Friday, November 22, 2013

When The World Turned Upside Down ~ My Memories of the JFK Assassination

November 22nd in 1963 was a typical school day for this third grader. It was Friday, but I don't have any memories of looking forward to the weekend, like so many kids today. After all, I loved school.

We lived directly across the street from Henley School when I went there, and for many years after, on a stubby little street with just a few houses on it. The Henley playground, with its gigantic set of swings, was an extension of my own backyard. On the last day of that 1963 summer,  I had eagerly stationed myself on one of those swings, yelling out greetings to the mostly "old maid" teachers, as they arrived to prepare their classrooms for the new school year.

In those halcyon days before school bus exhaust, it was said I could roll out of bed and be at school, we lived so close. I sometimes brought friends home for lunch with me (those who might have a rare "mom who worked"). When it was time to go back to school after lunch, there were hop-scotch games and double-dutch challenges on the playground to give time for the teachers to welcome us back. We dutifully, and mostly silently, "lined up" in queues to go back in, knowing we'd have another chance to play during afternoon recess.

That day, for my mother, would have also been a typical one for this mother of four. With two in school, and two still at home, she had seen to feeding, clothing, and housecleaning with an enthusiasm seen rarely these days. She had sent us off with a hearty breakfast, fortified our day with a nutritious lunch, and looked forward to rewarding herself with her "program" at 1:30. It was a break from the routine of running her home, where she could immerse herself in lives outside her own, with their own problems and challenges. It was time for Chris and Nancy, Grampa, Penny and Tom Hughes. It was time for "As The World Turns."

We had just come inside from the Henley playground following afternoon recess, and were hanging up our coats and jackets on the hooks in the center of the hall. They probably allowed for about 10-15 minutes for this ritual, with teachers hustling us off to our assigned classrooms. A few teachers had had "monitor duty" outside, two on the girls' side and two on the boys' side. I recall one of those teachers frantically corraling us near the coat hooks, informing us that we were all to reverse course, put our coats back on, and go home. The President had been shot.

For me, it was a short sprint out the door, past the swings, and up the front porch steps of my house. There I found my mother in the living room, glued to the television set, saying that they had just broken into regularly-scheduled programming, in the middle of "As The World Turns," with a news bulletin.

The initial CBS News Bulletin which interrupted As the World Turns at 1:40 p.m.,
 as Nancy (
Helen Wagner) talks with Grandpa (Santos Ortega)

The television remained on throughout the rest of the day into the evening, and steadily for the following momentous days. Scenes replayed over and over again, the motorcade, Oswald's murder, Johnson's swearing-in, and especially the funeral. John-John's seemingly impulsive salute is one of those poignant memories, but I remember seeing the riderless horse in the funeral procession, with boots turned backwards in the stirrups, as being both sad and scary.*

We had no school all the following week, because Thanksgiving was coming up anyway. In the family rotation tradition, it was at our house that year. A houseful of family gathered that day to rehash all that we had seen and heard. We were not an overtly political family, but we all knew we had, collectively and individually, witnessed, through the medium of television, something historic and heart-wrenching.

For this little third grader in South Portland, Maine, it shaped how I viewed the world I was being raised into. It was forever to be a world turned upside down.

* The poignant story of that horse, Black Jack, can be found at:

Photo credits:

Ed Stout, New York Times,

CBS Television live screenshot, printed in TV Guide magazine (vol. 12, no. 4), January 25, 1964: "A permanent record of what we watched on television from Nov. 22 to 25, 1963", p. 23. TV Guide © Triangle Publications, Inc. Self-scanned from collection of Wikipedia User JGHowes.


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1 comment:

  1. Pam, I was in school when this tragedy took place, but my mom always watched "As the World Turns."

    Loved seeing the black and white images. Mom watched that shows for years. She called them her "serials."

    Great post!