It was just an ordinary day

On The Way
By Olivia Fowler

I was sitting in my desk in math class on November 22, 1963.

Mrs. Memory had just gone to the board. We were working our way through the solutions to our homework assignment.

Someone tapped on the door. Mrs. Memory walked to the door and opened it, and Mr. Parker, our principal, was there. He was holding a small television set.
They spoke in low voices, and I saw Mrs. Memory’s face. She was shocked by something. Mr. Parker walked into the classroom and set the television on the projector stand, and plugged it in.

He turned to face us and said other classes would be coming into the room, so we needed to make room for them. He said something had happened to President Kennedy, and we all needed to see the report.

I scooted over in my desk and made room for Nancy Gainey to sit beside me. The radiator was making a popping sound as the room warmed up.

Other students began coming into the room. The taller boys were herded into the back. It was a small school, and everyone considered old enough to see the event was brought in.

Even though the television was a small black and white model, we could see Walter Cronkite clearly and we could certainly hear him.

There was no other sound in the classroom.

Just a few minutes before this moment we were all looking forward to Thanksgiving. We would get out Wednesday at noon for the holiday.

All thoughts of Thanksgiving were gone. We were shocked and confused and after looking at the faces of the teachers and hearing their murmurs, we realized this wasn’t an ordinary part of childhood.

The day of President Kennedy’s assassination marked the end of childhood for me, because it was then I realized that the events happening outside our small, safe world were real and affected even those in a small, close-knit rural community where agriculture was the career path for generations, and we all were used to thinking our lives would go down those familiar pathways.

Our world had changed. We sat and watched events unfold and learned that President Kennedy was dead.

It was a clear, crisp kind of fall day. I’d worn a sweater to school that morning because Grandmama had told me to, and even though young bones really don’t feel the cold, I’d worn it.

We rode the bus home, as did almost everyone in our school, as we all lived on farms outside the town. I rode the bus with my brother and my cousins, and we took some comfort in being together.

After Thanksgiving when we were back in school, Mr. Parker called a special assembly and read President Kennedy’s Thanksgiving speech to the student body.

Mrs. Buie, who taught American and World History, talked to us about the assassination and helped us understand why such things happened in our world. She took us back to Lincoln’s assassination and explained how that affected America in general and the South in particular.

At this time we could not know the future. We were not to know of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, Martin Luther King’s assassination, George Wallace’s shooting, leaving him a paraplegic, President Reagan’s shooting or all the violence and waste of life in the Vietnam War.

One thing I learned and take with me always is that the person in the vice presidential slot is as important as the person running for president. A few seconds of violence can catapult a vice president onto the world’s stage. It matters. So every time I go into the voter’s booth I remember that and vote accordingly. And to those who say it doesn’t matter who the vice president is because he never does anything, I say “Oh yes it does.”