Hearing the bells peal out in remembrance of John F. Kennedy and feeling the chills run through me, I thought back to that time. I was in seventh grade, and we were herded into the cafetorium to hear the news. Of course, I don't know how adults felt at the time, having lived through many seasons of loss from too many recent wars, but for me, it was an awakening of the bad things can happen with no notice.
It was, well, a somehow smaller era. News didn't travel at the speed of light, dirty laundry wasn't aired as those it were a holiday flag, and all people of my age knew about the Kennedy family was that they were young, full of life, and seemed dedicated to bringing us into a bigger, brighter future.
They played touch football on the lawn of their spacious seaside home, their beautiful daughter rode her pony, Macaroni, on the White House lawn, and their little boy hid under his daddy's desk for a game of hide and seek. John, as President, went to the disputed, divided city of Berlin, and standing hatless in the cold declared, "I am a Berliner!" He talked of going to the stars and we did, learing to count backwards towards the big push forward.
I remember everything about that day, once the news came, and of the days afterwards. The blood stained, shattered first lady, a sorrowful Lyndon Johnson reluctantly taking the oath of office, the constant, mournful drumming as the funeral procession made its way through the nation's Capitol, the little boy in the neat suit stepping forward to salute his fallen father. And the black, riderless horse with empty boots turned backwards in the stirrups. I was watching the dream die and our nation change, without realizing it at the time. It was just sad and bleak.
I can't begin to say how our country might or might not have been different had John Kennedy lived to fulfill whatever potenital he had. I do remember his steely confrontations with Fidel Castro and Nikita Kruschev, pulling us back from the brink of what seemed certain nuclear disaster. I remember hearing, "We do thing not because they are easy, but becasue they are hard." We were admonished to "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your county." The Peace Corps was born and we hoped we'd no longer have to "duck and cover" under our school desks. There was hope and there was promise. I know now there was also intrigue, bad behavior, political manuvering, and many of the same undercurrents that are in play today. But I was a child, innocent of these things, and I think in many ways our country was the same on some levels.
Who's to say if things have become better or worse since that one dark day, but I do often wonder "what if, what if?"