaning the closet out and listening to music on the radio. They interrupted the song and the announcer said that three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade.” It was typical of my mother to tell me a story in her own sweet time. I didn’t explain that I had already heard about President Kennedy. My knees started to wobble.

We sat at the kitchen table listening to the radio. The man’s voice said Mrs. Kennedy’s pink suit was blood-soaked with the president’s own blood. He said a bullet had entered the president’s head. It sounded like in The Manchurian Candidate, the movie I was supposed to sleep through at the drive-in. I hadn’t slept. Now I remembered the big hole in the middle of the man’s forehead.

Mom said, “We could be watching the television,” and she walked into the living room and turned on our set. She adjusted the rabbit ears when she saw Walter Cronkite’s face zigzagging. “The President is dead.” The President is dead, I thought.

The President was dead.

Mom answered the phone on the kitchen wall. “Jean, yes, I’m watching television. Did you see her? . . . So elegant. . . . All that blood and confusion. . . . She has a lot of class. And those poor little children.” Mom talked and cried and emitted little giggles every so often. She pulled on the phone cord and wrapped it around her hand. She didn’t sit down, but sort of paced, tied to the phone by its leash.

By the time the Kalamazoo Gazette was thrown onto our front porch, Dad had come home from work. Both my parents acted bewildered, as if they were robots from a science fiction movie. Mom made pancakes for dinner.

*The names Valerie and Bob have been changed.


The Kennedys arrive at Dallas: note the pink suit

The Kennedys arrive at Dallas: note the pink suit


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing