Clubius Contained Part 20 – Assassinated (November 1963)

I was excited that even though it was Friday, I didn’t have to go to school today. Mom said there were “parent-teacher conferences” instead of a regular school day, and she walked to my school, instead of me and David, to meet my teacher Mrs Larkin and see my classroom. She also talked to David’s kindergarten teacher, who she already knew. Dad “had the car” and had gone to his “Eastern” place to do his teaching this morning, but would be back by lunchtime. So while mom was gone too, she said I was “in charge”, like a babysitter. I thought that was pretty neat.

David and I went over to Allmendinger park to play. I was worried since I was in charge of him that maybe I’d have to go just to where he wanted to go. But when he saw his friends Hannah and Jimmie he said he wanted to go play with them and I didn’t have to go with him. I wasn’t sure if that was because he was helping me play with my own friends or helping himself play with his own friends without me watching. But either way it was better for me too.

The park was full of kids, because there was no regular school at Bach OR Eberwhite today because of those “parent-teacher conferences”. Paul, Lenny and Gabe, and even Herbie were there. We played in one bunch of lilac bushes and pretended that we were on a special small submarine during World War Two on a secret mission to kill Hitler. Gabe said we would go from the North Sea up the Elbe River to the river that went through Berlin where we would blow up a bridge that Hitler always went across. This was a special super secret submarine that had an “invisibility shield” so no one could see it when we were underwater.

The bad part was that the leaves were gone from the lilac bushes so other kids could see us in there and kept coming over asking us what we were playing and if they could play too. But that made it too complicated and hard to pretend because we kept having to explain the story to the other kids. So when we all got hungry at lunchtime we decided to stop and all went home to our different houses to eat lunch. Herbie went with Gabe to Gabe’s house because he said he didn’t want to go home, because his dad was mad at everybody. I found David playing on the monkey bars with Hannah and Jimmie and I told him he should come home with me to eat lunch because I was in charge. David said he wanted to keep playing with his friends, so I wasn’t sure what to do. Did I have to stay there with them? David probably wouldn’t like that either. So I just went home by myself.

When I got home, mom was back from my school and dad too, from teaching at Eastern. Mom said that it was okay that I let David keep playing in the park with his friends, because that’s what she would have done too. She said I was a “good older brother” for looking after my younger brother. I liked that, because it meant that I could keep doing everything I wanted to myself, and she and dad didn’t ever need to be in charge of me.

Mom said she had a “nice chat with your teacher”. Grownups used that “chat” word sometimes when they talked to another grownup, but kids never used it, unless they were pretending to be a grownup. Dad asked me if I wanted to go with him after lunch because he had to go to Schlenker’s Hardware and then to Quality Bakery to buy some donuts. Donuts were still dad’s favorite thing in the whole world. Mom said she had to do the laundry and lots of ironing.

Dad and I headed out in the car. As he drove around the park we saw David still playing with his friends on the monkey bars. Dad said I should “get his attention” and ask him if he wanted to go with us. I rolled down the window and yelled his name. He saw me in the car and ran over and decided to get in and go with us.

Dad said, “Business before pleasure”, we would stop at Schlenker’s first to get some screws and nails, and some “putty”, which was this cool stuff that came in a jar and smelled really good that you used to to fill holes so you could fix stuff. The “white table” in the basement that mom used to fold clothes and do other chores while she watched her “soap opera” TV shows had a leg that was kind of broken and dad told her he could fix it. Then once we were done there we would go and get a dozen of the “day old” donuts, because they were cheaper. The only thing dad liked better than regular donuts were “cheap” donuts.

Dad drove up to Pauline, turned left, and then right on Seventh all the way down to Liberty. All the trees looked like gray skeleton fingers reaching up to try and grab the gray sky. We went by the other side of the Bach “Big Playground” which was hiding behind the houses except for that one little street that I could look down and see just a little bit of the edge of it. I thought it was neat that it was hidden behind there, rather than all out in the open like Allmendinger was.

