Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty years ago today

For those like me who were living and old enough to understand, this was an unforgettable day,
the Pearl Harbor and  9/11/01  of my generation.

I was fifteen years old, and at Bishop Shanahan High School,we were all in the auditorium at an assembly - the National Honor Society induction ceremony. I was on stage being inducted (aside: I lasted in the NHS only until the end of that year, having earned such a low grade in Geometry that I was drummed out) Anyway... Father Nugent (the principal) went to the podium and announced that Kennedy had been shot. I remember that my first thought was "Now, that is a sick joke!" Talk about denial! So we all went back to our classrooms ( homerooms?) and a little later, the announcement came over the P.A. that the president was dead. I remember seeing some of the teachers crying.

A poet-friend, Sam Gwynn, posted this today:

The Day Kennedy Died
By Leon Stokesbury

Suppose on the day Kennedy died you had
a vision. But this was no inner movie
with a plot or anything like it. Not
even very visual when you get down
to admitting what actually occurred.
About two-thirds of the way through 4th period
Senior Civics, fifteen minutes before
the longed-for lunchtime, suppose you stood up
for no good reason-no reason at all really-
and announced, as you never had before,
to the class in general and to yourself
as well, “Something. Something is happening.
I see. Something coming. I can see. I…”

And that was all. You stood there: blank.
The class roared. Even Phyllis Hoffpaur, girl
most worshipped by you from afar that year,
turned a vaguely pastel shade of red
and smiled, and Richard Head, your best friend,
Dick Head to the chosen few, pulled you down
to your desk whispering, “Jesus, Man! Jesus
Christ!” Then you went numb. You did not know
for sure what had occurred. But less than one hour
later, when Stella (despised) Vandenburg, teacher
of twelfth grade English, came sashaying
into the auditorium, informing, left and right,
as many digesting members of the student body
as she could of what she had just heard,
several students began to glance at you,
remembering what you’d said. A few pointed,
whispering to their confederates, and on that
disturbing day they slinked away in the halls.
Even Dick Head did not know what to say.

In 5th period Advanced Math, Principal
Crawford played the radio over the intercom
and the school dropped deeper into history.
For the rest of that day, everyone slinked away-
except for the one moment Phyllis Hoffpaur
stared hard, the look on her face asking,
assuming you would know, “Will it be ok?”

And you did not know. No one knew.
Everyone staggered back to their houses
that evening aimless and lost, not knowing,
certainly sensing something had been
changed forever. Silsbee High forever!
That is our claim! Never, no never!
Will we lose our fame! you often sang.
But this was to be the class of 1964,
afraid of the future at last, who would select,
as the class song, Terry Stafford’s Suspicion.
And this was November—even in Texas
the month of failings, month of sorrows
--from which we saw no turning.
It would be a slow two-months slide until
the manic beginnings of the British Invasion,
three months before Clay’s ascension to the throne,
but all you saw walking home that afternoon
were the gangs of gray leaves clotting the curbs
and culverts, the odors of winter forever
in the air: cold, damp, bleak, dead, dull:
dragging you toward the solstice like a tide.

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