Third grade with Mrs. Waterstradt – November 22, 1963
She entered the room of twenty third-grade students looking even sterner than usual. She scared me as did our principal Mrs. Price.
“Gather up your coats, children,” Mrs. Waterstradt instructed on a dreary Friday afternoon the week before Thanksgiving. “School is closing early today.”
Our excitement at being released from school three hours early was subdued by the serious face of our teacher. Somehow we knew to leave as quickly as possible.
As I walked by the principal’s office I could see a black and white television on a tall cart so it could be wheeled into the classrooms for special presentations. On this day, it was broadcasting a news program. I saw the mean Mrs. Price standing with her secretary and the music teacher. Mrs. Price dabbed her eyes often with a white handkerchief.
I was immediately frightened. There had been many dire moments in the past few years, none of which I didn’t understand. No one took the time to explain it to a nine-year-old girl still playing with dolls. A year earlier, President Kennedy was making a speech about something to do with Cuba and missiles. I was bored so I took my doll that wet herself and held her naked butt up to the television screen and the President’s face. My mother slapped at the doll and my hands, telling me I was disrespectful, which I didn’t understand. Now nearly a year later, I walk into my house and my mother is crying in front of the television screen and just like Mrs. Price she’s holding a white hankie to her eyes.
“Those poor, poor children,” she said.
I don’t remember anything else, except all weekend we were all glued to the television. One of my brothers came home from college at Western Michigan University. Another one came home with his wife, and we all stayed in front of that black and white screen during a dreary dark weekend. The only time I left the house was Sunday morning with my parents. I was particularly resentful because all of my brothers were allowed to stay home.
When we came back from church and walked into the living room, my brothers were all on their feet and screaming.
“They shot Oswald,” was all I remember. I saw it replayed many times, but my brothers saw it live.
The world changed for me with the only bright moments occurring in early 1964 when the Beatles came to our country. I boasted the largest collection of Beatles’ bubblegum cards until I gave them to Alvin, a new boy in our class. He was tall and cute and I guess as I turned ten years old and the Beatles came into our lives, I turned my attention from dolls to boys.
It might have been better if I’d stayed with the dolls for a little while longer. By the time, I turned fourteen, the world once again changed never to return to those halcyon days of my youth shattered forever on the first day of summer vacation in 1968 when my mother woke me from a luxurious sleep.
“They shot Bobby,” she yelled up the stairs.
And this time I knew exactly what she meant. Unfortunately.