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« November 22, 1963 [by Jim Cummins] | Main | The Year I Didn't Kill Myself by Gabrielle Calvocoressi »

November 22, 2013


Inextricably intertwined with the comfort of Walter Cronkite's voice taking us through the entire horrible weekend that followed. "beautiful, tan, godlike," that's what we all thought.

Beautiful ! thanks for sharing, ti

brilliant as always Terence, thank you

A knockout. I love this. Thank you.

It touched my heart. If only.... Eileen

Terence Winch's deft, vivid evocation through comment and poem stirred my own memory of that day and time. At Sacred Heart Elementary School in Reading, Pa., I was sitting in my seventh-grade class, which was half of a so-called split class, with seventh- and eighth-graders crowded into a single classroom. We sat on the left, and they sat on the right, as the IHM nun taught one side while the other side did exercises oh so quietly. The school had no TV, but it did have an intercom worthy of any train station public-address system, i.e., indecipherable static. So the mother superior/principal popped her head into the classroom to let us know that the President had been shot. We all were set free from school early that day (any other time, we would have been skipping gleefully out the door), and at home most of us gathered around the TV as if it were our communal hearth. The expressed sorrow and unexpressed anger among Catholics over the loss of one of their own finally in the White House linger with me still. Since then, revisionist historians have almost succeeded in turning JFK from a tragic victim with great potential into a charismatic, deeply flawed politician (back then, "deeply flawed politician" was not necessarily a redundancy) with no better than modest governing skills.


Thanks, Terence, for reminding us of what was and could have been.

the kennedy shooting is before my time, so i'm the kid who grew up among people who'd say, "i can remember exactly where i was when i heard the news," and i kept waiting for such a moment in my young life. i kind of remember some astronauts splashing down. i remember the words "vietnam" and "atom bomb" in the same sentence. i remember eating yodels on a boardwalk -- awaiting such significance. if you didn't experience the killing in its day, you were certainly impressed by the effect it had on others who did -- this post, too, reinforced that for me. thanks for it.

Thanks, Dan. I would guess 9-11 will have the same kind of centrality in the memories of millennials.

Terry, here's my memory, from my book, "Mapping Norwood, an Irish-American Memoir." The group of pieces you've posted, old and new both, are precise and evocative, as always.
Charlie Fanning

I was born and raised in the Boston area and attended Harvard College in the early 1960s, so I heard about the Kennedys a lot and had seen Jack several times over the years. The last time was on a beautiful, sunny Saturday, October 19, 1963, when he attended the Harvard-Columbia football game at Harvard Stadium. He stayed through the half-time show—both bands made brief, comic references to his presence—then left quietly. I had a job in the press box at football games that consisted of running errands for the sports writers. When word spread that the president was leaving, I walked out the side door of the press box and looked over the back wall of the stadium. Down at the bottom were three idling limousines. Sure enough, a group of men emerged into view. I had a clear view of Jack. As I watched, he shaded his eyes and waved, then ducked into one of the cars and was driven away.
A month and three days later, on Friday afternoon, November 22, I found myself on an El train pulling into the old Forest Hills Station. I was heading to my home in Norwood. This was an unexpected trip, as Thanksgiving was the following week, and I’d been planning to stay in Cambridge until then. Less than two hours earlier, I had been at the bank in Harvard Square taking out some money for the weekend of fun that lay ahead.
But now, at every El stop, working people and school kids, let out early on the heels of catastrophe, had stumbled onto the train, stunned and shocked at the bold headlines on the EXTRA editions clutched in their hands. At every stop, men and women, black and white, got on with tears in their eyes. Many held rosary beads and cried openly, especially at the old South End and Roxbury stops named for colonial bluebloods—Dover, Northampton, Egleston Square—long since transmuted from fashionable Yankee addresses to sanctuaries for the immigrant Irish. On every face was the one question: how could this have happened?
Thirty minutes earlier, I had walked back up from my dorm with a hastily packed bag, passing people gathered in small groups around transistor radios. As I entered the MTA shelter at Harvard Square to ride the clanking wooden escalator down into the dark, the bells of Memorial Church began to toll. Thirty minutes before that, I had been standing in line in the high-ceilinged, marble lobby of the Cambridge Trust Company, waiting to withdraw twenty dollars from my savings account for the weekend. I had been twenty-one years old for eleven days, and the world was my oyster. The big roman-numeraled clock on the wall read 12:50—within an hour of the rifle shots a thousand miles away—as my friend Kurt von Kann came through the front door, spotted me, and hurried over. “President Kennedy’s been shot in Dallas,” he said. “They think he’s dead.”

Thanks for sharing this, Charlie.

Wonderful reminiscence, wonderful poem. Magnifying sense of time-travel/simultaneity as we age & move toward death.

My wife & I were speaking of Defining Moments, including Nov. 22 1963 as one, and it occurred that the term Defining Moment in this case (as in the case of 9/11) was not defining at all, for no definition was to be found there: instead, a glimpse into chaos, perhaps more frightening than any definition.

This Irish-American was a senior in high school, a working-class Catholic boys' school in San Francisco, and beyond the shock, sense for me that the post-assasinatiion commitment to prayer we were urged toward was useless, silly. The drift away might have started there...

Dear Terence - thank you for this beautiful essay and poem and for the pictures.


Thanks, Jerry.  I'm not sure whom I prayed to that day in the chapel---by that time all prayers seemed unanswerable to me.

I do really love this poem.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

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