Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 (NIV)
When I was a child, kindergarten was not mandatory. Only families who could afford to send their children to kindergarten did so and kindergarten was mostly a half day program designed to relive mothers from the responsibility of bored five years olds. I was privileged to go to our church’s kindergarten program while my sister, who was two years younger, stayed home with mom. There was a car pool so that moms could eke out that last little bit of piece and quiet before the smarty pants five year old returned to tease and torment younger siblings and spread toys all over the house. One day, November 22, 1963 to be exact, I remember being dropped off by the car pool driver at my house. It was unusual for my mom not to be at the door waiting on me, but I let myself in the house, and walked into the living room which was dim. The drapes were still drawn. The television was on and my mom was sitting in front of it crying. The black and white images flickered in the darkness, and I remember being very afraid because I had never seen my mom cry before. When I went to her, she drew me close and in a wavering voice, said, “They killed him. They killed the president.” At that age, I didn’t really know who the president was, but I knew it was bad enough to make my mom cry and so, I cried along with her. Over the next few days, we watched the funeral. Images such as Caroline’s attempts to console her brother, John John’s poignant salute to his father and Jackie’s somber countenance were engrained into my memory. Not only was my mom upset about the impact on our country, but I think she identified with Jackie, the sweet faced President’s wife with an affection for fashion and so in love with her husband. Mom probably wondered what it would be like to be a young widow. At the same time, I thought about Caroline who told her father good-bye as he left on a business trip never to see him again. And I thought that if her father could die, so might mine, as I contemplated for the first time, the mortality of my parents. Years later, when I was in graduate school, I took a class on the history of the 1960s and when the subject of JFK’s death came up, my memories were dismissed by the many Vietnam War veterans in the class. Back in school on the GI Bill, their recollections as teenagers were much broader than mine, but I do not think any of them should have discounted the impact that the president’s assignation made on a five year old girl. I think that moment was when I first felt my world was not safe. That I recognized my life could change in an instant. The day that the television told a story that made my mom cry.