Friday, November 15, 2013


(In November 2013, columnist Rose Moore's memory of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was published in Gazette Newspapers).

     Something happened 50 years ago this month, and most of us who were alive at the time remember it like yesterday. We can tell you in great detail where we were; what we were doing; and what the weather was like when the disastrous news broke on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by a sniper as his motorcade traveled through Dealy Plaza in Dallas, Texas.
     My husband Bob and I and our first-born baby son were living in New York City, where we spent several years when work in Ohio was scarce. The 1964 World's Fair at Flushing Meadows was generating plenty of work in the New York area, and my husband had joined the working New Yorkers.
     We lived in a 21-step walk-up apartment on a wide, tree-lined street of private homes---ironically on Corporal Kennedy Street in Bayside, Long Island, New York in the borough of Queens. Ours was a lovely old apartment, with large rooms, high ceilings, grand woodwork, hardwood floors and generous windows. The night before the assassination, we were transforming a room across from the kitchen into a formal dining room. We installed a wall-size built-in breakfront; and we  sanded and painted and wallpapered; and when we were done, clean-up work was left for the following day.
      In the morning, I wrapped our sleeping son in a blanket to drive my husband to the train station, and off he went to work with a crew finishing the interior of the attractive new Maritime Union building in Manhattan. The autumn day was rising; it was unusually mild and lovely.
      Back at the apartment sometime before lunch, I put our son down for a nap and began the dining-room clean-up, working as always to the beat of 60s radio rock. Sun and soft breezes poured through the windows, and I sang along with the music until the radio switched suddenly to slow, formal dirges, with no explanation and no talk or advertising. What had happened, I wondered; when had I joined a funeral procession?
     Those weren't the days when news arrived in an instant, zooming all over the world. Even for  news people themselves, there was a lag time, so I sat on the floor and waited. The door buzzer jolted me out of my reverie, and my downstairs neighbor hollered up to say breathlessly: "Someone has shot the President; he's dead! I'm going to my husband's office so I won't be alone."
      By now I was hearing the dreadful news in the background, and it was just as blunt; I went back to the dining room, sat down on the floor, and wept. Then on strong impulse, I picked up my son from his crib and drove to the train station to wait for a husband who wouldn't t be due for at least another three hours.
      I parked at the curb, just one in a long parade of housewives waiting too early for husbands. I was amazed to see the train had pulled in and the doors were opening to release a crowd of people moving like zombies. Bob was but one among the shell-shocked masses, carrying lunch pails or briefcases. Their shoulders were slumped and they looked to the ground, moving mechanically...
      With a heavy sigh, Bob sat down in the car and quietly told me, "The super walked in and said, 'Boys, someone killed our President. Put down your tools; don't bother with anything; we are all going home to our families.' We didn't clean anything; didn't secure anything; we just set down our tools, and we left. The subway was quiet; the people in Grand Central Station were quiet; the people on the trains were quiet... "
      From that moment we watched as this "City That Never Slept" sank into a coma of shock and mourning. In those days without Internet, cell phones or 24-7 news, Bob and I did not own a working TV; and until that day, we hadn't missed it enough to do something about it..
      We had the streets of that great metropolis to ourselves for the next few days as we wandered by car, keeping up with the changing news by way of our car radio. We saw Times Square deserted and mostly darkened. We saw the Long Island Expressway, as strangely empty as the runway of a closed airport. In the breezy warmth of Indian Summer, we drove with our car windows open, in a city so quiet we could hear the dry autumn leaves rattling across big-city pavement. Where were all the people? They were inside together with family, seeking comfort.
        We stopped for gas and were served by the owner himself, rather than the usual uniformed attendant. He grieved that, "I need to be here so my people can be with their families today." He refused to charge for fill-up because, he said, "It's a day to be kind to each other."
      The day of the Kennedy funeral, we drove out to a small town on the Island, where we often window-shopped on Friday nights while our laundry was washing at a nearby laundromat. We had made friends with the owner of a small TV shop; he lived above his store and was always willing to talk. His shop wasn't open that day, but apparently he saw the approach of our car, and he stepped out to signal us in. He asked if we'd mind watching the funeral with him, in his showroom.
     Soon came a rap on the door, and a tall, sturdy policeman officer informed us our car was illegally parked and unlocked, and we'd left our lights on. He had turned out the lights and locked up the car, and as he  handed us our keys, he told us there would not be a ticket. His stated reason echoed the spirit of the words of the gas station owner who wouldn't charge us for gasoline: "We're all in need of some kindness right now," he said softly. "Now you be kind to each other."
       On the day the suspected assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot to death, we were in a diner out on the Island, and a man pulled off the Expressway and shouted the news. He had been virtually alone on that normally busy expressway, and he wanted to share the news with other human beings.
     Surprisingly, it hit like a ton a bricks. There were no hurrahs or huzzahs; only silence and obvious pain that no one bothered to try to explain.
         It was only more proof, after all, that something deep and intrinsic had changed; and our world would not be the same.