Friday, November 22, 2013

50 years later

22 November 1963
Probably 2:30 PM-ish

Principal Carl Lewelling walked into my Tennessee History class at Pi Beta Phi Elementary School in Gatlinburg. At the time, I was looking at a map of the Volunteer State counting the number of counties named in honor of presidents: Washington... Monroe... Madison... Van Buren... Jackson... Lincoln... Jefferson...

The school's leader was ashen. After speaking briefly to Mrs. Wolfe, our teacher, he turned to the class.

A tall, forceful man with a shock of hair that fell down over his forehead, Lewelling was obviously rattled, words could not have come easily, how could you relate such unspeakable horror to young minds, seven-year-olds, eight-year-olds, etc. but he had the same grave message to deliver to over 16 classes of youngsters, and he did them all himself. A message that sorrowful had to be done in person.

"Class," said Lewelling. "President Kennedy has just been assassinated. He is dead."

The news was too big for me to comprehend. Too big for the class to comprehend. Too big for the nation. All fell silent. Shock shuts down the system. In the hallway, teachers wept. Others teared up not quite knowing why.

A charismatic president too young to die. A small mountain school too young to fathom its meaning. 

And for the next four days my whole family set around the television watching the drama play out in black and white. Four days of pathos, national suffering, much too big for anyone to comprehend.

My good friend Guy was only four-years-old. "No one would tell me what had happened. I could see it on TV, see everyone crying, but no one explained it to me. I had to somehow make sense of it all." 

Those of us who were alive at the time will never ever forget. It's burned into our emotional core, seared into our temporal lobe. The sight of First Lady Jackie in that hot pink Chanel suit with matching pillbox hat still brings the tears, half a century later.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I remember Carl. He was a terrific guy

Mark Fraley