November 22nd 1963 Where Were You?


Another Where Were You Memory, this time from Abigail


That Frozen Moment


I was eleven when President Kennedy was assassinated. It was my first term in secondary education at Aveley Technical High School. Aveley was then a village in Essex, not far from Purfleet and the banks of the Thames.  It has now been subsumed under that great urban sprawl that goes by the name of Thurrock. It is not the pleasant and idle backwater I knew as a girl.

It must have been around tea time when we first heard the news. I remember my mother calling out to us kids. I think we were doing our homework. In those days, we older children gathered after tea around our dining room table. There was no watching the television then until every single homework task was done.

‘They’ve gone and shot Kennedy.’ It was all my mother said. She was pale-faced and shaking her head as she dried her hands on her apron. She must have been washing the dishes left over from our evening meal. My father was in what we called ‘the front room. He had been watching our eighteen inch television. Suddenly, in the middle of a programme, the screen had gone blank.

Everyone crowded into the room then but there wasn’t much to see. TV was still in its infancy then and they didn’t know how to respond to this event so they just kept repeating, over and over, the news that President Kennedy had been shot.  Eventually, though, there came another announcement. Sadly, it confirmed what we all we knew: that the handsome young American president was already dead. No one knew quite what to do. The whole house fell silent. It hardly seemed respectful just to carry on.

Much later on, we all crowded round the set to watch the BBC news coverage. It was introduced by a sad-eyed, slow-speaking presenter. They handled disaster differently in those days: there was a great deal more solemnity about it. To make a death, any death, even the death of John Kennedy, into the kind of media fest we are accustomed to witness today would have seemed to be in very poor taste.

Anyway, we watched in silence. No one had very much to say. For us, Kennedys were a fairy-tale couple and here was the magic come undone. I was eleven years old and child that I was the politics of the matter were beyond me. I understood, though, that we had all lost something that might have made the world a better place.

‘He was a good man, a very good man.’

This was my mother’s conclusion. She also felt sorry for his young and beautiful wife. The newspapers, of course, were full of it for days: rumours, reports, speculation; photographs, headlines, a whole nation mourns. Nothing they could come up with, though, came close to matching the power of the moment, that frozen moment in which each one us received and understood the news.

Roll silent credits.



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