"FREEDOM'S FARE" © 1972 BMM
NOVEMBER 22, 1963 DALLAS
We all have moments frozen into our lives, moments merged into indelible memories. Memories that are so ingrained in the fabric of our being - when we recall the moment, it replays in our minds - as if it were yesterday! Sounds, feelings, circumstances, the song on the radio, or the program on TV - all fall immediately into focus.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I lived in Dallas, Texas USA. My elementary school was located on President John F. Kennedys Original Motorcade Route - for his visit to my hometown that day.
Kennedys presidential race against Nixon, in 1960, was the first election I was old enough to follow and remember. I was very excited he would be coming by our school, and that we would get out of class for the opportunity to wave at the motorcade, as the president passed by.
Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed to find out, at the last moment, that the President's Motorcade Route had been changed, to an alternate route from Love Field, to Downtown Dallas. We would not be let out of class after all, and we wouldnt be seeing the President either.
Even though radios were strictly forbidden in my elementary school, I had decided to secretly smuggle mine in that day. I left it in my locker, and only listened to it during passing periods. One friend, who lockered close to me, knew about it.
We had been listening to events as broadcasted on, KLIF AM, the radio station where I would, in the next year or so, hear a Beatles Record played for the first time (I Wanna Hold Your Hand). But, I never could have imagined what I was about to discover during my passing period after lunch on that day.
My friend and I had our heads stuffed in my locker. The radio announcers voice became very excited as he said there was trouble with the presidents motorcade, and reports of shots fired... My friend and I just looked at each other, and I said something like, geewiz. The radio reporter continued in a frantic tone speaking of more reports, one said that, "The Presidents Car was speeding off with a secret service agent sprawled across its back, and that they were possibly heading to Parkland Hospital."
No, no, this cant be happening, I said to myself. Suddenly, my friend skipped out on me, having noticed an approaching teacher in the hallway. Before I could wince, she collared me with my radio saying, Young man, youre going to the principals office! I was caught, red-handed!
As we headed down the hallway, I keep telling her, Somethings happened to the president - Kennedy may have been be shot! Finally, with my constant pleading, she stopped by the stairwell, and told me to turn the radio on, but, that I was in still trouble, and we were still going to the Principals office.
The radio began transmitting an ominous disclosure, something had happened on the motorcade route... Reports were coming from Parkland Hospital indicating both the President, and Governor John Connally, had been shot... The radio message conveyed more than either of us wanted to hear. We moved on...
When we reached the principals office, we went in immediately. The grownups were talking in low tones to each other, and several more school staff came in, and went out. As I quietly sat in a wooded chair, I noticed everyones eyes who passed me were moist, and solemn.
Finally, the principal (Mr. Nutley) opened his door, and asked me if he could keep my radio - "Of course," I said, yes. I was then sent back to homeroom with instructions - not to talk about this event, and that there would soon be an announcement on the schools public address system.
When I got to class I was becoming very worried. What would our country do if President Kennedy died? Would the Russians attack us? Who would do this terrible thing to such a great man anyway, and why?
It wasnt long before the announcement was made to the school - that President Kennedy had died, and that Governor Connally was seriously injured, but, that the First Lady was OK. It had been decided to let school out at 2:00 that day.
I lived less than two blocks from school, and raced home to meet my mom, who was with some of her friends watching TV as events unfolded.
When it truly became obvious this was not a nightmare, and that such an incident had indeed come to pass - in my own hometown, I went to my bedroom and cried.
I didnt eat too much dinner that evening. The TV stayed on as developments about a slain police officer, in Oak Cliff, were reported - along with the capture of a suspect named, Lee Harvey Oswald... I thought he looked untrustworthy - in the picture shown on television. He seemed like the type of person I had always been scared of - unpredictable, and cruel.
I excused myself from the table, and went outside. The night was cool and damp. There was a low cloud ceiling - whose bottom reflected city lights - emanating from the homes, streets, and buildings. Hardly any cars were out. Everyone had gone home.
I laid myself down, near a Live Oak tree in our front yard. For the longest time I prayed to God. Why did people do things like this? Am I safe, I asked? What about my mother and brothers? What will John-John and Caroline do?
Finally, I began feeling fatalistic. I began patiently awaiting the arrival of the Angel, Gabriel - to blow his horn, for the world must certainly be coming to an end...
After a while it became apparent - this would not happen...
I lost my a good piece of innocence that day, in the eleventh year, and fourth month, of my life. My father had already abandoned our family and home, and I wasnt sure how much I could trust adults anymore. It was a hard world out there, I thought, and if you arent careful - someone might get you when youre not looking...
In the years since, Ive learned there are good people in this world doing the best they can. JFK said, In your hand, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success, or failure, of our course... Together, let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
I have learned that I too can do my part to make things a little more worthwhile in this world. I have tried to use my creative talents to better things I can affect in my environment in at least some small way.
These words, spoken by John Fitzgerald Kennedy at Amherst College, a few weeks before his passing, hold his gift for my life. When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of mans concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses, for art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgment.
be aware, be creative, and become a benefit from your existence. - bmm