I was 13 when JFK was shot. It was one of the formative experiences of my life, as of so many others. William and I were watching something on TV, which we had only recently been able to convince Irving to obtain (he had to build three antennas, one or each channel available, and he hated TV; he wrote an article about it at its inception titled "Where Does Television Belong?" I think it was published in Coronet magazine, but I need to check on that. In any case, he didn't think it belonged much of anywhere.
However, we kids felt quite differently, so in Nov. 1963 we had finally finished installing a black and white TV with wobbly reception. One had to flip a switch to get ABC, as I recall, while NBC and CBS were on the same circuit. The antennae were made from wire and plywood-- Irving was ever inventive, and frugal.
On Nov. 22, the programming was interrupted-- it could not have been anything very fascinating, but the novelty of having TV at all kept us in on a beautiful sunny day to see it-- by the announcement that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas (a place we considered the same as the Deep South, and dangerous). After a time, Walter Cronkite made his famous, moving, teary announcement that JFK was dead.
Irving came into the room as William and I yelled and exclaimed about it. "It's only a publicity stunt," he said. He could not bear to hear of anyone being hurt (in the 1980s, when a man he loathed, Ronald Reagan, was shot, he was upset and horrified: "Don't you realize that a human being has been HURT?"
William, who was about 9 at the time, said scornfully, "Irving! It can't possibly be a publicity stunt. Don't tell us that. They'd never be able to keep it a secret!"
We watched the entire weekend, the funeral, all of it, Mrs. Kennedy's calm grief, like the heroine of a Greek tragedy... Irving and Barbara didn't like the militaristic, from their point of view maudlin funerary rites. and tried to get us to do something else. But we watched around the clock till cartoons sprang shockingly out of the TV screen on Monday morning. How, I wondered, could it possibly be over so quickly, and back to business as usual? Television was never as interesting again... or as real, at least till 9/11/2001.
I remembered October 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis when we had been in Florida. It was obvious from the way the adults acted, and from the news stories, that our survival in case of a nuclear war was extremely unlikely. (Though some very kind friends offered to let us share their bomb shelter, vagabonds though we were). The great relief we all felt when the crisis had passed. The arts at the White House, celebrated there for the first time. The beauty of Mrs. Kennedy, a Leo, who even wrote to Irving (probably through a secretary) about his Hamlet in Modern English. I missed JFK and the world he brought to the presidency. I thought of the assassination of Lincoln, a century before... a very real presence to us because we traveled the battlefields of the Civil War each year on our trip to Florida and back.
After 50 years, it is all still just as shocking-- the only other equally shocking event, and perhaps not even so much, because it was, in some way, so inevitable, was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
I have lived in interesting times... I am glad to have lived and to go on living in the 20th and 21st centuries for many reasons, and in spite of all the violence and horror of these eras. Oddly, I could always see a kind of vision of the future up till the turn of the century-- but afterward, not as much. I am not sure any longer what the future will be like, but I hope for a growth of a civilized and peaceful way of life.
And in spite of everything, I'm glad that I lived in the era of JFK... RFK, Martin Luther King... and all those who were so gorily and abruptly terminated in the 1960s.
Also, I am so grateful for a life in the era of Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Pope Francis is shaping up to look like a beneficial person, too, though why not make women priests if for some odd reason they want to be?