Tuesday, November 21, 2023

22 November 1963

 I was in my History of American Thought and Culture class.  Someone had pulled the pull-down screen down far enough to allow a man’s hat to be tied to the pull.  The class was allowing itself to be amused by that fact as we waited for Mr. Frazier our instructor to arrive.  Time ticked by.  Mr. Frazier was late.  That was unlike him.  Finally, just before the fifteen-minute limit that protocol reserved for late instructors he appeared.  He came in, took one look at the hat and took a swing at it as if in anger.  That was really unlike him.  He was a laid back calm sort – a graduate of Reed College - who just didn’t let anything bother him.  He had our attention.  He turned around facing the class and said, almost accusingly, “well, I suppose you have heard that they shot Jack Kennedy.”  As a matter of fact we hadn’t.  We had been sitting there looking at the hat and waiting for him to show up.  All I could ever remember about that moment, other than what exactly Mr. Frazier had said was wondering who “they” were.  It turned out that we were never to find out who “they” were.

Taking what might have been an action of some significance, but as things were to turn out, apparently wasn’t, the first person I sought out was Barbara.  We went into the Park Blocks, out of the buildings, into the open air and walked, hand in hand.  Everybody was out there.  There was some kind of device or there were multiple devices that were filling the air with updates on the president’s condition.  We had stopped where a group had gathered, among them my fraternity brother Tom.  The words “John F. Kennedy is dead” insinuated themselves into the air like a malevolent spirit.  Barb dropped to her knees on the grass.  We all stood, or knelt – there were others on their knees – frozen and looking like the statues of the victims of the Irish potato famine that I would see many years later in Christchurch.  It seemed as if the world was in the process of fading to black.  I had looked at Tom and said, “thank God Lyndon Johnson is Vice President”.  Tom nodded his agreement.

Many years later another event occurred that had somehow seemed to be inextricably intertwined with John Kennedy.  Mysti and I had gone around the corner to the Olympia Pizza Restaurant early so we could get back by seven and watch the election returns as the polls began to close from the middle of the country westward.  We knew that the east would be closed by then and we knew that any bad news would begin to show itself - if there were going to be any - among those eastern results; but we had felt that there was still going be a story unfolding from St Louis west.  

After returning from Pizza it looked as if no bad news had cropped up yet, but it was still anyone’s election.  But good things kept happening and more states were turning blue than were turning red.  There came a point where the electoral count was not 270 blue but it was close.  I had looked at the map to try to get some kind of idea what might be going to happen.  The entire pacific coast had no color yet.  The obvious suddenly flooded upon me in a form that can only be described as joy.  “He’s got it,” I said to Mysti.

A few minutes later the West Coast turned blue and the City of Seattle erupted.  Everywhere people poured into the streets.  We were on Capitol Hill.  As we entered the courtyard we encountered people we barely knew or didn’t know at all. We all hugged one another and made loud joyful sounds.  People were streaming into the streets and up to Fifteenth.  The rest of the night was a massive party of people in and out of the bars and coffee shops to the street and back again.  Cars full of joyfully shouting people with the windows down paraded up and down.  I had never thought that the magic of having a leader that stirred a feeling of pride and joy at being an American would ever be given back to us; but it appeared on that night as if it had happened.

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