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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Remembering John F Kennedy

I spent all of Friday watching specials on TV.  And I was still too worked up to write yesterday.  On this 50th anniversary of his assassination, maybe I'm ready...  I'll try...

I was 13 when JFK was killed in Dallas.  Home life was good, private life was good (as good as it could be for a 13 yer old boy trying to "figure out things").

But, as they say, everyone of a certain age remembers that day. I do too, generally.

But what struck me as I watched the various TV shows detailing the events, I do not remember them as accurately as I thought.  Over 50 years, some recollections are just plain wrong and some are "iffy" at best.

The major details are accurate, the ones we all know from history.  Date, time, place, shooter, etc.  But my specific personal recollections are in doubt.  Things that I thought were factual, aren't (and I'm not talking about conspiracy theories here.

I have the clearest recollection of looking at the school "public address" (PA) box at the top of the cinder block wall above the teacher suddenly announcing that the President had been shot and killed in Dallas Texas.  The PA box was light wood colored, square with rounded corners, black cloth behind a open wooden grid.  It was angled slightly downward.  We were told that those of us who walked or rode our bikes to school should immediately return home.  Those who took busses should line up at our usual spots and wait for the buses to arrive.

I rode a bike to school, so I went straight home. 

And yet, my memory has the time and location wrong in some way.  In November 1963, I lived in Maryland.  When my memory looks out the classroom windows when I hear the announcement, I am seeing the previous year-before Virginia school I attended then (we moved around every few years).  I can't have been in Virginia in November 1963.

And the time is wrong.  My memory says we got the announcement just after lunch, about 12:30.  That was Eastern Time.  That isn't possible.  JFK died at 1 PM Central Time, 2 PM Eastern Time.  It took a while to get the news spread, and the school administrators could not have reacted immediately  (needing to arrange buses, plan students leaving, etc).  It had to be at least 3 PM before the announcement came over the PA system.

That's a shock to my memory.  Wrong place, wrong time.

The other memory problem is that I recall being at my grandparants house watching the funerial ceremonies for several days.  The memories are VERY clear.  My gramma was crying, my grampa was watching intently (but not crying), my dad was not very interested (at least not watching the small TV).

But wait, how did I get from Maryland to New England?  I'm not sure I was really there.  Would my parents have taken me out of school to go watch the funeral services in New England?  That was a very serious trip in 1963!  But the personal memories are SO strong.  Maybe we did go to New England for family grieving.  But how can I know?

Gramma and Grampa are long gone, Mom is dead, Dad can't remember where he lived last year.  I'm the eldest child; my younger siblings can't know (at 11 and 7).  Its not like there are any records I can check now.  My parents never kept a journal of events.  The only thing I have are old photographs and no photos I have show anything about that time at home or on travel.

I have clear memories of there being nothing on TV for several days except JFK's death and funeral march.  That has to come from somewhere, but whether from Maryland or New England, I cannot tell.

It bothers me greatly that I can't determine the accuracy of my memories of the events then.  Some MUST be false, some MAY be false, some are accurate.  But there comes a time when you can't know which are which.

And I don't mean to say that my memory is failing exactly.  Its more that the ongoing historical shows over the years have caused some "adjustments" to my memories.  I do understand how that works.  But it is sad to see the proof of that the past few days.  It is a shock to me.

And one of the TV shows about JFK's death was about personal recollections of "Where You Were".  I have to wonder about the accuracy of THEIR recollections.  Some of them were my age or younger.

I DO know that, even at age 13, I knew something horrible had happened and that history had changed (I was big into history at a young age and also reading alternate universe fiction).  JFK's death probably had some major part of why I studied "Government and Politics" in college.

Its odd to think that, had Oswald missed his target, I might have majored in history and had an entirely different career.  But I was considering mechanical engineering too.  Maybe I'd be designing a Tesla car today...

Maybe JFK is why I love alternate history stories.  Just think of a world where he wasn't killed and a story starts "The visit to Dallas was a great success, won him Texas, and led to the second Kennedy term..."

But I'm wandering.  JFK's assassination was a major event in my young life that has had serious repercussions through the years, and I have found I misremember parts of those personal recollections.  It's disturbing, possible inevitable, and maybe important or not.

Are YOUR memories of the event (should you be of that age) as accurate as you think they are?

4 comments:

ANGEL ABBY said...

Your points about memory are something to think of in terms of eye witness testimony. Lawyers know that eye witness testimony is very suspect. Especially over a traumatic event. As this was for you. If you think it odd then take a quick psychological test where you compare two pictures comparing what you remembering seeing different between the two. Or trying to describe exactly what you saw. Invariably details are missed, even BIG ones. Memories also get caught up by the things we are repeatedly told, like family history. You see it so often when someone does family research and discovers oral family history is all wrong. I was too young to remember any of this, but my Brother who is 7 years older than I does have memories.

Derby, Ducky said...

Did your grandparents come to visit for Thanksgiving which was the following week? Or could your family have a planned trip to visit them for Thanksgiving week?

Time wise, most things were stated in central time, and I remember the times pretty good. Just after we had come back to class after lunch break.

Megan said...

I was too young to be aware of it Mark and, of course, in Australia the treatment of the event would have been quite different. One of the world events that I can recall - well, I THINK I can recall - is watching the first moon landing. I was at school and everyone was crowded into the assembly hall to watch the one and only TV, in glorious black and white.
I share your views about personal memories - how fluid and unreliable they are, and how unsettling it can be to have one clearly demonstrated to be wrong!

Megan
Sydney, Australia

Mariodacatsmom said...

My memory is failing, and I do worry about that. I thought I remembered being home from work and in front of the TV set in our tiny apartment doing the ironing. But when I think about it - that would have meant that it happened on a Saturday and I'm not sure about that. It seems most people remember being somewhere at work then. Maybe I remember really the funeral happening on a Saturday and I was home ironing then. I suppose I could research all this, but it isn't going to help with the memory. Since our parents had/have alzheimer, I join you in being disturbed at things like that.