The other day a cashier at the supermarket asked me where I was when I first heard the terrible news of November 22, 1963. Funny, I thought, I don’t look that old. But once I regained my composure, I went ahead and gave the only reasonable response I could think of: "Nursery school, lady. And where were you when Gabby hit his Homer in the Gloamin’?"
Then, because I’m a really nice guy who happens to hate scanning my own groceries, I decided to be nice and tell her the truth: I was a college freshman at SIU-Carbondale who slept until noon that day, barely arriving before the start of my first class at 12:40 – World Geography. There was likely a "101" behind that name, because this was a typical frosh-soph flunk-out course held in a large lecture hall. The room was half-empty on that long-ago Friday, with many in the Chicago and St. Louis contingents headed home for the weekend.
Right around 12:40, a student a few rows down in front started walking up the aisle, saying the President had been shot. Only weeks before, this person had made a scene and angered many in the class by strenuously arguing some minor point with the professor, so the news he delivered on the 22nd was met with total derision and disbelief.
But a minute later, that same professor was at the mic, confirming what we had just heard as he dismissed the class. Of course, everyone was stunned, speaking quietly in small groups. I don’t remember overhearing any crying or emotional outbursts that afternoon or evening as we tried to make sense of this unthinkable event.
Many of us just stumbled over to our 1:40 classes, which of course were cancelled. Then I headed back to Small Group Housing #116, the Kappa house, where I was living as an independent. Along the way, I ran into some other freshmen from #116 who were heading to the Student Union, including a kid on athletic scholarship who I understand today announces New York Knicks games and endorses Just for Men hair products.
It was from this group that I learned the President was dead, and that there were news reports that the Vice-President had suffered a heart attack! Rumors do spread quickly in the midst of disaster. As the great Frank Reynolds said on-air after another Presidential shooting, "Let’s get it nailed down… Let’s get it straight so we can report this thing accurately..."
In any case, that’s one of the approximately two billion stories of the "How I Got the News on November 22nd" variety. If you have one of your own, please share it. I know full well that almost anyone on BCB who can remember 11/22/63 really was in nursery school on that day. But any thoughts, recollections, or comments you may have are certain to help me recover from the shock of that cashier thinking I was past the Big 5-0!