Tuesday, December 9, 2014

That Day in Dallas

Originally Written 11/23/2013

I tried to pen these thoughts a week ago, but the words just wouldn’t come.

It’s often been said that “bad things come in threes.”  The year, 1963, may not have proven that theory, but for me it came awfully close.  On February 13, 1963, one day before the celebration of St. Valentine, my father died from a long bout with lung cancer.  Three months later, death claimed my faithful dog, Willie.

During that summer, I worked at the Crane Naval Ammunition Depot as it was known in those days.  Many weeks I’d put in sixty hours or more so that I would have enough money to return to Purdue in the fall and help ease the financial burden on my widowed mother.  I had a scholarship that paid for my tuition and books, but we still had to pony up for room, board, and “spending money.”  So, with a heavy heart I returned to Boilermaker country in September, leaving Mother home with her new dachshund, Greta.

Friday, November 22, 1963, dawned pretty much like any other day.  I worked part-time in the dorm cafeteria.  That morning I was in the serving line dipping up the scrambled eggs, bacon, and other breakfast foods before heading to campus.  Unlike most colleges, Purdue started classes on the “half-hour” rather than at the top of the hour.  And, in 1963, Purdue was on Central Standard Time, the same as Dallas, Texas.

I had a 1:30 economics class at Stanley Coulter Hall and always drove to class early to seek one of the elusive open parking spaces.  That afternoon I got lucky and found one right away.  I was listening to music in my old ‘56 Dodge when a DJ interrupted, saying that President Kennedy had been shot and we should stay tuned for further details.  Not realizing how serious this truly was, I turned off the radio and entered the building.  After ascending the monstrous Stanley Coulter main staircase, I saw a note on the classroom door stating that all Friday and Saturday classes at Purdue had been cancelled.  Only then did I know the worst, bad things do come in threes.

The next day, Saturday, was sunny, warm, and beautiful.  The annual Purdue/IU Old Oaken Bucket football game was scheduled in Bloomington, but like nearly every game throughout the land, it was postponed a week until the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I had planned to drive to Elnora, pick up my mom, and take her to her first college football game, but we would now have to wait a week for a cold, snowy day to see Purdue recapture the Bucket.

But, on the “Kennedy” weekend, I worked in the cafeteria, did my own “gig” as a DJ on the Purdue Residence Network, studied very little, and watched the constant news evolving on TV.   On Sunday, 15-20 of us sat in the basement TV room and lost even more innocence as we witnessed the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby live in black and white.

I was just 19 years old and had already learned the life lessons of impermanence.  By then I had been afflicted by polio, had lost my grandparents, my father, my dog, and now the nation had lost its President.  Healing takes time and comes in different forms for different people.  The recent TV specials about “that day in Dallas” brought back so many memories, and I realize I’m still grieved by those events of over fifty years ago.

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