Friday, November 22, 2013

Texas School Book Depository

I was only eight, trying to make sense of how the Texas schools related to the killing of the president. My third grade class had been sent home from school. I have no idea if my mother knew I was coming home. Since it was only a two-block walk, I found out soon enough.

All the curtains were drawn, my mother was in her favorite chair, pulled up close to the television, a box of Kleenex in her lap, used tissues surrounding her. She explained, but I was still confused, "But Mom--you voted for Nixon..."

"You just don't understand!" I understood the president was dead, I would come to understand that Lee Harvey Oswald worked in the Texas Schoolbook Depository, a high-rise warehouse in downtown Dallas with a sharpshooter's view of President Kennedy's motorcade. I would, over the next three days, find out a great deal more about the world.

As was my habit, I ended up two doors down the street at my friend Bobby's house. Their television was tuned into the wall-to-wall coverage as well. After the umpteenth reference to to President Kennedy as the first and only Catholic president," I asked Bobby's mom to help me understand the problem.

"But Ellie, why is it such a big deal that he was Catholic? Everybody's Catholic but my family..." She roared, perhaps the first and only time time she would laugh that weekend. I didn't understand what was so funny.

My housing tract was full of World War II veterans and their little baby boomer broods. German-American  Catholics had founded the little community that became South San Francisco. As Irish and Italian Americans raised their standard of living, many moved out of the city to the nearest suburb (mine) that already had Catholic churches and communities. Hispanic families soon swelled the neighborhoods, likely for the same or similar reasoning.

My neighborhood was so Catholic, that one day almost my entire second grade class was missing. All five classes of seven year-olds had been combined into one group of five kids for the day: the two Jewish kids, two Protestants and me. It was First Communion day at St. Veronica's and the rest of the 150 or so second graders were at mass. So yeah, to me, the world was overwhelmingly Catholic.

My family made one of their intermittent forays to the First Baptist Church in San Francisco that weekend. It was important to pray for our country that horrible weekend. As I waited for my parents and older siblings to finish readying for church, I sat in front of the TV again. The newsfeed was coming in from the garage of the Dallas police station. "Oswald is going to be on TV!" I shouted, but no one came. Then, live on television, I saw the assassin get murdered. The on-camera death of the lone gunman from the Texas School Book Depository would forever be featured in perhaps the most infamous live moment in TV history. A handcuffed prisoner, surrounded by law enforcement officers in the bowels of their very own building, killed on my own television set.

Sometimes, the adult world just doesn't make any sense at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment