“Someone must have died!” I blurted out. From my desk by the window in my fourth grade class at Travis School, I saw someone lowering the American Flag to half-mast. I knew from previous events that some dignitary had likely died. I didn’t know what assassination meant. I was about to find out.
Almost all Americans over 55 remember when they learned John F. Kennedy had been shot. And almost all Americans, regardless of age, know something about that moment over 50 years ago, when everything seemed to change. The term “JFK moment” has worked its way into our vernacular as a cultural touchstone. The Urban Dictionary defines it as the moment after discovering something truly mind-blowing. “Mind-blowing” is the key word for my young psyche.
Close to home
I always felt Kennedy’s assassination hit me particularly hard for three reasons, the first being the proximity and familiarity of the setting. Our family made regular and frequent visits to downtown Dallas so I had a visual reference. Secondly, my mother had planned to take my brothers and me to see the motorcade. I’m not sure why we didn’t but just the thought that we could have personally witnessed the President of the United States being shot in the head made it all the more real. Finally, the reason my name is Gerry with a “G” instead of the more common “J” is that I was named Gerald after my grandmother “Fitzgerald.” Our family always playfully wondered if we were distantly related to the Kennedy’s.
A New Pair of Glasses
Perspective is like looking through a pair of glasses. The images we see are the same, but the perception of them can vary drastically usually colored by our experiences and the emotions they evoke. In an instant, I found myself adorned with a pair that I did not like. Nothing seemed the same. In an effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy, most of my peers decided to go to the Texan theater that very evening as we would often do on Fridays. I’m pretty sure most of our parents urged us to go hoping we’d be able to escape, if only for a little while, the horror of the day. But I and my friends watched the movie in silence with our new spectacles that left us dumbfounded and detached, a state of mind that seemed like it would never end.
Over the next few days, like most families, we became glued to our TV as the fluidity of events unfolded. “Who did it and why?” It didn’t take long to find out the “who”, the new face of evil, Lee Harvey Oswald. My friends and I would try to outdo each other imagining how we would beat him up if we could only get the chance. But before we could, I got the second punch to my already fractured psyche. While I had witnessed thousands of gunshot deaths at the Texan and TV, I had never seen one in real life. I hope never to again.
As my parents and my brother, Tommy, were getting their lunches, my brother Johnny and I saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald as it happened.. My world seemed as grey and surreal as the black and white images we were watching on the TV.
As my mom always said, today’s crisis will be a sentence in a chapter in the long book that is your life. Experiences pile up and dull the impact. While Mom’s words have proven to be true, in my life’s book, the sentences describing the events associated with Kennedy’s death are written in bold, highlighted and underlined with an earmark on the page.
The Texan Today
This Wednesday marks the 54th anniversary of that infamous day. Most every Wednesday, I attend the Hump Day Happy Hour in the Texan Theater Lobby hosted by my friend, Dennis Wayne Strickland. In addition, my wife Mary Jane and I have enjoyed several shows and events at the Texan.
I’m so pleased that Barbara Horan has transformed it into a showplace on par with any theater I’ve ever been to, Broadway included.
I no longer associate the Texan with that dreadful night so many years ago. I’m most often able to visit without it ever crossing my mind. I think over the years, my glasses have just gotten clearer. On the occasion when I tell someone about it, I still get the sinking feeling in my stomach. I suppose I always will. But that’s OK. Life is good here in Greenville Texas.