Marianne Ellsworth-age 5, Fall 1963 Jefferson Elementary School- Mesa, AZ
It was a sunny fall day in Mesa, Arizona, just after lunch recess at about 12:30 pm. I was in my first grade classroom at Jefferson Elementary School. We were having singing time with another class who had carried all of their chairs into our room and were sitting in the aisles between our desks. My desk was on the north side of the classroom and we were all seated facing east...details! Our singing was interrupted by noise from the P.A. system. As we quieted down we heard the voice of our principal Mr. Renshaw telling us he was going to play a special Report to us from the radio in the office. We heard the strains of an instrumental version of "My Country 'tis of Thee". As it faded out we heard the voice of a reporter tell us that President John F. Kennedy had been the victim of an assassin's bullet and had been pronounced dead at a hospital in Dallas, Texas. My sweet first-year teacher Miss Miller sobbed out loud and put her head down on her desk. The other teacher quickly took her students back to their classroom as we heard Mr. Renshaw telling us that school was canceled for the rest of the day. Our buses would be there soon to take us home. Tears from our teacher, confusion on the part of the little five and six year old children, waiting in line for the bus; it all felt so strange to be out there that early. I was wearing a little red sweater and a white headband in my hair.
When I arrived at home and came through the back door I saw my brother Richard who was home from school being sick that day. He was laying on the couch. My mother was standing near him. She turned to me when I came in and I said, "Oh mama! Somebody shot President Kennedy! They sent us home from school because he is dead. Why would they do that to him?" With tear in her eyes and a sad voice she pulled me close and said, "We know honey. We have been watching it on the TV this morning. I'm so sorry. I know how much you loved him." It was true. I had been drawn to his Bostonian voice from age four on. He was like my Dad to me because he was young and he had children who were just my age. I remember thinking he was very handsome and that I liked his smile. I looked over at the television, a portable black and white sitting on a gold colored wheeled cart. I vividly recall seeing this exact scene on the screen:
It is embedded in my memory, all of it. I have often wondered why. I heard a reporter today say, "we all grew up that day." It's true. We younger baby boomers had never known terrible tragedy i our country, not even a war raging until that sunny day in Dallas. Our older siblings might recall the end of the WWII era or the Korean War but we had lived blissful lives, relatively untouched by violence. Our days were full of fun, learning, and lots of pretend play. We were not connected electronically to games or news. Our world was what we made of it and it was our own. This was the first tragedy many of us had ever experienced. I believe this is why I can recall with detail so much of that day.
On November 26th I turned 6 years of age. The day before, we had all sat glued to the television watching the funeral of president Kennedy. I remember every detail of that occasion too. It was the first time that we as a nation collectively watched a story unfold on live TV. It is all black and white in my memory because that is how I saw it. I remember feeling so sad for his children and I related to them as well because their birthdays are the same week as mine. John Jr.'s was the day before and Caroline's was the day after mine. My mother had bravely planned and carried out my party the day after the funeral. I got my very first Barbie doll that day. I was happy with my friends and cousins there but the grown-ups only talked of one thing.
Sad memories, more innocent times forever altered. I was quite obsessed for a long time with the funeral of President Kennedy. I remember drawing his flag-draped coffin being pulled by horses in a procession. I drew it many, many times. I watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and listened to President Lyndon B. Johnson address the nation. I turned and told my mother, "it's just not fun anymore without President Kennedy". Indeed, it would never be the same.