Dad turned right on Liberty and we went down toward the railroad tracks that the road went under. A big long train was going over the bridge. The “flatcars” were mostly yellow, and were piled up with that black “coal” stuff that train engines used to use to make them go. Now train engines used “diesel”, which dad said was like the “gasoline” we put in our car, but other factories used coal, like that car factory out past Ypsi. The “boxcars” were mostly brown or red and had doors on the side and an inside part where they had all the stuff they were carrying so you couldn’t see what it was.

David and I liked to count the number of cars in those long trains when we had to stop for the train to go by, but this time we could just go under it while it went by above us. Sometimes the trains had almost a hundred cars, and usually a caboose at the end with a guy standing at the very back of it. David and I liked to wave to him out the windows of the car, and if he saw us, would usually wave back. But because our street went under the train, we didn’t have to wait until the end. But going UNDER it while it went OVER us was still pretty neat.

Dad had the radio on and it was playing a song that I guess he liked because he started singing what I figured was the chorus part…

I’m going back someday
Come what may
To Blue Bayou
Where the folks are fun
And the world is mine
On Blue Bayou
Where those fishing boats
With their sails afloat
If I could only see
That familiar sunrise
Through sleepy eyes
How happy I’d be

Then there was a different voice on the radio that sounded fierce, like one of those news guys…

We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin from ABC Radio.

Dad looked at me and he made his eyes get really big. We both looked at the radio and David stood up in the back and leaned over the front seat to look at the radio too. The news guy kept talking…

Here is a special bulletin from Dallas Texas. Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade today in downtown Dallas Texas. This is ABC Radio. To repeat, three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade today. The President has been making a two-day speaking tour of Texas. We’re going to stand by for more details on the incident in Dallas. Stay tuned for further details. Now we return you to your regular program.

“Jeezus Christ”, he said, his voice sounding fiercer than I could ever remember it, and more like hissing than regular talking. He turned the car into the little parking lot next to the hardware store, stopped, but didn’t turn the car off.

Dad then turned the dial of the radio to other stations, but each one only had the regular talking or music. Finally another one had the voice of another news guy…

… fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting.

Another man’s voice, who didn’t sound so much like one of those news guys, but sounded really worried, said…

That bulletin just came in from CBS News. To repeat, apparently President Kennedy has been shot and seriously wounded and we are awaiting more news from CBS and the Associated Press. Dear lord! We will interrupt our regular programming again once we have anything more.

Sitting behind the steering wheel with me across from him, he turned the car off and then put his hands together and pushed his face down into them.

“What’s wrong?” David asked, standing between dad and me up against the back of the front seat.

“President Kennedy got shot”, I said to him.

“Is he dead?” David asked. I shook my head.

“He’s wounded”, I said. David nodded, thinking about that. When he and I played with toy soldiers in the basement or the backyard there were always guys getting dead or wounded, so he knew about that kind of stuff. Dad now raised his head out of his hands and looked out the front window of the car, thinking and looking worried.

“Jeezus Christ”, he said again, more quietly this time as he kept looking out the window.

“Is the doctor helping him?” David asked. When we played with the soldiers we always had the wounded guys helped by the doctor guy. I nodded. They hadn’t said anything about that on those “bulletins”, but I figured he had, and I didn’t want David to worry about that.

“I think so”, I said to him.

Dad started the car. “We better go right home. I’m worried about your mother. She’s going to be a wreck.” I nodded, then David did too.

We drove back up Liberty, but when we got to Seventh the light turned red right before we got there.

“Dammit”, Dad hissed fiercely. Then he breathed out through his teeth, still really fierce.

David looked at me worried and asked, “Is dad okay?” I raised and lowered my shoulders like I didn’t know.

Still looking out the front window up at the light, dad said, “I’m fine. I’m just concerned about your mother.”

