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my first Day of Days

November 22, 2013

Fifty years ago today I was waiting for my first afternoon class to start at Fair Park High School in Shreveport, Louisiana.  A classmate hurried in, laughing and saying “they got that sonofabitch in Dallas”.  Fair Park was all-white then, and John Fitzgerald Kennedy was widely hated there for advocating civil rights for black people.  That’s how the first Day of Days in my life started.

The historical significance of this tragedy soon sank into my 17-year-old brain.  I sought out my girlfriend and told her that I was going to the Shreveport Times, the city’s morning daily.  I worked there as a copy boy.  I knew that’s where all the action would be.  I’ll never forget walking into the newsroom, a hive of humans buzzing as they bustled around.  The room with the teletype machines was full of reporters and editors tearing off stories as soon as they ended transmitting.  I was standing near one of the machines when it simply spat out “President Kennedy has died.”

I knew to stay out of the way, observing the journalists I aspired to be like.  One of them, upon reading that Lee Harvey Oswald had been arrested, exclaimed “I bet he has his John Birch Society card on him!”

I left the newsroom about 5 p.m.  My girlfriend and I had a date to see McClintock!, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.  I don’t remember a single scene of it.  I was too distracted.  As we left the downtown theater, we saw several newsboys.  They were actually yelling “Extra!  Extra!  Read All About It!”  That’s the only time I’ve ever seen that, other than in the movies.

It happened on a Friday.  I watched TV all weekend and, like the rest of the nation, was stunned when Jack Ruby killed Oswald.  I also vividly recall JFK’s three-year-old son saluting his father’s coffin as it rolled through the streets of D.C.

About five months later my friend Dennis and I drove to Dallas during Easter break.  Armed only with a Super-8 camera, we wanted to film a documentary about the assassination.  We had no budget, so we spent one night in the concourse of Love Field, the airport Kennedy had flown into.  When we went to the boarding house where Oswald had lived, the landlady said we’d have to pay $20 to film his room.  We ended production at that point and spent our last night in a Fort Worth bar called The Cellar.  Whenever the house band played “One Mint Julep”, one of the waitresses would strip.

The next day, fighting off a head-cleaving hangover, I could only stare at my breakfast as my fried eggs stared back at me.  I was way too naïve to realize that I was starting to collect my stories, tales that would endure for half a century.

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5 Comments
  1. gordon raley permalink
    November 22, 2013 8:40 am

    …And good for all of us that you’ve collected them and are sharing. Just this morning I was thinking about the Fair Park school cafeteria where I was, along with Jackie Stephens, Wade and Susann. I was trying to put you there as well — in retrospect trying to remember all my best friends around. At least our little group was more somber than the “sonofabitch in Dallas” comment that assaulted you. Jackie, the true liberal among us, cried. The rest of us were stunned. I was still edging toward the political middle but that day gave me a jarring push in the right direction. From reading Carlos Castenada thirty years ago, i remember him describing getting a sudden push from behind that enabled “seeing”. Maybe so it was then.

    • November 25, 2013 9:52 am

      I had left the Aardvarks table early that day. No particular reason I can remember. I may not have seen or talked to you until the following Monday.

  2. Chris permalink
    November 22, 2013 11:16 am

    Nice story, Allen. It IS the most iconic “Remember what you were doing when…” event. I had recently turned 22 and was working in the Research & Development department of Canadian National Railways. Word of the shooting in Dallas swept through our office like wildfire and work ground to a halt. As confirmation of President Kennedy’s death came in, a state of shock set in. There were three thousand employees in the CN headquarters building in downtown Montreal and the whole building seemed to hang in limbo. Kennedy was very popular in Canada and especially in Montreal. Montreal opened its heart to Jackie Robinson, when most American cities were booing his entrance into the major leagues. We all supported Kennedy’s civil rights changes and were horrified at the tragedy.

  3. November 25, 2013 9:57 am

    It’s refreshing to find that JFK fared much better elsewhere than in the toxic stew of racism that was white Louisiana ’63. I remember that the black residents of Shreveport were devastated by his death.

  4. Anonymous permalink
    November 30, 2013 7:57 pm

    I was in 6th grade English class at the time the news was delivered to each class by the principal. I’ll never forget it. I hope you and Jude were able to do the Thanksgiving thing this year, I’m sure it may have been harder than any other time in your lives to get around the thankful thing. We are well, hope you are, and you are always in our thoughts. Michael

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