Forty years ago the world wept for John F. Kennedy whose life was snuffed out long before we had an opportunity to witness all that he might accomplish as President. Four decades have passed in the blink of an eye and just about anyone who was old enough to speak at the time of Kennedy’s death can remember exactly what they were doing on November 22.
That day I had stayed home from school sick and was watching "Wagon Train" on television as the news of JFK’s assassination broke. When the news bulletin flashed across the screen I was angry that the show was interrupted until my mother explained the ramifications of Kennedy’s shooting.
I still vividly remember the endless television coverage displaying JFK’s funeral procession, thousands of mourners lining Washington’s streets and paying their last respects at the Capitol Rotunda, and the heartbreaking vision of John-John offering a final salute to his father.
Kennedy’s assassination was certainly one of the more momentous historical events to occur in 1963 but many other notable things also happened that year. For instance, the United States was growing increasingly more involved in Vietnam which of course ended up being one of our most unpopular, divisive wars tearing us apart at the seams and dragging on for years with a staggering loss of life.
1963 was a defining moment in the Civil Rights Movement and the events of that year brought the inequities suffered by African Americans to the forefront of America’s consciousness. President Kennedy had proposed the Civil Rights Bill to Congress, civil rights leader Medgar Evans was murdered and four young black girls died in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama.
On August 28, Martin Luther King led a March on Washington in support of Kennedy’s bill and delivered his memorable "I have a Dream" speech before hundreds of thousands. Following these events people began to mobilize against segregation leading to the 1964 passage of Kennedy’s Civil Rights Bill.
Yes, unforgettable historic events dominated the world stage in 1963 but that same year my classmates and I made history in our own right by becoming the first third graders admitted into the brand new Warren Prescott School. By June the school year ended and following a wonderful summer respite Ms. Martin’s former third graders returned to school that September, a bit older, wiser and ready to buckle down as fourth graders assigned to Ms. Harrington’s class.
At the start of the school year I was just a nine year old kid but by year’s end had experienced true love for the first time. The kind of love that touches you to your very soul and stays with you forever. I can’t quite recall where she came from but before I knew it an angel had descended into Ms. Harrington’s classroom to watch over us.
She certainly had an odd name but our student teacher, Ms. Gissandanner was beautiful, or as my sons might say, she was "hot". I loved Ms. Gissendanner and after meeting her the hours seemed to fly by and none of the boys had to be told twice to listen and pay attention. How could we not listen and pay attention? We were mesmerized by each and every one of her magnificent words. After all, young minds consumed by love and lust simply had no place for thoughts about things like dying presidents, fighting soldiers or bombed out churches.
As the school year progressed the days melted into weeks and before long we learned that Ms. Gissendanner would be leaving us. I remember standing in the hallway with several of my friends, watching one of our classmates weeping openly after hearing the devastating news. I have often wondered what happened to Ms. Gissendanner and thought about trying to find her but was concerned that someone would accuse me of stalking the woman.
Forty years is a long time but I figure perhaps one day Ms. G and I will meet again. I would love to hear her beautiful voice once more and tell her how much she meant to the students in Ms. Harrington’s fourth grade class and how she saved them from the crazy world around us