The light finally changed and he turned left and went fast up Seventh. We finally got to our street and he drove the car into the driveway. We all got out and I ran to the side door and opened it. I could hear mom crying in the basement and news guys talking on the TV.

I ran down the stairs. Mom saw me and stopped crying and wiped her eyes with a kleenex. She had a box of them on the ironing board she was standing next to. She looked at me with wet shiny eyes and tears running down her face, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing her so sad.

“Did you hear?” she asked. I nodded. I could hear the news guy talking on the TV.

David came running down the stairs behind me and said, “Kennedy got shot. He’s wounded but he’s not dead!” Mom looked at him and her face got even sadder.

“Thanks sweetie”, she said.

Dad came down the stairs and looked at mom. “We heard on the car radio just when we got to Schlenker’s, so we came right home”, he said, “Are you okay?”

Mom suddenly got mad and said, “No Eric, I’m not okay!” She pointed at the TV. “They’ve got him in the operating room and there’s no word yet if he’s going to make it.” She put her hands together in front of her face so the tops of her fingers touched the bottom of her nose. Then she pulled down her hands to her chin and closed her eyes.

“God”, she said, “If you’re even up there, please help this man, we need him.” I couldn’t remember her ever talking about God before. I didn’t believe in God because I didn’t want anybody in charge of me, though I was still afraid to tell mom and dad that.

We kept watching the TV and those news guys talked about the same stuff over and over. How he was riding in the backseat of that “convertible” car when the shots were fired. How he was wounded and also that “governor” guy, John Conally. How the “secret service” guys who are supposed to protect him ran and jumped on the car as it drove really fast to the hospital. How that Lyndon Johnson guy, who was the “Vice President”, had gone to the hospital too. How the police were trying to find the guy that shot him.

Mom kept ironing the clothes as she watched our little TV, always looking like she was about to cry again, I guess hoping that the news guys would say that the doctors made him better so he wouldn’t die. Dad watched too, looking more worried than sad, and not looking like he was going to cry. I figured that was because men weren’t supposed to. He also watched mom, worrying if she was alright, like he was thinking what he could do to make her feel better.

“Liz”, he said, “Can I get you anything from the kitchen? A glass of water, a soda, or make you a cup of coffee?” She just shook her head and kept ironing.

Then he said to her, “Why don’t you leave the ironing until later. I can do it if you like.” That made her get mad.

“Eric”, she said, “I’ve got to have something to do here while we wait to see if he’s going to make it.” Then dad looked mad that she was mad at him for just wanting to help her, though he didn’t say anything and just stopped talking and looked at the TV. I felt bad for him and mad at mom, but I didn’t say anything either. David kept looking at me, but I didn’t want to look back at him because I didn’t know what to tell him by how I made my face look.

Mom finally opened her mouth and blew air out and said, “Eric. I think a glass of water would be nice, thank you.” Then she looked at David and me and asked, “You guys want anything?”

I shook my head and didn’t say anything, figuring it wouldn’t be right to ask for something right now. David looked at me and shook his head too.

“Got it, Liz”, dad said, jumping up, more like he was a kid, and going up the stairs. The rest of us just looked at the TV.

“Is he going to die?” David asked, still looking at the TV.

“Sweetie, we don’t know”, mom said, not sounding mad anymore, “All we can do is wait and hope.”

Dad came back down the stairs with a glass of water for mom. Now there was that main news guy, Walter Cronkite, talking…

From Dallas Texas the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1pm Central Standard Time, 2pm Eastern Standard time, some 38 minutes ago. Vice President Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas, but we do not know to where he has proceeded, but presumably he will be taking the oath office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States.

“Oh boy”, dad said.

“Oh dear God no!” mom said, and started to cry again. David and I were sitting in front of the ironing board and we both looked up at her but didn’t know what to do. When grownups cried, even women grownups, it just felt really scary. Dad went over to her and they hugged each other, but that just made her cry more. She pushed her head against his shoulder, still crying.

