I was merely eleven months old when President Kennedy was assassinated. Just a wee bit of a child. Safe from understanding what was going on around me. Immune to the chaos around me. Or was I? Do I remember where I was when the world changed in 1963, of course not. Yet, it must have made a very strong impression on me none the less.
I can't imagine the strong emotions that were around me at that time. I imagine I was crawling around perplexed, not completely comprehending what was going on. I'm sure that the adults around me were transfixed, listening to radios, or watching it on TV. Much like we all were on September 11, 2001.
I am sure our TV was on channel 8. At that time it was CBS affiliate KRNT. Mom and Dad always watched CBS when there was important news of the world. I can see them watching Walter Cronkite sitting at a desk in the CBS news room, explaining carefully, and calmly each event of the assassination. Reporting the details as he learned them. Responsibly relating the facts as they came in. Until that moment, when he announced to the world, "President Kennedy died at 1:00pm central standard time, 2:00pm eastern standard time, some thirty eight minutes ago." At that point he could no longer hold his composure. His quiet pause, as he held back tears, made an entire generation hold their breath. He then continued to relay the news of the events. News that shocked the nation and the world. News that flung a people into days of mourning. News that affected, very deeply, individuals, families and communities.
As an eleven month old, I would guess I sat on the floor in the living room, playing, as my mother sat flabbergasted unable to turn the TV off. Unable to look away. Perhaps my mother cried. I really don't know. My father would have been at work, probably huddled around a radio with the rest of the people he worked with.
What I do know, even though I don't remember details, I was affected. I didn't know how to process the information, but I believe I processed the emotions, and the importance of the event.
How do I know this? I remember, very distinctly, with great detail, a dream I had as a child years later. It was one of those dreams that feel very real. I was probably four or five. I wasn't in school yet. The dream, you ask? It was a dream of sitting in the living room watching TV. A man, President Kennedy, was speaking. His head and shoulders prominent on the TV, the typical "talking head" you see in news shows and presidential addresses. He was making a speech. His voice filled the living room. It seemed like a very normal presidential news conference.
Then a hand holding a gun appeared in the TV screen and shot the president in the head. That's when I must of awoken.
The next morning, there was something on TV about JFK. Maybe it was an anniversary of his death. It might have been a documentary or news piece about him. At that point I'm sure emotions of the event were still right at the surface. Maybe the memorials that must have been going on even years later triggered the dream. I looked at my mom and said, "I saw that man shot last night." My mom looked at me in horror. She was speechless. "I saw them put a gun to his head and shoot him," I continued. She just looked at me.
"It must have been a dream," she told me.
"I remember," I said. "I saw them kill him on TV."
Mom didn't know what to say. My brother, who was ten or so, saved her, "no you didn't, he died a long time ago."
We argued a few minutes until my mother stopped us. "It was a dream." She told me. I wasn't convinced, the dream had seemed so real.
I had the dream a few more times in my young childhood. I did learn that it was just a dream, though it still felt very real. Every time I had the dream, it felt very real. I still can see President Kennedy, on an old TV, with the gun to his head. It is as clear to me today as it was the day I told my mom about it.
You don't think about how tragedies affect very young children. Even after that, I didn't stop to think how things like the Challenger, or coverage of the first gulf war might have affected my very young children. I know I tried to be careful to talk to my children in 2001, but if one of them had been a toddler, would I have thought about how it affected that child?
You don't think very young children understand. You hold them tight, to comfort yourself in such situations. You watch the, now, twenty-four hour coverage, unable to tear yourself away. If you have very young children, don't think they are oblivious. If a national tragedy occurs, don't forget to protect even your toddlers from the constant barrage of pictures, sounds and videos. We stop to think of the school age child, we know to not let a five year old get over whelmed by events. Just remember, even an eleven month old can be affected.
Even I forgot, until today. Maybe the 50th anniversary coverage is what made me remember.