We had a substitute teacher that day. She was older than our regular fifth-grade teacher at Elementary School No. 1 in Little Falls, N.J.
A little after 1:30 the principal, Mr. Laux, unexpectedly poked his nose into the room and announced that President Kennedy had been fatally shot in Dallas.
Everything went kind of numb then. The substitute teacher was sad and a little upset, but she told the story of when she was a little girl walking past the train depot and someone shouted down that President McKinley had been shot.
They let us out of school early that day. I remember riding my bike home and how bright the sun was and how the shadows of the trees stood out against the library on Warren Street. There’s something about the death of someone important that makes you appreciate being alive, I learned that day.
That’s pretty much the entirety of my memory of Nov. 22, 1963.
Just on an impulse I Googled Mr. Laux and found his obituary – he died only last year, August 2010, in Portland, Maine, of all places. He retired in 1972 and lived to be 91. He was responsible for kindergarten through fifth grade, I believe, and most grades had at least two sections so he had to make that little speech in the neighborhood of a dozen or more times. That must have been a tough day.
It’s hard to believe that was 48 years ago now – who in fifth grade thinks they’ll ever be able to remember things that happened a half-century ago? That was why it was so impressive for that teacher to tell a story about 63 years earlier.
And now here I am passing along to you the story of a little girl walking past a train depot and hearing that the president had been shot 111 years ago. I wonder if that memory will be preserved again in another 48 years.