Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sundays with Steve - The Fabric of Who we are.

Since I’ve started writing “Sundays with Steve”, I’ve been thinking about vignettes of my life growing up in North Idaho. I realize the town where I grew up and the life I lived with my family is really a classic, all-American story. Perhaps you will recognize some of your childhood in these writings. And perhaps you will recognize the town you grew up in along with some of the characters you knew. Mrs. Steve has encouraged me to write these attempts of “creative writing” as opposed to the more factual journalistic style I was trained in and practiced in my early career many years ago. So my apologies if I stumble a bit here and there trying to blend the two styles together.

The Fabric of Who we are.

We were walking into the gym of Jennifer Junior High School, dressed in sweaty t-shirts and gym shorts, sweating and panting from a long run, heading for the boy’s locker room and a shower before lunch in 20 minutes in the school cafeteria, next door. Ed Williams, the junior high PE and health teacher, and football –track –boxing coach was leading the way as he always did on those morning physical ed class runs, typically 20 laps around the football field next door to the gym.

Ed Williams was an interesting guy: Dark, handsome, and muscular, he always dressed in all white clothing, never a hint of other color on him. He ran for Congress 20 years later in Idaho’s First District, but lost to a long-time incumbent. He died in a boating accident on the Snake River a few years after that election run.

There are events in our lives, in all of our lives, that intrude so deeply and so emotionally that the time and circumstances when you hear the news is embedded into your consciousness, forever. Those events that may be national or international in scope, or they may be something so incredibly personal that they knock you to the ground the day they occur.

It was a quite November day, that Friday in 1963. It was sunny that day, a week before Thanksgiving, with the defused light of late fall; the trees had already shed their leaves, and we hoped the first winter snows were not far off.

I was in the eighth grade in our smallish North Idaho town; my second year experiencing going from classroom to classroom in a large school environment, experiencing new topics like PE, algebra and earth sciences; experiencing the blend of kids funneled from a number of different elementary school into a new common school, kids to be joined in friendship or at least acquaintances, in many cases for life. These were new people, new environments, new demands on your time and attentions, and of course, there was puberty for all – early teenagers maturing in these new environments, and not necessarily smoothly.

ATTENTION, ATTENTION, blared the public address system in the locker room and through-out the school. Steam filled the room from the running showers, and boys were talking about their lunch plans while dressing into their school clothes. There were lunch options: the school cafeteria with its horrid food, Kothkie’s was a lunch counter and small grocery store one block away that could be accessed easily; eating a sack lunch outside or cafeteria was always an option; or maybe for me, going next door to the school where the delightful Coxie lived in her small wood frame home with the wood burning stove (see my Thanksgiving story from two weeks ago) and seeing if there might be a sandwich to be had.

ATTENTION FOR THIS ANNOUNCEMENT: PRESIDENT KENNEDY HAS BEEN SHOT. I REPEAT, said the voice of the Principal, PRESIDENT KENNEDY HAS BEEN SHOT. WE HAVE NO OTHER NEWS RIGHT NOW. WE ARE CANCELLING FIFTH AND SIXTH PEROIDS TODAY, SO THAT YOU CAN GO HOME EARLY. FOR YOU WHO RIDE BUSES (about ½ of the school did), THE BUSES WILL BE HERE AT 1 O’CLOCK. FOR THE REST OF YOU, YOU CAN LEAVE SCHOOL AT ANY TIME.


School was cancelled for the next week as the nation and the world roiled in the assassination of JFK, as he was known.

It was one of those events that marked the century of the U.S. It was one of those events that scored the time of day and your activities into your consciousness.

Our television set was on mostly non-stop for the next week, updating in black and white the latest news from Dallas and then later, the funeral procession and ceremonies in Washington. The TV news non-stop cycle was born that week, with the talking heads doing so endlessly. In our family, even with teenagers just starting to become aware of the outside world, we were glued to the tube for the duration.

