Growing up Catholic in a large family in New Mexico, death was reenacted on a daily basis in the image of the crucified Christ at morning Mass and ever present in the crucifixes on our walls and our rosaries. We mourned every Lenten season, covering the saints and holy statues with purple cloth, and with every Station of the Cross we relived the torture and murder of Jesus Christ. The Brothers Grimm stories were fairy tales in comparison.
Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was five years old, watching Pete and Gladys, and alternately running screaming and laughing around the room with my brothers and sisters, when the bulletin appeared on TV. All our noisy horseplay disappeared in an instant. The light and air seemed to drain from the room. My mom, who’d been downtown paying taxes on our house walked in, pale and silent. I strained my neck to look into her face towering so far above me. Someone at the bus stop told her that President Kennedy had been shot. So it was true. We were stunned. The rest of that day and the days following we watched the television images of the assassination replayed over and over. We watched Lyndon Johnson take the oath of office with Jackie Kennedy looking on, bloodstained jacket and skirt; her stricken face spoke for all of us, in mourning and now betrayed. We watched Jack Ruby shoot and kill Lee Harvey Oswald. We bundled hundreds of newspapers for my brother’s paper route every afternoon. KENNEDY SLAIN. I learned to recognize that name on the printed page before I recognized my own.
John F. Kennedy was our president. The same age as my mother. He was intelligent and kind and every time he gave a speech or addressed the nation in a televised broadcast my mother would call us all in-- be quiet and listen. He was the perfect representative of our country to the rest of the world, dynamic, brilliant, handsome, and funny. He had a beautiful, smiling wife and happy children. He was taking us to the moon.
Forty years later, it still breaks my heart to see that face--those faces, and remember.