Opinion Photo

It has come and gone again, that day remembered from so long ago.

And with each passing year, the date stirs memories of what was and what might have been.

It was a warm day for Nov. 22, 1963. The 5-year-old yearned for snow.

The boy had been brought by his mother to the home of his maternal grandparents following his half day of kindergarten at the Jack & Jill Nursery.

The boy sat down directly in front of his grandparents’ black-and-white TV set to watch the early afternoon fare on the newest channel available. 

Midway through a program, a bulletin from ABC News interrupted the show: “Here is a special bulletin from Dallas, Texas: Three shots were fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade today in Downtown Dallas.”

The boy sat transfixed, pondering the news he had just heard. Perhaps it was the process of wrapping his 5-year-old brain around the disturbing development. Whatever the reason, it would take three additional bulletins and the introduction of a strange new word to the kindergartener’s vocabulary before he sought out his grandmother.

“Nanny, President Kennedy’s been ass-uh-ass-sass…shot!”

His grandmother fixed a steely gaze on her eldest grandchild. Gone was the indulgent smile that heretofore softened her features; it had been replaced by a cold stare that unnerved the 5-year-old to a greater extent than the news he had heard in the network bulletins.

“John David, you shouldn’t make up stories like that… What a horrible thing to say!”

“I’m not making it up, Nanny… The news is on TV… Come watch with me!”

Before joining her grandson in front of the television, his grandmother sought out someone she regarded as a more credible source. She called his grandfather, who confirmed the news, saying he had heard about it on the radio playing in his store.

When she joined her grandson to watch the coverage, Nanny wondered aloud: “Well, I guess that means Johnson is now the president.”

The 5-year-old was clueless about the Constitution. Who is Johnson… And why is he now president? Nanny explained that there is a vice president who becomes president if the chief executive dies in office. Because that had just happened, a man named Lyndon Baines Johnson was now president of the United States.

We know the world changed that day. For the kindergartener, the impromptu civics lesson from his grandmother sparked an interest in government that grew to parallel his interest in broadcasting.

Nanny would not live to see her grandson elected to Congress; she was called to her heavenly home less than five years later, at age 63… the current age of her firstborn grandchild.

And that grandchild, the author of this column, acknowledges that he is now 17 years older than John F. Kennedy was when he was taken from us on that November day in Dallas.

A day that a 5-year-old would never forget.

PT