Monday, November 22, 2010

Where were you?

They say everyone old enough will remember exactly where they were when they learned of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

I remember it well, as many do.

A senior in high school, I had attended classes all morning at Central High. Then in the afternoon, I went to work, as usual, at my secretarial job in the Pioneer Building, downtown St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Pioneer Building was uniquely designed with offices on sixteen floors. It had an open middle section with balconies all around on each floor. You could look down or around and see people walking on other floors.

Its elevators were glassed-in, so you could see as you passed each floor on your way up or down. This is common in upscale places now, but it was one of a kind back then. Of course, the elevators were operated by men, but not by pushing buttons. They had a lever they worked by hand. A good operator, like Charlie, my favorite, could get it to be level with the floor in one try.

I describe the building because when it was learned that JFK had been shot, someone on the sixteenth floor hollered out the news for all to hear and it echoed throughout the open space in the middle of the building. It was heard in the glassed-in elevators.

Everyone stopped what they were doing and came rushing out of their offices. Some said it must be some kind of cruel joke.

Then we learned that it was true and gathered in the hallways to talk about the news. The balconies were crowded with workers providing updates as they heard new details on their office radios. The mood was somber and surreal.

For the next few days, everyone was glued to their television sets for the unfolding of the drama: the swearing in of Vice President Lyndon Johnson, the funeral of JFK, John-John standing at attention, Jackie in black veil. A horse-drawn hearse. The arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the subsequent shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby. Jack Ruby in prison, reportedly dying of cancer.

Reality was slow to set in as it was all so very hard to believe. The world stood still.

Forty-eight years today and it still seems like yesterday. Three wars, bombings, 9/11 attacks, and terrorist threats have happened since, and the world has known fear.

But for us, in that day, losing our nation's youthful leader with the promise of Camelot was as large a disaster as it could possibly be. JFK, and all of us, had such hope for the future.

And we will never know how the world's course might have changed.