By Peggy Weber
Friday afternoons were pretty easy in the 4th Grade. After lunch we had art and then headed next door to church for Benediction. However, On Nov. 22, 1963 things were different. We were told to put away our art supplies right away and clear our desks. The whole school was rushed out of the building. The teachers were visibly upset. Something was wrong.
We soon learned that President Kennedy been shot.
There was no horsing around in church that afternoon. The mood was different. Some of the sisters were crying. All the students at Holy Name Grammar School in Springfield were on their knees trying to pray the first Catholic president back to health.
Since then I have learned that many other students were taken to church that fateful Friday. Catholic school children throughout the land were doing the only thing that can be done in face of tragedy and sorrow — they prayed.
I recall that somehow we were informed that the president had died and were sent home. I think we were let out early. You could do that back then. Kids went home for lunch. Entire classes were kept after school for talking too much.
I rushed home and was greeted at the door by my mother. One look at her face told me that she knew the sad news. She looked really, really sad. I began to cry and we hugged. This was followed by our usual afternoon ritual of a cup of tea — mine had lots of milk in it.
Friday afternoons also meant tap dancing class at Charmaine’s School of Dance. I told my mother I was too upset to go to class. She said I had to go anyway because you had to pay for the class whether you did or did not go. We didn’t waste money. I trudged down Alderman Street to White Street and shuffled and pointed — with very little enthusiasm.
That night — those were meatless Fridays back then — we did something very unusual. My dad set up a card table in the living room and we watched TV.
We never ate in front of a TV when I was little. I knew that night that things were really different.
In a way, this was the second death that had struck our family that year. In June our beloved Pope John XXIII had died. They were the special “Johns” in our world. However, this one hurt more. It was violent and tragic. It left two children without their dad. It left everyone wondering why.
The weekend was a blur as our family was glued to the old black and white set in our living room. Finally on Sunday, my mom told us to go out and play. We did. We were not out long when one of the seven kids from the house next door burst out of his front door. He was a few years older and had our attention as he said, “I just saw Lee Harvey Oswald get shot.”
We rushed back into our homes to learn more. The unreal weekend continued.
I remember black-rimmed prayer cards in church.
I remember the riderless horse.
And, of course, I remember the salute from young “John-John.”
I know the world changed that day — just as I watched it change for my children on September 11th.
But one thing has not changed. On the night of September 11th, our parish gathered for Mass. We went to our knees in the face of violence and tragedy — just as I had as a fourth grader 50 years ago.
Photos courtesy of Catholic News Service