Remembering November 22, 1963…

22 Nov

The day John F. Kennedy died is one of those events indelibly etched into my memory. Les Morford, our high school Civics teacher, looked over our heads to the classroom door with the little “gun port” window, and broke into tears.

What we hadn’t seen was the sign held up to that window, “JFK shot, dead” it read.

We sat silent as he hurried out of the classroom only to return moments later and in a tear-choked voice informed us that our President had been shot. Numbed by this political science teacher’s reaction, we moved like zombies as school was dismissed.

My next recollection of that day was walking to the doctor’s office. I had been suffering from athlete’s foot, and Absorbine Jr. wasn’t getting it done, so my mom had made a doctor’s appointment for me.

The doctor’s office must have been in mourning, but for a teen-ager who had not discovered the romance and pain of politics, my real issue was the itch between my toes.

My doctor (remember this was before we called them “health care providers”) had known me since we moved to town. He’d treated me for mumps and broken bones. He had been in my home and knew my entire family.

This was the fall, and the summer had seen my fastball go from 79 to something close to 85 mph. The doc was a big baseball fan, and as he examined my scaling, raw toes, he opened a commentary on my sport.

“I noticed you struggled at times in the late innings,” he said without looking up. “Did you know that Whitey Ford runs foul pole to foul pole and then walks back at least 20 times in the days between his starts?”

Ford was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Yankees and the gold standard for left-handed pitchers in those days when Sandy Koufax was still searching for the strike zone.

“That running,” the doc continued, “builds strength in the legs, and it’s that strength that makes for maintaining the velocity on your pitch in the later innings.” He looked at me, and added, “Do you ever run between starts?”

I thought about the basketball practice that had been canceled that afternoon, the wind sprints in the football practices… all that running came between the final start of last summer and the next start in the spring.

He didn’t wait for an answer. He scribbled a prescription on a pad, and got back to his business. “Have your mom fill this, and then soak your feet in this before bed every night, and this will all be history by next week. OK?”

I nodded, put my socks and shoes back on, and grabbed my coat. As I walked out of the office, he interrupted his conversation with his nurse, “Lefty, remember, Whitey Ford and his running, right?”

I nodded and the door slid closed behind me and I thought: “I didn’t know Whitey Ford had athlete’s foot…”

To many people the assassination of JFK marks a turning point in American culture and life. The sobering fact of what passed for modern life at that point was that the White House Press Corps turned a blind eye to presidential dalliances with movie stars.

At that point in time 16-year-old wannabe pitchers were not part of the dialogue on the tragedy even in our homes. We were simply dismissed; sent home, sent to the doctor’s office or to bed right after supper while our parents tried to come to grips with the new facts of American life.

That year was just the beginning of what may have been the biggest social upheaval this nation or the world has ever known. From the Beatles to Free Love to hair over the collar (or even in pony tails) everything that had been so established and set up for the future by the “Greatest Generation,” the folks who unleashed the atom to end wars and then stared down the Russians when they put their missiles in Cuba.

The emotional turmoil of JFK’s death would be seen by many as the first snowflake in a great social avalanche.

Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, Nixon’s resignation and the horror that has become simply “9/11” have all become special markers in our personal histories.

When our children came home shocked and upset at the terrorist attacks of 9/11, their status was far different from ours in November, 1963. They were fully invested in the dialogue at home, in the nation, and the world.

There are many in my age group who wistfully long for those simpler times before the 24-hour news cycle; when children (and women and African Americans) knew their place and kept it.

But such thinking is as sound as defying gravity.

We can hold dear the memories of that little boy saluting his father’s casket, and the brave bereavement of the president’s widow. They are images of strength and love.

But in the flow of time, the course of social development in America, JFK’s death is just a bookmark. It didn’t stop anything — unlike the doctor’s miracle footbath which stopped the fungus in its tracks.

It didn’t start anything, either, except for adding walk-and-runs to a young pitcher’s summer workout regimen.


One Response to “Remembering November 22, 1963…”

  1. jumbledwriter November 25, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    Great piece. Thank you for sharing your memories of this day.

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