“We finally had a vibrant young man in the Whitehouse with vision, and some asshole shot him”, she said while she cried, “And poor Jackie with their two young kids. How can she ever explain what happened to their dad?” And then, still with her head against his shoulder, she just cried without talking for a long time.

Dad patted her on the back and finally said, “It’ll be okay.”

“No it won’t, Eric”, she said fiercly, “It WON’T be okay. The whole damn world’s been turned upside down. How do we explain this to Coop and Davey? What kind of world is this for them to have to grow up in?”

“Oh Liz”, dad said, then looked at us while he was still hugging her and said, “It’ll be alright.” But it didn’t seem that what he said was right.

I wondered what she meant by the world being “turned upside down”.  Would other people start getting shot? Did those Soviet Union guys do it, and now there’d be a war? Would I not be able to play in the park anymore? Would I not be able to play with my friends? Would grownups be in charge of me all the time? I couldn’t imagine that EVERYTHING would change. One guy shooting another guy, even the President, couldn’t change EVERYTHING. In World War Two a lot of guys got shot, but it didn’t change EVERYTHING.

I wanted to run out in the park and see all my friends out there, and we could have our own meeting and try to figure this all out. Grownups weren’t going to tell us the real stuff because they didn’t want kids to worry, and wanted kids to just keep doing what they were supposed to do. If everything really changed, I figured then kids would have to be ready to be in charge, at least the really older kids, just in case.

I remembered when Molly and I went to that giant painted rock by Burns Park a long time ago and it was painted with those “SDS” letters and “New Left” words, and then those older student kids drove by in their car and held their fists out the windows up in the air, and then Molly and I did too, and it felt good, like us kids were getting ready to be in charge. But then that old man said it was bad, those older kids were bad, and Molly and I were bad too, even if we didn’t know it. I wondered if all that had something to do with the President being shot and dead, and everything changing.

We kept watching the TV and the news guys talked about other things happening. The news guys said that Kennedy was “assassinated”, a really long word I couldn’t remember hearing before. That Johnson guy, who was the “vice president”, was made the new President. Both mom and dad said they didn’t trust him because he was from Texas, though he was on the same “Democrat” team as Kennedy was. That didn’t make sense, but I decided I better not ask any questions.

The news guys said that the police captured that Oswald guy that they thought had shot Kennedy, and that he had also killed a policeman when he was trying to get away. He sounded like a really bad guy. They said he had been in the Marines but he also was a communist and had lived in the Soviet Union. Dad said he was probably working for the Russians, which made me worry that maybe there would be another war, but I figured I wasn’t old enough to be a soldier yet.

David went back to playing with our toys and even went out in the backyard. I kind of wanted to stop watching too, to not think about it anymore, but I thought mom and dad would think I was bad if I didn’t want to keep watching, that I didn’t really care enough that the President was shot. But I didn’t want to have to just sit there and keep thinking about it.

After dinner mom called all her friends on the telephone and talked to them about what happened. Sometimes she even cried a little talking on the phone.


The next day was Saturday and it was colder and windier. But I still wanted to go over to the park instead of staying in the house. Dad was working in the basement and listening to the radio for more news. Mom stayed in their bedroom with the door closed and dad said she was sleeping in, though sometimes I could hear her crying in there. David wanted to go to the park too, so I figured it was okay if I went, to “keep an eye on him” as mom or dad would say.

There weren’t quite as many kids in the park as there usually were, and they were in small groups together in different parts of the park. There was one group of mostly boys my age in a bunch of lilac bushes near Paul’s house. I could see them because it was fall and all the leaves on the bushes were gone, so it wasn’t as secret as it was in the summer. I could see another group of girls were in a bunch of the lilac bushes across the park on the other side. There was a group of younger and a few older boys and girls on and around the monkey bars and a group of mostly older boys and girls sitting around on top of the picnic tables. In the group around the monkey bars a couple younger kids were swinging on the swings or doing the seesaw.

