An In­dian Sum­mer day that plays for­ever in re­runs

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Opinion - KEN DIXON

It was a weird, tragic day, that In­dian Sum­mer af­ter­noon so long ago.

It was un­sea­son­ably sunny and warm, and the kids at Bell­town School had just got­ten back from lunch on Fri­day, Nov. 22. The sun was still high enough, and the shirt­sleeve warmth re­minded us, so briefly, of the re­cently com­pleted sum­mer lead­ing into fourth grade.

The events to come would fore­shadow a bleak win­ter that wouldn’t be bro­ken for months. I can ar­gue that we’re still pay­ing the his­toric price, 55 years later.

It was the day Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy, three years into his term, was shot in Dal­las by an as­sas­sin, a for­mer U. S. Marine who some­how lived for a time in the Soviet Union, then came back to the United States, and es­caped no­tice from au­thor­i­ties on his walk into the Texas Book Depository. The shooter him­self — Lee Har­vey Os­wald — would be mur­dered, with a hand­gun thrust into his ribs, on live TV.

Most of the 300 pupils at that now- long- de­funct Stam­ford neigh­bor­hood school went home at noon ev­ery day to peanut but­ter or Amer­i­can cheese sand­wiches, maybe, an ap­ple or a home­made cookie, then a quick turn­around back up the street three blocks for the 1 o’clock bell. Bread back then was 22 cents a loaf. No one in the neigh­bor­hood locked their doors be­cause there wasn’t any­thing to steal.

The 25 or so of us ar­rived in Mrs. Poole’s class­room as ready as would ever be to dive back into the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion ta­bles and read­ing as­sign­ments. I re­call that at the time, the an­swer to nine times eight was par­tic­u­larly eva­sive and mys­te­ri­ous.

Although the day was warm, well up into the 60s, we did not have our base­ball gloves. That sum­mer, the five- digit Zip Code had been in­tro­duced to speed our postal sys­tem, not that I had much rea­son to use it be­yond the pro forma thank- you note for my week’s stay in Au­gust at Grand­fa­ther Fo­ley’s lit­tle farm in Madi­son.

The base­ball sea­son had ended sadly on Oct. 6, with the ig­no­min­ious four- game sweep of the New York Yan­kees by the Los An­ge­les Dodgers, sig­nal­ing the be­gin­ning of the end of a dy­nasty that would lose again a year later, to the St. Louis Car­di­nals, then vir­tu­ally dis­ap­pear un­til the late- 1970s. The loss to the Dodgers co­in­cided with Hur­ri­cane Flora, which killed as many as 8,000 by the time it fin­ished rav­aging Cuba, and which I never heard of un­til I started writ­ing this me­mory and looked back at ma­jor events of 1963.

I do re­mem­ber that in April, around the time of my ninth birthday, the

U. S. S. Thresher nu­clear sub­ma­rine went miss­ing. I re­call that story show­ing up on the front page of The New York Herald Tri­bune, which landed on our front porch ev­ery morn­ing.

I also re­mem­ber the Septem­ber bomb­ing of the 16th Street Bap­tist Church in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama, killing four girls just a lit­tle older than me. At the time, we didn’t know for sure that it was a KKK op­er­a­tion planned by old white big­ots. It took 14 years to bring one of them to trial.

It seemed that we had just set­tled back into our desks in the sec­ond- floor class­room at about 1 p. m., but his­tory says the pres­i­dent wasn’t shot in the head un­til 1: 30 Eastern time. The un­flap­pable Mrs. Poole ap­peared and gave us an early dis­missal, ut­ter­ing some­thing vaguely about the pres­i­dent be­ing hurt, but OK.

A few min­utes later, my mother def­i­nitely knew some­thing was up, but what do you say to a 9year- old on a sunny day? That the pres­i­dent was shot dead? That the So­vi­ets could be be­hind it? That some kind of hope for post World War II Amer­ica was dead on a slab in Texas?

There would be time for that over the long week­end of mourn­ing, with the black- and- white TV on con­stantly, and the drum­ming and the lit­tle boy sa­lut­ing the cas­ket car­ry­ing the re­mains of his dead fa­ther, his boots sym­bol­i­cally back­ward in the stir­rups of the rid­er­less horse.

So I ran off, down the hill, mostly obliv­i­ous, into the then- ex­pan­sive woods be­hind Dolan Ju­nior High, and played army, in my nascent train­ing for the Viet­nam War, to which I thank­fully did not have to march.

Ken Dixon, po­lit­i­cal edi­tor and colum­nist, can be reached at 203- 842- 2547 or at [email protected] ct­post. com. Visit him at twit­ter. com/ KenDixonCT and on Face­book at kendixonct. hearst.

Associated Press

In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacque­line Kennedy, ar­rive at Love Field air­port in Dal­las.

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