November 22, 1963 by Adam Braver
Cover design by Christopher Brand for Tin House Books
November 22, 1963 was a Friday – just as today is. On that particular Friday, I walked into my 7th grade English class to find our teacher uncharacteristically sitting on top of her desk instead of behind it, staring out thru the oversized windows as we filed into the room. It was unusually quiet – she didn’t greet us as we walked in so so we just followed her lead, sitting down at our own desks without our usual chittering.
Once our desks were filled, all of us staring at our teacher at the front of the room who was staring off to the side, our social studies teacher walked in. His name is stuck in my head although hers is long gone. I thought it odd that he had come into a room that was reserved for studying books and diagramming sentences while he taught history on another part of the floor.
He spoke to us briefly and announced that President Kennedy had been shot. We sat there silently as he talked. At 12 years old in 1963, we had no reference for what he was saying. We only knew that after he was done, we were dismissed and told we could go home early.
At our apartment I turned on the old black-and-white television. All of the channels – we only had seven to choose from at the time – were taken by news reports of the shooting. I remember hearing Walter Cronkite – a voice I recognized easily from the Sunday nights I watched The Twentieth Century – reporting about the events in Dallas. At one point, he looked up at the camera, took of his thick framed black glasses, and with an uncharacteristic catch in his voice, announced that President Kennedy was dead (video here).
I had my looseleaf binder spread out on the living room floor and was finishing my homework with an assortment of pens and pencils. My mother was in the kitchen making preparations for our usual Friday night meal of chopped liver, sour pickles, roast chicken, and fresh challah. I don’t remember either one of us reacting in any surprised way or doing anything different that we usually did on a Friday afternoon.
I understood the implications of it – after all I was raised in a world of weekly duck-and-cover drills with threats of imminent atomic destruction. But there was something ordinary about. Maybe because it was coming thru the television screen which was more a tool of Disney cartoons and half hour dramas. But my world didn’t seem changed. My books were still in front of me. My mother was in the kitchen. In a few hours my father would be home, to sit at the table in his shteck shoes after taking off his work boots and socks. We all seemed safe and unchanged.
What I didn’t know was how much the world had changed. How much change was coming. And how I was at the beginning of a most incredible decade.
[h/t to Letterology for the lead in…]