My brother has given me hundreds of slides that I find myself going through one at a time. Each one holds a memory – some of places long ago visited, some of people long gone from my life – but each slide tells a story.
I came across a few from the grave of President Kennedy taken a week after he was buried. The slides show that white picket fence which surrounded his grave, the flowers, the hats from all the armed services, the evergreen boughs that covered the grave, and the eternal flame that was burning so brightly. I closed my eyes and remembered those days that have been etched in the memory of all who lived through it.
I remember exactly where I was when the word came that President Kennedy had been shot. I was in my 6th grade English class – Mr. Faust’s English class to be exact. I remember that he cried when he heard the news, and for some reason I didn’t find that disconcerting; it sort of made him human to me.
The school sent us home early, and I remember sitting in front of a small black and white television screen for the next three days with my mother, just watching the black and white images on the screen and seeing my mother cry–one of the few times in my life I would witness this show of emotion.
We watched everything that the television stations of 1963 had to offer. We didn’t miss a moment. When they went off the air, we went to bed, when they came on in the morning, mother woke me so I could see this part of American history.
Mother got it in her head that she wanted my father to drive us to Washington DC so we could walk past the casket as it lay in the rotunda of the Capital. My father didn’t seem to share her enthusiasm for such an outing, and kept finding reasons not to go. Finally, after an entire day of mother insisting we go and my father insisting we not, he caved and we started to dress for the drive and the standing in line.
As mother was packing sandwiches, they announced on the television that they were not allowing anyone else to get in line to view the casket. As you can imagine – mother was not pleased and my father acted like he was also not pleased, but we all knew he was happy he didn’t have to make that drive in the middle of the night!
The deal he made with mother was that he would drive us down to Arlington National Cemetery the following weekend so we could walk past the grave. He kept his word, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was only 11, but some things, some places, some emotions never leave you.
If I’m still enough and quiet enough while looking at these slides, I can still hear the soft sounds of women weeping, and I can see grown men wiping their eyes, and servicemen standing at attention saluting the grave of their fallen comrade and President. I can hear the sounds of people softly walking on the wooden walkway that had been built so the public could walk by, and I can hear the snow crunch as they walk over it. More than anything, I remember how quiet it was. Hundreds of people, dressed in their Sunday best, paying their respects to their fallen President.
It was history, and I’m so thrilled to have been a part of it. As sad as it was, I’m so honored to have seen that white picket fence and flowers and evergreen boughs and armed services hats, and that ever burning flame. My mother, God love her, insisted.