I don't remember anything of what happened that morning.
I'm sure my mother faced the normal mayhem of scooting her two boys off to school, and I'm sure I suffered through the usual routine of a 9-year-old in the fourth grade.
But the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963, remains a keen memory. Anyone younger hardly recalls the shooting of President John F. Kennedy. Anyone older not only remembers, but understood. At 9, you just watched it all go by and wondered what was happening. But you remember.
For me, memory begins with Sister Mary Alma, a Sister of Mercy and fourth-grade teacher at St. Joseph's School in the Schenectady County Village of Scotia. She was tough but nice. Sister Alma told the fourth grade to take a break and talk to our friends while she went to the office. But minutes later, this woman, always in control of herself and everyone around her, burst through the door.
“Boys and girls, sit down!” she shrieked. “A terrible thing has happened. A terrible thing has happened. The president has been shot!”
The kids immediately returned to their seats, shocked more by Sister's state than the awful news she had just delivered.
Sister Mary Cleta, the principal, was now on the PA system. She'd whack you for nothing – just to remind you she could. But we liked her, too, and her measured tones and unsuccessful attempts to hide her emotions told us this was serious stuff.
The nuns herded us into church, and Sister Cleta led several hundred kids and teachers in a sincere but vain effort to save the president through prayer. The eighth-grade girls were all crying. And they were pouring into church without the hats required of women at the time.
“They're gonna be in trouble now,” I thought.
Sister Cleta then announced the president had died. I'm sure she mentioned that Kennedy was the first and only Catholic president, and that we should be proud of him.
We put on our coats to leave and a knucklehead named Michael Dwyer said it was probably a communist plot. Everyone thought about communist plots in those days, but Michael Dwyer is probably still a knucklehead.
Bud Mohle, a Scotia police officer, drove the bus home. The eighth-grade girls were still crying. One of them, Mary Ann Dorn, was sitting in the back. “Let's say the rosary!” she cried out.
About 40 kids who were normally shouting and throwing spitballs at each other were now following Mary Ann in reciting the Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Be to the Fathers.
My brother was 7. We got off the bus, and our mother came out the front door to meet us. She never met us at the front door – always the back door.
“He didn't make it,” she said, and we told her we already knew.
My grandmother sat inside watching the television that would become the focal point for the next few days. She was 85 years old and had come here from County Tyrone in Ireland when she was 18. She had seen and endured a lot in her life. Now this.
My dad worked at the American Locomotive plant across the Mohawk River. A guy who was always joking around poked his head into his office that afternoon to say Kennedy had been shot. My father got mad and told him not to joke about such a thing. Then the guy told him he wasn't joking.
When my father came home that night, he carried a copy of the Schenectady Union-Star. The biggest, blackest, boldest headline I ever saw said: “PRESIDENT IS KILLED.”
We watched on television as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. That afternoon, my father came out to the backyard where we were playing football to tell us Oswald died. We kept on playing football.
When the funeral was televised, my mother and grandmother cried when John-John saluted.
After that, life kind of returned to normal. But I don't remember anything like I remember that weekend.