Friday, November 22, 2013


The 22nd November 1963 was a normal, grey, drizzly Friday in Bristol, UK.  Aged 13, I went to school as usual, came home just after 4 pm and couldn't get out of my uniform quickly enough. It says something for the significance the day would eventually have that I can remember the clothes I changed into - a burgundy corduroy skirt and pale blue jumper which probably didn't go. After "tea", as we called it then, I settled down to watch my favourite medical soap opera, Emergency - Ward 10, with Desmond Carrington as the handsome young doctor, Chris Anderson.

There had been a lot of talk of war in the preceding months, for the world had held its breath during the Cuban Missile Crisis of only a year before and my parents still talked about World War II. I don't think that people of their generation ever realised how much they scared their children by doing so and maybe it's because of this, and not only the songs of Bob Dylan, that we became the generation of "peace and love". When the programme was interrupted and a picture of President Kennedy was shown on the screen, my immediate thought was that war had been declared and I was terrified. Then came the announcement - the President had been shot in Dallas.

We didn't have live news pictures in Britain at the time and the announcer said that the programme would continue and further news would be brought to us as ITV received it. A few minutes later, the programme was interrupted again and we were told the devastating news that the President had died. Then the announcer said that, in view of the gravity of the news, solemn music would be played for the rest of the evening. There were still no pictures.

We all glanced at each other in shock - my mum, dad, grandpa and me. My great aunt Mabel, who also lived with us, was out at a church meeting and when she came in, my dad gently told her the news. Great aunt Mabel was a widely-read, self-educated woman and I remember she buried her face in her hands, immediately grasping what this meant for the world.

For my generation of Brits President Kennedy represented all that was new and all that we loved about America:  he was handsome, he was a war hero, we could understand his speeches and he was the first young politician we had ever seen. Every girl in my class wanted a "Jackie" fringe and how we loved her pillbox hats and style!  The thought of her screaming, "Oh, no, no!" in the car was too much for us to bear. Of course, none of us knew then that the marriage was far from perfect but I don't think it would have diminished our hero-worship if we had.

Jacqueline Kennedy, much maligned later for the Onassis interlude, was a product of her time and class and admitted as much after Onassis's death:

"I have always lived through men and now I realise that I can't do that any more."

I am glad that she found love, reliability and true companionship in a man towards the end of her life and I am certainly not going to judge a woman who, on that fateful day half a century ago, cradled her murdered husband's head in her arms as their motorcade sped through Dallas to the hospital.

I believe, to this day, that it was hope that was cut down in Dallas on 22nd November 1963 and I don't think it re-emerged until the end of the decade, in the protests and demonstrations that young people held all over the world. Now, 50 years later, in Sicily, Italy, I find myself dealing every day with young people who feel they have no hope and they have no Kennedy figure to inspire it.

It is impossible to know in what ways the history of the world might have been different had President Kennedy survived but I would venture this opinion:  Had he lived, faculties intact, into his nineties, he would have been appalled to see young people in such despair in a crisis brought about largely by people in a position to have known better. He would have known little of the situation in far-away Italy but he would have realised that this was a world-wide failure involving far more than money and he would have spoken out.

Everyone has their favourite Kennedy quote and mine is one of the less famous but I believe it is appropriate for our time and, indeed, for Italy.  It is this:

“If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy:  Address at The American University, Washington D.C.,  
10th June 1963


Saucy Siciliana said...

We had just moved to New York about 8 months earlier. I was in school and they told us the terrible news and sent us home. It was so sad!

Laura said...

What a lovely tribute you have written. I am copying the quote to my FB page. Thank you.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, such a sad day, Francesca. Thank you, Laura. I am honoured.

Betty said...

I love that quote!

I was glad to see other people on television yesterday sharing their stories about where they were that fateful day and breaking down in tears. I had been doing the same thing and wondered what was wrong with me. I had proudly worn a political button that said, "If I was 21 I'd vote for Kennedy" and my mother had taken me out of school to go see him at a political appearance at a local shopping center. We were all so excited about his presidency and then in an instant it was gone.

By the way, I was very scared during the Cuban missile crisis. Living right outside NYC my friends and I knew we'd be goners when the war started. I never did understand the air raid drills. They'd have us go to the school basement and stand against the wall with our heads down. We'd also practice going under the desk. Was that really going to protect us from a nuclear weapon??? No wonder we were scared. :)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Betty. Nice to see you. Thank you for sharing your memories here. I can well understand that you must have been terrified during the CMC.

Lee said...

I'd just turned 19, 11 days before. It was Saturday morning, our time; I'll never forget my Nana coming into my bedroom to wake me to tell me the devastating news. No one could believe. No one wanted to believe it was true.

As you say, JFK represented so much.

Jacquie will forever have my admiration. We forget just how young she was...she was only in her early 30s....what hell of a thing for anyone to have to deal with, let alone a young First Lady, forever in the public eye and under scrutiny.

And we forget how young Kennedy was...he was only 46. I woke up with a jolt the other day when I realised if he was still alive today he would be 96! I just can't imagine him at that age. He will be forever young.

I've many books on both JFK and Jacquie...together and singularly. I've always been interested in their stories - and I always will be.

The world changed on that fateful Friday, 22nd November, 1963 in Dallas.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Lee. Thank you for sharing your memory of that day, too. Yes, I realised with a shock that he'd have been well into his nineties now had he lived. And as you say, a terrible thing for Jackie to live with. May they rest in peace.

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This is such a stirring tribute post, Pat! I was only 10 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated and even so. my memories of the day are very vivid. I think JFK would have accomplished so much more if he had lived -- the world lost a true inspired leader that day.

Dragonstar said...

Such a moving post. Yes, we all thought the world of Kennedy. A very sad day.

Lee said...

I meant to write "Jackie", not "Jacquie"....I'd not long before written to (emailed) a friend who spells her name the latter way.

I hate spelling names incorrectly (I hate spelling any word incorrectly).

I was grumbling only the other day when someone wrote to me as "Leigh" instead of "Lee"...and she should have known better!!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

I'm glad you like the post, Pat. Gosh, you were even younger than I was. I agree with you.
Hi, Dragonstar. Yes, we did, didn't we? So sad.
Hi, Lee. We all do that occasionally!


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