Kennedy had campaigned in our small town in the fall of 1959, in his election effort to beat Richard Nixon. My parents took my brothers and me to see him at the airport, where he landed in a prop passenger plane, got off, made a 10 minute speech to the several hundred gathered there, got back on to the plane, and flew away. I don’t think the Kennedy group was on the ground more than about 20 minutes altogether. This was the first time in U.S. history the candidates were making “whistle stop” tours of the nation using airplanes instead of trains. My brother David and I rode our bikes downtown the next day to the county Democratic headquarters and covered by father’s work car with Kennedy stickers. He kept them on, but I don’t think he was real happy about it. We celebrated with our family, and I collected the first bet of my life, $1 from Ted Sorensen who made the mistake wagering on Nixon.

You can associate those major events in your life; you know exactly what they are, where you were, and how you felt. For some, you remember when the radio told you Pearl Harbor had been bombed on that Sunday morning in December, or perhaps when Walt Winchell told you the war in Europe was over and your husband would be coming home. Maybe it was much worse, when the telegram arrived from the War Department, and you remember so well the uncomfortable look on the delivery boy’s face as he handed the envelope to you. For us baby boomers, there are two very public events I think that reside with us: The Kennedy assignation of course, and the attack on the World Trade Center in2001.

And we all have our private, personal events that are burned into our conscious, both negative and hopefully positive: The birth of a child, a wedding, the death of a parent -- whatever it is. We have all experienced earth-moving events, we all retain them in our memory banks, and over time, those events become a part and parcel of the fabric of who we are.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. Matlock
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9 comments:

BEAR's Mom said...

Sunday morning coffee with Steve :)

I was in Mrs. Cook's 7th grade English class when that announcement came over the air.
Couldn't get the drum beat out of my head for days. I spent most of that time next door at my grandparent's home watching. The most vivid memory was not on the television, but what my grandfather said: "I'm glad I got to see that in my lifetime". He talked about the historical value, and being able to feel the tremendous loss of our president. He died December 19th. 27 days after we lost our president, my family lost our patriarch.

~victoria~

Kat said...

Very moving post Steve. I was only 4, but it is the first really clear memory from my childhood. The tv was on constantly, which was a big no no in our house. And I remember all the adults around me crying. But my most vivid memory is of little John John saluting during the funeral procession. Maybe because he was close to my age, but that remains with me to this day. Kat

Cheryl said...

I have no clue what is my true memory of that day and what is just the images I've seen repeated over the course of a lifetime. Not a TV household so I know it wasn't on day and night. I do remember what it was like at school during the week that followed.

I was older for MLK and RFK and those images are mine. Of all the Kennedy moments, I remember Chappaquidick most vividly. A man who would be king letting a young woman die, disgracing himself, embarrassing his family, and letting down a nation that badly needed him. He redeemed himself with his commitment to country, but his actions back then took away the hopes of an entire nation.

Tonia of Chic Modern Vintage said...

Steve, I live in Dallas and drive past the route where he JFK was shot, as a matter of fact I drove past there just yesterday and people were every where taking pictures, etc. It's amazing to me to this day how people still visit that area. I feel a since of sadness when I drive by because I often wonder have we made a strides since that time? Thanks for such a lovely post this Sunday.

Pondside said...

We lived in a small community in south-central Ontario and I was in Grade Six when the announcement came. We were all sent home. The day is all mixed up in my mind with the birth of my brother on the 22nd and the death of my grandfather on the 28th - it was a week of turmoil.

Jeanie said...

I was in Mr. Butts' (his real name, poor guy) history class. A boy in the class cheered and Mr. Butts picked him up by the back of his neck and dragged him into the hall. We heard him screaming at the boy for several minutes before Mr. Butts came back in alone.
You have described the collective shock of that day and the days that followed very well....from a normal day to a sense of unreality.

Pat Tillett said...

A great and thought provoking post! Thanks...

I remember that day, just like it was yesterday. I was also in school. Kids and teachers were openly crying. I don't think any president, either before or after, would have gotten that response.
A sad sad day...

Pearl Maple said...

Thanks for sharing this memory with us. Guess folks who did not experience the day can not understand the reaction and feelings about something that at the time was so unconceivable.

We were living in Boston, it will count as one of the oddest days in my memory bank.

H said...

I only really remember the JFK assasination from later recounts. I'm sure it made big waves over here too, but not in the way it would for you.

Memories I have deeply etched, are the death of Princess Diana and, much more deeply, the Manchester IRA bomb of '96; mainly because I was just 2 streets away, with my very young family.