This is the way this happened

I was in 4th-grade, old enough to know what death was, but not enough to know what it meant, I think.

It was Friday morning, I remember well.  We were having Parent-Teacher conferences at my school.  That meant I was off the day, while my teacher, Miss Parker, met with all our parents, mother, or father, or both, one session after another, all day long.  I dreaded these, although the day off was always welcome.  My parents often came home with some kind of criticism.  What I was doing wrong, what I was doing right, not so much.

I had the TV on.  At that time of morning it must have been a game show.  The Price Is Right, The Match Game, Concentration.  Something like that.  My grandfather, my mom’s dad who lived a floor above, an inveterate radio listener, came part way down the stairs.  He said, “President Kennedy has been shot and killed.”  He turned and went back upstairs.

I remember sitting there in the green rocking chair, not thinking of anything for a few moments, rocking back and forth, listening to the soft creek of the springs.  That sound makes me hungry right now, while I’m writing this.  My mouth waters recalling it.  I would eat Oreos, dunked in milk, rocking back and forth in that chair, the black cookie drowned near crumbling, after I ‘d scraped off the white cream filling with my teeth.

My connection with the TV ended abruptly. I knew that JFK was President. I guess I was numb, my mind whirling through pictures of gunfire and blood.  Finally shutting off the TV, I picked up my favorite black German Luger water pistol with the textured handle and the red rubber tip and stopper.  I went out the front door. Kennedy is dead, I thought.

I shot at ants crawling on the stone wall built along the road.  When I ran out of water, I went back.  The sun beat down. It was too hot to be outside anyway.

I sat on the rocking chair, but I didn’t turn on the TV.  My grandfather came half-way down the stairs.  “Lyndon Johnson is now our President,” he said, then turned and went back upstairs.

Johnson. I had no picture of him in my head.  All I could see was JFK, that photo of him hanging on our classroom wall. The perfect hair, those eyes staring not at the camera, but somewhere off to the right, perhaps toward a bullet ripping through him in Texas.

* * * * *

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