Monday, December 2, 2013

Miami Memories: Moments in Time

We are each touched by another.

There are "moments in time" that connect each of us to something deeper.  With the nation revealing its feelings on the JFK assassination, the media has reminded me of our connectedness with one another.

Mother checked me out of high school that day at noon, so we could drive to Wichita from Miami, Oklahoma, our home, to visit my Aunt Della who was in the hospital and her mother, my grandmother.  The white Ford station wagon with red vinyl interior and a mud flap on the back was nearly packed. My little sister was sitting in the car with the seat belt buckled ready to travel when the phone rang. I ran inside to answer, but mother had reached the phone first and sat transfixed.  Suddenly, her finger was pointing and her voice rang like a bell, "Turn on the TV, Clara Searle says that President Kennedy has been shot in Dallas."

Leaving Jonya in the car, we stood motionless in front of the TV watching the breaking news.  Then I hurriedly called Neva Essex at Miami High School and told her the news.  Mother called dad at the club and told him to listen to KGLC for the updates, then we started our drive to Wichita.  We'd just driven through Chetopa, Ks when KGLC announced that President Kennedy had died. Our hearts throbbed, and before the tears could flow Mother pulled the station wagon off the side of the road.  Then we cried.  In between tears we watched as other cars pulled off the side of the road that day.  It seemed like time really did stand still, and no one could move.

Mother was shaken deeply, and asked me to drive for awhile.  With my learner's permit I proudly traded place with her ignoring the mud as I walked around the car.  When my foot pressed the pedal mud flew in all directions, and the car settled deep into the mud.   At last two men, farmers I thought, walked over to help.  They, too, were crying, and for a moment I realized that something deeper than I could imagine was occurring in our lives.  With their brute strength and coaching I drove the wagon out of the mud and began a long heartfelt journey to Wichita.

We drove first to Grandma's house, where they were still watching the television for news that day.  By evening we were at the hospital, a Catholic hospital were Aunt Della was being treated.  She was so pale and sick, we were worried that with the news of her President being shot, that she would not recover.  Jonya and I sat quietly outside the room, watching and listening as the nuns, nurses, doctors and orderlies seem to move in slow motion, stopping and crying on each other's shoulders.  

We were home by Sunday evening and into our school routine.  I, honestly, have no recall of being at school that next week or even talking with classmates about the assassination.  My memories are clouded by another phone call from from Grandpa one week after Pres. Kennedy was shot.  This time my father answered the early morning call, I hadn't even left for school. Once again I stood watching my father this time, quietly begin to shake and cry as he held the phone in his hand.  

When the phone was placed in the cradle and the house was quiet, my father stood and gently patted me on the shoulder, then turned to mother and said, "Mom died last night, in her sleep."  I watched my father hug my mother and the two of them cried so hard that their bodies seem to melt into one ragged form.

We drove through Chetopa that day on our way to Wichita, and I remarked, "That's where we were when we heard that the President had died," but no one in the car said anything back to me.  Aunt Della was still in the hospital, when this somber and trembling family of four walked into her room.  I could tell she knew, she knew that something bad had happened again.  I know Dad tried to find an easy way to say the words, as he fiddled with keys and change in his pockets.  His hands left his pockets and reached out to take Della's hands,  "Sis, mom died in her sleep last night."  We cried.

Reading the stories of others in the papers, and listening to the news broadcasts for the last two weeks has reminded me of that day and that week in my life.  It may have been the first time I saw grown men cry from their hearts;  it may have been the first time I realized, as a teenager, how much alike we all were, and how deeply connected we were to that tragic moment.

Sadly, in the yeas following November 1963 our nation, like our family, would be stilled by other moments in time.  And we would cry.  




  1. I read your piece (I have your blog bookmarked & check in often) about the day JFK was shot... Very touching... it made me revisit that day for myself... I remember I was at OSU living at 106 Duck St & my Mom called me & told me to turn on the TV... I called my then girlfriend, Bernadette & she came over to watch the coverage with me... We were just in a state of shock. Thanks for helping me remember that experience, sad as it was.

  2. Great story!!!! I think we all know exactly where we were that day. So memorable