Paul was there in the first group of boys in the lilac bushes, and his older brother Jink. Lenny was there too. Even though the bushes didn’t have any leaves and you weren’t hidden inside them, it still felt like the place to go to talk about important stuff. Other than Jink, most of the kids like me that went to elementary school hadn’t gone to school yesterday because of those “parent-teacher conferences” like mom went too. Some of the boys said they were playing football in the park yesterday and one of their moms came out and told them that Kennedy had been shot and they should all go home.

Jink went to Slauson, which was a junior high school that mom had said was the one I would go to after sixth grade at Bach. He said that the principal at his school came on the “PA” and said that Kennedy had been shot and everybody should go home. I guess the “PA” was kind of like a radio so the grownups in charge of the school could talk to everyone in all the rooms at the same time.

All the kids talked about how he got shot in the head and went to the hospital but the doctors couldn’t fix him. They talked about that Oswald guy that shot him and whether he was a spy for the Russians. Jink was the oldest, so he did a lot of the talking.

I stood on the edge of the bushes and listened for a while, but then I walked over toward the trees and the monkey bars. There were girls and boys in this group, and Marybeth was there, sitting on the very top of the monkey bars with Hannah right under her and David was there too. They all nodded at me when they saw me come up, but didn’t wave or smile.

Some of the girls my age said they were home from school too when they heard about it on the radio or the TV. One girl said that she was with her mom at the A and P when one of the guys that worked in the store said something bad about Kennedy and her mom got really mad at him. Then Marybeth said that she was in “civics class” at Slauson when they heard that Kennedy had been shot and their teacher “punched the blackboard”. Then they were all told to go home. And when she got home their “bubsha”, their grandmother, was “saying a prayer”, which was that talking to God stuff, “for America”.

I stayed there a while but then went over to the group with most of the older boys and girls. They were talking louder and arguing about whether that Oswald guy was a Russian spy. I saw Ricky sitting on one of the picnic tables listening. I was surprised that Ricky was just listening, and not doing a lot of talking like he did whenever I saw him at parties with grownups.

“Hey kid”, he said, which was what he always called me when he saw me in the park, “I assume you heard all the bad news yesterday.” I nodded.

“Some of these older kids think Oswald was working for the Russians”, he said, “And that’s why he shot Kennedy.”

“What do you think?” I asked. Ricky always seemed to have everything figured out.

“I don’t know”, he said, “It kind of makes sense cuz he lived in Russia for a while. What do you think?” I shook my head.

“I don’t know either”, I said, “I just don’t want there to be a World War Three.” Ricky nodded.

“You and me both, kid”, he said, “You and me both.”


It was Sunday lunchtime. The sun had been out all morning but it was colder than yesterday and the wind was starting to blow and now there were clouds in the sky. I made myself a baloney and cheese sandwich with mustard. Dad called it “hotdog mustard”, because it was the same yellow stuff you put on hotdogs. Dad had this other mustard that was brown that he called “hot mustard”, but it was too “hot” for me, which really meant it was spicy, and hurt my tongue and mouth when I tried to taste it. David could make a baloney and cheese sandwich himself now, though he didn’t put ANY mustard on it because he said it was “too tasty”, which was funny because most grownups wanted their food to be “tasty”. Mom said I was like that when I was five, like David was now, that I also liked all my food “dead plain”. David didn’t even like spaghetti sauce on his spaghetti.

We had that Wonder Bread that they talked about on the commercials on TV. You could take a piece, eat off the crust part, and then mush the rest down into a little white cube. But I liked it not mushed, though it was so soft that when you put peanut butter on it with a knife you had to be careful or it might mush down and even tear the piece of bread apart. But that didn’t happen when you put mustard on, because it wasn’t as gooey.

