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Saturday, November 23, 2002

I'm sure something happened on this day in 1963, but in my memory it's a black hole. I remember Friday clearly, I have some memories of Sunday, and Monday was the funeral, with John John's salute. But Saturday? Nothing. I don't remember any other Saturdays from the year I turned fourteen, but this one was different.

That fall I was on crutches with torn ligaments in my right knee. The kid who flipped my legs out from under me was suspended from school, much to my satisfaction. You'd think that ancient injury would have healed by now, but I'm pretty sure I can still feel it on cold days like this. And I'm still happy the bully got in trouble.

The best part of being hurt was that I got out of P.E., the one class I hated. I had to have help carrying my books between classes, from a fellow ninth grader who had most of the same schedule. He didn't volunteer; he was assigned to the job. We didn't run in the same circles, but we spent a little time together and became friendly.

There was a buzz going around that Friday morning as my friend and I walked from the gym to Mr. Haylock's ninth grade honors English class. Something had happened, but nobody knew what it was.

Then during that next period the phone rang in the classroom. We could hear only the teacher's side of the conversation, and he didn't say much. When he hung up he walked to the front of the room and stood there looking out at us for the longest time. Then he told us what had happened. President Kennedy had been killed. The school didn't want to make the announcement over the public address system, and they'd waited until it was official.

We sat there for a few minutes as Mr. Haylock tried to make sense of it for a bunch of fourteen-year-olds. Some students contributed comments, but mostly (and for the first time ever) we had nothing to say. It was so unthinkable. It was about the same in the rest of the classes.

After school I was in the library as usual. It hadn't occurred to me that I should go straight home, because I never went straight home. Most days I hung around school and my best friend's house as late as I could get away with. So I was surprised when Mom showed up in the library to take me home. I think that's when it hit me what a life-altering event this was. She never came to school to get me.

At home the television let us know what was going on in Dallas. A policeman had also been killed. A suspect was arrested in a movie theater. News reporters cried, and so did we. Nobody speculated about conspiracies or second gunmen or grassy knolls, at least not yet. It was all about absorbing the fact that our vital, exciting young president had been taken from us.


Looking southeast on a cloudy day.

I was still in bed when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on TV that Sunday. I saw the video tape later on, but I'd missed it when it happened live. On Monday, a national day of mourning (no school), we gathered around the TV again to watch the funeral, with its riderless horse and somber speeches. All of it was in black and white, of course, making it a little less real and a little more memorable at the same time.

But Saturday? Whatever happened that Saturday is gone forever.

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