On my way to buy underwear is the answer.
Where were you on November 22, 1963 when you heard John F Kennedy had been shot? is the question.
I was obeying my mother’s command. Other mothers admonished their children to always wear clean underwear lest they be hit by a car and taken to the hospital and be found to have on dirty undies. For my mother, it was preparation for any trip I took. “Go buy new underwear.”
Th trip I was about to undertake was not an exciting one. Part of the senior year experience at my Catholic Girl’s high school was a three-day retreat at a monastery in New Jersey during the short school week preceding Thanksgiving. We had been dismissed after lunch the preceding Friday because ????????????I have no idea why since we wouldn’t be departing until Sunday. Maybe it was so we could all go buy new underwear!
At any rate, there I was walking west on East 75th street toward 5th avenue to take a downtown bus to EJ Korvette’s on 47th and Fifth. It was a cold blustery day, much like today, and as I rushed head-on into the wind blowing east from Central Park, a doorman stepped out of the polished wood shelter of an apartment house lobby and called out
“The president was just shot.”
I don’t recall what I said. Probably “oh no.” The next half hour or so is a blank. I probably headed on in disbelief and waited for the bus.
My next recollection is visual – looking out the window as the bus headed south and noticing the clusters of people planted outside stores windows on Fifth Avenue, watching news accounts on televisions that had been placed in the windows.
The next memory is aural – the eerie sound of all the church bells on Fifth Avenue – St Patrick’s Cathedral, Thomas Episcopal Church, and others – all chiming in discordant symphony. No words were needed. Everyone knew what they meant. Our young president was gone.
I had not intended to write about this but a serendipitous occurrence urged me on. A classmate of mine with whom I’ve reconnected via Facebook posted a question for me on her timeline. She seemed to recall that we’d been dismissed early but didn’t know why. In replying to her, my mind took another weird hop, skip and jump and I realized the spot where the doorman stepped out to tell me of Kennedy’s shooting was half a block away from where three years earlier, JFK, then a presidential candidate, had waved to me, a 13-year-old schoolgirl standing on the median of Park Avenue; he, on his way to his first debate with Nixon, and I, waiting for all the motorcycles and limousines to pass so I could catch up with my friends on the other side of the street. If you missed that post, here it is.
And now, fifty years later I’m flying to San Diego in the morning to spend Thanksgiving with an old friend. And I’m taking a very bold step. I’m packing old underwear!
See you when I get back!