Mom and dad were down in the basement. I could hear dad typing but I could also hear that the TV was on and those news guys were talking about the Oswald guy who shot Kennedy. They said that Oswald would have a “trial” and if he was “found guilty” of killing Kennedy then he would be “executed” in the “electric chair”. Ricky had told me about that “electric chair”. They strap you into it so you can’t get out, and when they turn it on it sends enough electricity through your body to stop your heart and “fry your brain”, as Ricky told it, until you’re “glad you’re finally dead”. I couldn’t imagine killing somebody on purpose if you were a goodguy, unless it was a war and it was an enemy soldier that would kill you if you didn’t kill him first.

I was eating my sandwich in the kitchen. I could hear the news guy’s voice on the TV but not what he was saying. Then I heard mom’s voice loud.

“Oh my god, Eric”, she said, “Somebody just shot Oswald. Just now. The camera was on him and we heard the shot and you could see the pain on his face and then he slumped over. I can’t believe what I just saw!”

I got up from the kitchen table with a mouthful of baloney and cheese sandwich and the rest in my left hand and ran down the basement stairs. David ran down after me. When I got to the bottom of the stairs mom looked at me. I had never seen her look so worried, afraid and sad all at the same time. Then she closed her eyes and looked down toward the floor.

“I’m glad you guys didn’t see that”, she said, still shaking her head slowly, “I wish I hadn’t seen it either.”

I looked at the TV and there were all these guys in hats and ties yelling and moving around, and the TV guy talking kept saying “Oswald’s been shot” over and over again.

“Did he shoot the guy that shot the President?” David asked. Mom nodded slowly and pushed her lips together and looked like she was about to cry. David looked like he couldn’t figure that out.

“But you’re supposed to shoot badguys, so that’s okay, right?” he asked. Mom’s face got fierce.

“NO, it’s not okay, sweetheart”, she said, “This is the United States of America. We have rules on what’s right and wrong and we’re supposed to settle our differences in court, not take the law into our own hands. This is not some Western or war show.”

“Your mother’s right”, dad said, “Though I can’t say Oswald didn’t deserve it!” Mom looked behind her at dad and nodded slowly like she thought he deserved it too, but then it looked like she thought something different and closed her eyes and shook her head really fast. She opened them and kept looking at him.

“Eric”, she said fiercly, “If I’d been there and I had a gun, after what he’s done to Kennedy and to the whole country really, I would have been tempted to shoot that bast…”, she didn’t say the whole word, I think because it was that really bad “bastard” word, but said, “Shoot him myself.” And she started to cry again.

She looked at David and I with tears running down her cheeks from her wet eyes and said, “You guys’ll have to forgive me, I’m not much of a role model right now. I’m still so goddamn angry that that guy shot the man who was carrying the future of our country in his hands!” She put her hands over her mouth and nose and closed her eyes again and I could hear her breathing inside her hands.

“Excuse me guys”, she said, standing up, “I need to go up to our bedroom and lie down for a while.” She walked to the stairs and walked up them slowly.


It was the next day, Monday, and there was no school again because of President Kennedy’s funeral, which the news guys showed and talked about on TV.

His body was in a “casket”, which was this big wood box thing that was all shiny. It was in this round room in the “Capitol” building called the “rotunda”. It had an American flag on top of it, which dad said they did when special people like Presidents or soldiers died. There were soldiers standing around the casket but they weren’t moving. Dad said that’s the way they did it because they were an “honor guard”.

All these people came into the “rotunda” room and just looked at the casket but didn’t say anything while the soldiers stood like statues around it. Dad said all those people looking were “paying their respects”, which I figured was what you were supposed to do at a funeral.

Then the TV showed all the main people getting into cars in the “White House”, which mom said was where the President lived, and driving super slowly to the Capitol building for the “procession” part of the funeral, which was taking the casket to this church called a “cathedral” and then to the cemetery. Mom said a “procession” was like a parade except it was very “somber”, which meant it was sad, and you were supposed to be quiet and just think about how sad it was.

