The Fifties Are Over

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
November 22, 1963. How it was.

Submitted: November 22, 2016

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Submitted: November 22, 2016




A Compilation of Stories, Journal Extracts, and Letters From My Fairly Ordinary But Minutely Observed Life

 “I swear to God, it’s all true.”


1963: Age 14

I Guess The Fifties Are Over

The JFK Assassination on Thursday, Saint Tim’s Dance on Friday, and Some Blather About What Was Lost


November, 1963. I was in 10th grade at Lincoln High in Philadelphia. Whatever class I was sitting in, the PA speaker was above my head to my right. Our revered principal, Chas. H. Williams, came on and informed us of the shooting of President Kennedy in Dallas. Classes were dismissed.

All of us were in shock, totally confused. Some of us were also scared shitless since only a year ago October we had walked out these same doors on a sunny afternoon just like this one not knowing if we were going to be alive tomorrow morning. Back then, it was a matter of whether or not the Rooskies would order some ships to reverse course away from Cuba. They finally did, and the massive concrete domes of a thousand missile silos slowly rumbled closed. Life went on.

This time no one knew what the hell was going on. Us being tough guys and all, raised on all those stories about your "big war", dubya dubya two, we effected a fatalistic humor about the possible scenarios unfolding at this moment, most of which included the specter of an impending “nuclear exchange.” We had no choice but to set aside for the moment the incomprehensible fact that the person of the president, the President of the United States of America, OUR PRESIDENT FOR GOD'S SAKE, had been struck down by assailants unkown. Standing with friends at Frankford and Cottman, I remember looking up at the sky and wondering if missiles could be seen before they struck. I also remember feeling that the world was unraveling and we were all going crazy, a feeling that would become commonplace in the years to come.

Anyway, surrealistically, the Friday night dance at Saint Tim’s went on as usual. The crowd was subdued and the dance floor empty except for some souls who either really didn’t care, or, perhaps, had to dance to keep from crying. I mostly remember standing in the hallway leading to the boy’s bathroom, smoking and talking to guys I would not normally stand in front of except in anticipation of exchanging punches. We were still stunned, standing there in our sport coats and ties, fuzz faced youths, handsome boy-men, trying to make sense of what happened, trying to figure out what we were supposed to do with it. I guess we took some comfort in each other being there, friends, foes, recognizable strangers, just like last week and the week before. At least that hadn’t changed.

“This was the end the innocence.” I have seen that statement so many times I’m ready to puke; yet I cannot avoid saying it myself. Six months later the Beatles landed, then the Stones and the Kinks, and within a year we were dying in Viet Nam. We adolescent boomers found ourselves in a world very different from that which had previously framed our existence and which, despite the bomb drills etc., had provided a sense of predictability and order to our lives prior to that cold November day. The chaos and division of the coming years, the Viet Nam and civil rights protests, the King and second Kennedy assassinations, the turn on, tune in and drop out movement, the Manson murders, Disco (ha!), the left wing "progressive" insanities we live with today feels like it started here. True, the cultural changes to come were conceived, were brewing, in the fifties and even earlier, but this was the live screaming bloody birth.

Questions about whether or not JFK was a good president or whether his father, Joe, “bought” the presidency for him are moot. Jack had balls, something that seems to be missing in todays politicians, and his youth and vitality, alongside Jackie’s poise and beauty, personified a vision, an image that this country and we its citizens had of ourselves and which we largely, not perfectly, but largely, lived up to, given time and the freedom to choose. There was a sense that we had the power to do anything (hell, we're going to the moon!), and while we might make mistakes, ultimately we would succeed and do the right thing.

Since then, we have been unable to see each other or our country as anything but corrupt and suspect. This is the root of the continuing erosion of our freedoms. The vision of our country and its people as noble and trustworthy is no longer allowed. That vision was the most valuable thing lost that day.


And suddenly,

Nothing was funny

And everything

Was serious


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