On November 22, 1963, I was 8 years old and a 3rd grader at Hart Elementary School in Stamford, Connecticut. Mrs. White was one of my favorite teachers, a fairly plump, white, motherly figure with a head full of greyish silver hair. Every day, all day, she always sported this warm welcoming smile. It didn’t matter the situation, even if we would get a bit rambunctious, as 3rd graders sometimes do. The smile was constant and it mattered a lot to me as I was a shy, quiet kid who was reluctant to raise my hand to ask a question. Mrs. White had a way of bringing me out of my shell and making me feel safe. It didn’t matter if the other kids laughed at my question, her smile made me feel that everything was going to be alright.
So, on that day in November, as we were returning from lunch period and about to start the afternoon lessons, Mrs. White told the class that school was ending early. She didn’t explain why and, what’s more, there was something out of place. That warm smile that I had grown to trust was gone. The situation was a little strange, but hey, I’m a 3rd grader and we were getting out of school early! About an hour or so later the bell rings to be dismissed and off we go. I was one of the lucky few in that I lived right across the street from school. Yep, no long walk, no bus, no mom-pick-up. Home in less than 5 minutes.
Home for me was River Haven Apartments. We had moved there from New York City a little more than a year ago. That afternoon, I enter the building, run up the stairs to the third floor, and tear down the hall in record time to apartment 314. I’m thinking bonus play time with my friends! I ring the doorbell. No key, I’m only 8… My mom lets me in and I notice that my two little sisters have not arrived yet, no biggie. My mom returns to the living room and sits on the couch in her favorite corner spot, by the end table. That end table was like command central as it housed the weekly TV guide, her note pads, a cup of pencils and pens, and her cigarettes. Across the room, approximately 6 feet away, our black & white TV was on. I really didn’t notice what was on at the time, I just knew it was on.
Up until that point everything seemed routine, but I suddenly noticed my mom was sobbing. I came over to her, put my arm around her, and asked, “what’s wrong mommy?”.
While holding me, she softly says, “President Kennedy is dead”. That’s when my gaze quickly turned to the TV and I realize what was on, non-stop coverage of the assassination of our 35th president, John F Kennedy. At that moment I also thought of Mrs. White and now knew why her smile was gone.
I didn’t fully process the event as a 3rd grader that day, but deep down I knew life would never be the same…