It seemed to me, at the ripe old age of 10, that adults don’t cry. Crying was for kids and girls when the teasing of them went too far. Teachers were in a class of their own when it came to crying. They were the administrators of acts of proper schooling or discipline that made us want to cry, such as denying recess periods due to our unruly behavior, writing themes on subjects like flowers, or making boys sing. As far as I was concerned, teachers’ tear ducts had run dry by the time they obtained their first ruler and red ink pen.
My school, Jefferson Elementary, was relatively new in comparison to most others in the system. During its construction a central intercom was installed A round speaker could be found in the ceiling of each classroom which permitted our principal, Mr. Carroll Norlin, to communicate special announcements or the dreaded “send him to my office”. Thinking back, it was never “send her to my office”, but I digress.
I dare say that none of Mrs. Hidding’s third grade class thought much about the president. I now know that my mother always voted Republican and that my dad, who was raised in a traditional Polish family, was staunch Democrat until he met Ronald Reagan. I can only imagine my parents’ discussions about JFK, his Roman Catholic faith, and his narrow victory over Nixon. I, like most boys I knew, was more intrigued with the beauty of the former Jaqueline Bouvier than our 35th President.
Unprepared, ill-equipped, unsuspecting are the few adjectives a thesaurus offers but they do not really describe the mind-set of a 10 year old boy anxiously waiting for the clock to show 2 PM which marked the end of this period and the beginning of our 30 minute afternoon recess. I wanted to be the first out the door and first on the football field.
As I recall, it was not the principal’s announcement that “our President has been assassinated” that left such an indelible mark on me all these years. Five syllable words were not commonly used and this term for murder was unknown to me. But the reflection in this announcement was out of character for our mild-mannered principal. I knew that this announcement was serious.
And then she just sat down in the chair in the front of the room and just sobbed and sobbed. We were all dumb-founded having never seen a leader figure wilt in front of our own eyes. We looked at each other all wishing somebody would say something but nobody did. And then some of the girls began to cry. When the class as whole became unruly, we were commanded to lay our heads on our desks. It seemed like the right thing to do at this moment. I don’t recall how long it took Mrs. Hidding to regain her composure but it seemed like an hour to me. But regain it she did. Wiping back a tear now and then, she proceeded to explain all of us the gravity of what had just taken place. I just wanted to go home.