Then when everybody got to the Capitol, those soldiers around the casket carried it slowly down a whole bunch of stairs while these other soldiers that were a band played musical instruments like they did at the Michigan football games, but the songs were slow and “somber”. At the bottom of all the stairs the soldiers put the casket on this wagon thing which the news guy said was a “caisson”. I remembered that word from the army song that dad used to sing to us, “those caissons go rolling along”, which he said the army used to carry the cannonballs and “shells” that were shot by cannons and artillery. Guys on a bunch of white horses pulled the caisson, but really slowly.

Behind the caisson was another horse with no one riding it but one guy next to it walking with it and trying to hold it. It looked like it didn’t want to walk slowly like the other horses and wanted to walk sideways instead. Mom said she had heard that was Kennedy’s horse, and his wife wanted it to be in the parade with no one riding it to show he was dead.

In front of the horses pulling the casket were more guys marching playing instruments and the news guy said they were the “Marine band”. I knew that “marines” were these soldiers that were on ships and attacked the Japanese soldiers on islands in the Pacific like that “Iwo Jima” island I had read about in one of dad’s red war books. And after that was a navy band with the guys wearing those white navy hats. Behind each band other soldiers and sailors marched with their guns.

As they got closer to the “cathedral” church there were lots of people standing along the sides of the road watching. I thought it all was getting kind of boring after a while, and David was over in the other part of the basement playing with toys, but mom and dad kept watching like they had to or other grownups might think they were bad. I wondered if I could stop watching too, but I was worried that if I did mom or dad might think I didn’t really care that Kennedy got killed, which would be bad.

When they got to that big cathedral church, all of Kennedy’s family and the other main people, which were also people in charge of other countries, got out to go inside. The news guy said…

The order of procession to the cathedral is Mrs Kennedy and the Attorney General followed by President Lyndon Johnson. Then the chiefs of state and foreign delegates to the funeral. There is no precedent for a First Lady walking in a funeral procession. Still it has been done in other countries in other eras. It is done here because the distance to the Cathedral is only two blocks.

“Good for Jackie”, mom said, “Women need to step forward and not hide in the background at important moments like this.”

Then we heard these really screechy instruments playing, which dad said were “bagpipes”.

Then they showed all the people inside the giant cathedral church. We could hear singing but I couldn’t understand the words. Mom said they were “in Latin”, which was another language people used to say a long time ago, but now only in churches. The caisson with the casket waited outside with all the soldiers around it until the music changed and the soldiers carried it slowly into the church and some guy was talking in that “Latin” language again. Then the news guys did a lot of talking about church stuff that I didn’t understand.

Then the church guys did this “prayer” thing, that I didn’t know about because I’d never really gone to a church, except that one time when we went to that church to watch Molly’s mom get married again to that Larry guy, who was Molly’s stepdad, but they didn’t do any praying. And there was more singing by what dad called a “choir”. Then they showed this “cardinal” guy, with this really tall strange hat, sitting on a “throne” with other church guys around him.

This other church guy, wearing a robe, climbed up these stairs to one of those things that you talk at with a microphone so everyone can hear you. He said he would read words that President Kennedy had said. It was a bunch of stuff that didn’t make much sense that I figured was from that Bible book. But then there was a part that was interesting and kind of made sense…

The following is one of his favorite passages of scripture from the book of Ecclesiasties, the third chapter. “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to uproot the plants. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them. A time to embrace and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek and a time to lose. A time to keep and a time to cast away. A time to rend and a time to sow. A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time of war and a time of peace.”

