No Memories of Kennedy – and Why That Matters

Kennedys arrive at Dallas
President and Mrs. Kennedy arriving at Love Field, Dallas, Texas, 22 November 1963. Photo by Cecil Stoughton; downloaded from Wikimedia Commons; public domain image.

Around November 22 each year, people start asking the question, “Where were you when you heard Kennedy was killed?” My mom was at home. Dad had the later shift at his service station and was getting ready for work. The milkman (yes, the milkman) had just made his delivery at our house when the news broke on TV. Mom and Dad invited the milkman in to watch the news with them. Mom remembers Walter Cronkite breaking down when he announced that the President was dead…

As for me, I have no memories of it. Not because I was too young to remember. I wasn’t born yet.

I’m used to being the youngest in the crowd. I’m the youngest in my family. I’m the youngest of my grandparents’ grandchildren. I was among the youngest in my high school graduating class. Until a few years ago, I was always the youngest in a gathering of genealogists. I’m used to the discussions that revolve around events that I missed. (“Remember that time we <blank>? Oh, that’s right. You weren’t born yet.” Sometimes, I think my sisters enjoy those conversations a little bit too much.)

So Many Points on the Timeline

People have expressed almost sadness that I missed this key event in the nation’s history. On the one hand, it would be interesting to be able to carry on a conversation comparing notes of “where were you.” But on the other hand, there are lots of key events that I — and a lot of my friends — have missed. Pearl Harbor. The 1929 Stock Market Crash. Lincoln’s Assassination. Fort Sumter. The Treaty of Ghent. Washington’s first inauguration. Lexington and Concord.

I look at my great-niece and great-nephews and realize that events that I do remember vividly — things like the space shuttle Challenger and 9/11 — are things they they will only hear about from others. They have no memory of them.

Why This Matters — and What We Can Do

So why does it matter that I have no memory of JFK? Because others do, and they need to record those memories for those of use who don’t. And for those like me who don’t have those memories, we need to record our “where I was” stories for the key events in our lives, so that the youngsters of today — and those yet to be born — will know.

[NOTE: I published a version of this on my older blog No Story Too Small in 2013, the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination.]
Posted: November 22, 2015.

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  • II was 19 years old, working in the office of a university affiliated student organization. While in the office, the word started going around, President Kennedy had been shot. We were so stunned. It was time to leave.It was downtown Montreal, Canada. Waiting at the bus stop, everyone looked at each other, all seemed very quiet, in a state of shock, a few made quiet comments to strangers, I would think in need of some connection. People needed someone to whom they could express their sorrow. I will never forget that day.

    • Thanks for sharing that memory, Frima. We don’t often hear the memories of those who were outside the U.S. when that happened.

  • I was at school at the time, in 7th grade. My comment is not about major events, but your post reminds me of the different memories my siblings and I have about growing up and the relatives and friends with whom we interacted. At some point in my research, I realized my 2 brothers would have memories different from mine about recent relatives. Four years separate the 3 of us so when I ask about a person or event, I get different perspectives, or in the case of my youngest brother, no recollection. It’s also fun to learn what “girls” remember vs. “boys”!

    • That’s a great insight, Denise. I’m the youngest and it’s amazing sometimes how different my recollections are from those of my sisters.

    • Yes, Denise — sometimes I joke that my siblings and I grew up in different families. We’re spread over 16 years, and things that were mysterious when the oldest was 6 were sometimes explained when he was away at college, unlikely to hear the explanation. And he knows relatives in old photos that the younger ones can’t recognize. And my parents’ political opinions changed over the years, leaving us with varying viewpoints.

  • I was a sophomore in the local community college on the west coast. I heard a bit of the news on the radio. When I got to campus all classes had been cancelled and people were standing around. Needless to say, I headed home home where my mother and I turned on the TV,

  • I was in my ninth grade English class in MA when I overheard two teachers talking and then it was announced that choir was cancelled. I walked to a friend’s house where I saw Cronkite announce the news. I could not get a phone line (no cell phones then) to call my mom, so I started walking the rest of the way home. I had to go through our “square”. I will never forget the eerie feeling of having no one on the street but me. One store had TVs going and they were all tuned to CBS. It was a bit scary to hear Cronkite over and over as they replayed his announcement. I did not see another soul for the next mile; there were no cars going by. I thought it was the end of the world. My mom was near hysterical when I arrived…she thought so , too. School was cancelled for the next few days until after the funeral. I saw Lee Harvey Oswald killed by Jack Ruby. I was not sure Monday would come, until it did.

  • Being the Youngest we miss all the Good stuff! My Siblings can be like that too! “you weren’t born yet”! I do ask the remaining Elders about the Civil Rights Era a lot in my Family. I think that is what affected my Elders the most. My Mom growing in the 60’s. We can find stories in History and attach them to our Lives. Great Piece Amy. When 1 Life was taken, 1 was Given -My Grandma. On the Day I was born. 4-3-1968. Dr. King had died the day after.

    • Thanks for sharing that, True. (And doesn’t it seem like the siblings like playing the “Oh right, you weren’t there” card just a bit too much?!)

  • University of BC, Vancouver BC Canada, a bright cool sunny day, with knots of students clustering and reshaping in loose groups in the open space in front of the Main Library, and a quiet buzz of “Did you hear-?” in shocked tones everywhere. Classes must have been cancelled afterwards because we never went back into any of our buildings that day. Eventually several of us car-pooled to our places off campus with the car radio on replaying the information. And then, the TV – I went over to my parents’ home for the weekend. Oh my… over and over we saw the terrible moment. We had such difficulty believing it – this seemed to be something that would only happen in a military dictatorship or… It seemed impossible, but it wasn’t. It had actually happened – another USA president assassination. We finally turned off the TV and went to bed. My prof for both my sociology class and abnormal psychology class – both had open discussions, time and space to talk, impact on us/USA/world, and more. It felt as if hope itself had been killed.

    I have this already written down, along with several events. Like where was I when the first person stepped onto the Moon… Points on a timeline.

  • Our families used to save the newspaper of the day of a significant event, or, letters telling of a family situation. What will our descendants have?

  • I was not born when Kennedy was assassinated. My mother has many times told me about the day as she remembers it. She was working as a secretary for the US Embassy in Brazil. She said the thing she found most interesting was when it was broadcast in Brazil the video showed Jackie frantically trying to get out of the car after John was shot and the secret service workers forcing her to stay in the vehicle. Once she returned to the US the only videos she ever saw seemed to have that part edited out. Instead they showed a loyal Jackie holding her husband after he had been shot.

    I think it is important to keep a record ofor personal accounts of any event. Even one as simple as a weekend outing. Dates, places, and names are important. But what I have always treasured most were the emotions and thoughts that people had regarding these events. Any news editorial can provide facts. But that doesn’t bring you as close to your ancestors as learning that you had a personality traits or hobby in common with someone 6 generations earlier. The personal recollection on people, items, and events are what make our ancestors more than names on a page. And like Jackie on that horrible day, my mother’s story of what she saw makes her seem more like anyone I may know vs. what the media wants us to know about them.