I was there–in Texas–no, not in Dallas, but in Austin, the next stop on President Kennedy’s trip through Texas. I was 12 years old then, and I not only deeply respected John Fitzgerald Kennedy as our nation’s President, but I truly believed that I loved him, as well, as a young, vibrant leader who would lead us into both the outer reaches of space as well as into a new prosperity in America. In my young, idealistic innocent mind and heart, he would almost singlehandedly lead us into a more kind, more just nation and world. The poverty of which I was just becoming aware would be no more. The prejudice and racism which I saw when I stared at the separate water fountains and restrooms at the pro wrestling (rasslin’) matches I attended monthly would dissipate and then vanish altogether–vestiges of another time and place as the new age of Camelot convinced so many of us that there really was a shining city and fleeting wisps of glory to come.
I was in seventh grade then—in junior high, and we were so excited, so absolutely thrilled to be getting out of school early to go to the parade in downtown Austin–the parade in which our President would smile that broad smile of his and offer us all a friendly, energetic wave–the parade which was–tragically–never to be. My brother Geoff–one year my junior (and my best friend, as well)–was the first to sense that something was amiss. As Austin was the capital city of Texas, Geoff was privileged to have Governor John Connally’s son in his sixth grade class, and when young Mark Connally was called suddenly and urgently from class, there was a sense that something was definitely wrong.
Hearing the news, I was stunned—we ALL were stunned and shocked and grief-stricken–beyond my ability to describe it. Dismissed early, we all went home to watch the tragedy unfold on the national news—black and white TV–but burned into our consciousness–believe me–in living color.
I remember the depth of emotion I felt in the days to come–the overwhelming sadness and despair–as we watched the assassin himself killed and then the funeral procession for the President, the salute by John-John, and then shared sad, bitter tears in the realization that not only was President Kennedy gone, but that somehow, things would never be the same again.
As a twelve-year-old who loved to write, my grief flowed from an aching heart just as surely and continuously as the ink in the cartridge pens we used in that day. I wrote the following words:
THE DEATH OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY
by Mitchell R. Grosky
Our leader has departed–
His heart, his soul gone too.
His memory will long remain
in everything we do.
Our lives, our dreams were shattered
on this outrageous day.
Our eyes are filled with tears;
Our President’s passed away.
He tried so hard for freedom–
for rights for one and all.
He tried to keep us happy;
How could this great man fall?
He tried to make our country
greater than ever before.
He tried to do all this.
Yet hatred sealed the door.
It was a beautiful morning–
More beautiful than ever before.
No one knew or had any idea
of what Fate held in store.
Suddenly three shots rang out,
and hit him in the head.
A short time afterwards,
our President was dead.
It must have been a madman
to do a thing like this!
His aim was sharp and careful;
His bullet did not miss.
An unforgivable act
was carried out this day.
The world is deep in sorrow;
our President’s passed away.
I remember the poem word for word, as my beloved mother had me repeat it verbatim so many times over the years for our relatives and her friends. As a retired English teacher, I look back at it with mixed feelings–the forced rhyme and curious, childlike wording all too evident to someone who spent his life focusing on the power and beauty of the written word.
Yet, as I recite the words once more–as I–and all of us–acknowledge the passing of 50 years since our President’s death, my eyes once again fill with the tears of a future that was never to be–of a President who though imperfect in many ways–still made us believe in ourselves and in a better America and a better world.
I think that I was raised to believe that we all must do our parts to make the world a better place, but–looking back–maybe it was this particular time in my life–this oh-so-sad time–that forced me to finally look in the mirror and to face a solemn truth. Perhaps that was the time that I first saw and accepted that it was OUR job–MY job and that of my three brothers and one sister–and all my friends who were growing all-too-quickly toward adulthood…..that it was our job to do something good and kind and decent–maybe even noble with our lives. The world should be a better place because one has lived–that’s the way one person said it.
That was the lesson I learned from one of the saddest days in my life–that we can–and we MUST–make a difference.
Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
Whether Camelot was real,
or just was an illusion,
I can tell you that it was real
in the mind of this 12-year-old boy.
So many years later,
I thank President Kennedy for leaving that lesson–
that message to me
and to so many others throughout the world.