Sometimes you did one thing, but other times you did the opposite thing. I figured all this stuff happened in the regular world, but a lot of those things also happened when kids were playing and pretending, either with soldiers here in the basement or the backyard, or in the park with other kids. We pretended that soldiers got killed or wounded, and the doctor made some of the wounded guys “heal”, which was like getting better. We built cities and forts and other things and then wrecked them with cannons or Godzilla. We would be friends, but other times we’d pretend we were enemies that hated each other and were fighting a war. Lots of things we saw, heard or read about grownups doing in the regular world, we did in our pretend worlds when we played, so we could figure out how and why they happened, and maybe change the story so it came out better, or maybe not.

Then the guy read parts that were too complicated for me to figure out, but dad seemed to really like this part though it also made him sad, which almost never happened…

Let the word go forth from this time and place to friends and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and which we are committed today at home and around the world. Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, overcome any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Mom went over and put her hands on dad’s shoulders and squeezed them and kissed him on the top of his head.

Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe. Now the trumpet summons us again, not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need, not as a call to battle, though embattled we are, but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, a struggle against the common enemies of man. Tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself.

Mom pushed her lips together and nodded slowly, then looked at David and me and looked like she might cry again, but she didn’t.

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility, I welcome it. I do not believe any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

I remember mom explaining to me what the word “generation” meant. It was all the people that were close to the same age. Like all our moms and dads were one generation, but all us kids were a different, next generation. I just knew that us kids, that “next generation”, would change everything so it would be better, and maybe that Kennedy guy had figured that out too, even though he was a grownup.

Then all the church guys and the other people left the church and the soldiers took the casket out too and back down the stairs to the caisson, while the bands played more somber music. I was figuring out that the music you played was different, depending on what was going on. One way in a football game when you wanted your team to win, but another way in a funeral, when it wasn’t really about teams, but just thinking about the guy that died. I remembered when David and I pretended to do a funeral when we buried Lieutenant Cord after he got killed by the Martian dinosaurs on Jinx island, though we just buried him in the dirt on the edge of the dirt pile in the backyard, but not in one of those casket things. And we had President Lincoln say stuff instead of one of those church guys.

Then the caisson with the horses and the cars and the soldiers marching all started going down the streets again while bands played more somber songs. I even heard a band play the music for that death song that kids would sometimes sing in the park…

Pray for the dead and the dead will pray for you.

And when they weren’t playing the music, you could still hear the bands playing the drums.

They took the casket to the cemetary. They showed the car of the new President, that Johnson guy, with all these guys in dress up clothes walking all around it. The news guys said those walking guys were “Secret Service”, protecting him. I remembered how those secret service guys ran and jumped on Kennedy’s car after he was shot.

When they finally got to the cemetery, there were all these different soldiers and sailors standing with their guns but not moving. Dad said they were “at attention”. Some soldiers carried the casket again to the place where they were going to bury the casket in the ground. The news guys called it a “grave site”. Then there were noisy jet airplanes that flew overhead. They said there were 50 of them, 30 from the air force and 20 from the navy.

The soldiers who were carrying the casket took the flag off it and other soldiers “at attention” all did this stuff with their guns all at the same time. Then this church guy read something out of a book that I figured must be the Bible. When he finally finished talking, the band played music and the soldiers folded up the flag in this strange way that made it into a triangle which they gave to this guy in dress up clothes. Then that church guy read more words. Dad said it was another “prayer”. When he was done everybody got quiet and I could see that Kennedy’s wife, mom called her “Jackie”, was holding that folded up flag in a triangle. The soldier guys were still standing still on either side of the casket, but finally marched away, and the TV showed that “eternal flame” thing burning. Dad said that other guys would lower the casket into the ground and put dirt over it.

I kept thinking about what mom said about everything being “turned upside down” and that it would “never be the same again”.

2 replies on “Clubius Contained Part 20 – Assassinated (November 1963)”

  1. Well done. Anyone who didn’t know what happened then and how it felt would know from reading this.

  2. Wow… thanks! Your comment made my day! It was such a pivotal tipping point in U.S. and probably world culture. Some say it was the beginning of the “Sixties”, with all their turmoil and transformation, and things being turned upside down.

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