I do remember where I was. It was my twenty-second birthday. I remember that day clearly. I was sitting in my office on the UC Berkeley campus when someone turned their radio up so we could all hear the stunning news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. We sat in numbed silence as the campanile bells began to toll in regular cadence. Staff and students walked out of the buildings and scattered across the silent campus. I don’t remember anyone telling us we could leave; we just did.
My husband and I rendezvoused at our car and as people often do when in shock, we did the usual and mundane: we stopped for some groceries. We made our way home to the little community of Pinole north of Berkeley where we lived. We stopped to get Peter, our 13 month old son, from his day care center. His care giver was ashen-faced–I suppose we all were. We wondered if our country was under attack. We wondered how this could happen. We were afraid.
My grandparents were staying with us to celebrate Thanksgiving and my birthday. I don’t remember either of those events. I remember watching and listening to the small black and white TV in our living room that long terrible day and those that followed. I don’t remember going to work or doing anything besides watching and listening except to care for Peter.
I remember Walter Cronkite’s choking voice announcing that the president was dead. I remember weeping and being unable to sleep. I remember my grandparents’ shocked disbelief.
I remember when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.
The two terrible deaths yet to come–Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Junior–are forever linked in my mind to the president’s death. Those three deaths marked and frame the astounding changes in our country that followed. So, yes, I do remember what happened fifty years ago.