Allegany Communications

Anyone who was here remembers where they were 60 years ago today when they heard the news that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

I certainly remember where I was, even though to that point I don’t recall remembering or comprehending much of anything, as I was just 4 years old, sitting on the floor of our family’s TV room, probably watching the Ranger Hal Show.

My mother Colleen and I were home at 38 Moran Avenue, as she had not yet returned to teaching and I was, as I said, sitting at the ripe old age of 4, one-year shy of being jettisoned to kindergarten, though, at that point, blissfully unaware of those plans.

My father Glen was at work at the Kelly-Springfield, while my brother Kevin was in the third grade at Johnson Heights Elementary School, though he’d soon be home, as schools dismissed that day once news of the assassination was known.

The telephone in the kitchen rang and my mother answered it, and I heard her say in a hurried voice, “What is it!?” and then I saw her sit down. The next thing I knew my mother was in tears, crying very hard, which marked the first time in my life I had seen her cry, which is why I remember that day as well as I can.

My initial thought, naturally, was that I had done something wrong — but wait … That’s not the reaction I get from them when I break something or use my crayons on the walls. No, that’s a reaction better left unvisited, though my mother’s crying was not anything I enjoyed.

As it turned out, the phone call was from my grandmother, my mother’s mother, and she gave my mother the news — after, of course, telling her to “Sit down,” which, for as long as I can remember, was the signal in our family that very bad news was forthcoming.

My mother, as so many did, absolutely loved President Kennedy, and after getting off the phone with my grandmother, she called her sister Sue, because she and Sue went through everything together; and my mother cried some more.

Then she came into the room with me as whatever show I had been watching had been “interrupted” with the news. It would be my first experience with Walter Cronkite.

My mother grabbed me and put me on the couch beside her and she held me very tightly. I was afraid because I had never seen her this way before; and now I was crying, though I really wasn’t sure why. So I asked her if she was afraid, and she said, no, and that neither was I. There was too damn much to care about, she said, to be afraid.

I didn’t know what that meant, but she held me even tighter.

“I have to call your father,” she said, going back to the phone.

“Glen,” I remember her saying, “they shot President Kennedy,” and she began to cry again.

I then heard her express an expletive and slam the phone back onto the receiver. Our father, you see, could be a very cold and selfish person, with his time and with his feelings; and his response to my mother’s pain not only secured his being served dinner that night on a tin foil plate, it forever became part of our family’s moments of infamy:

“Well what are you so upset about?” Glen said to her. “You didn’t even know him.”

As far as my brother Kevin and I were concerned, our mother knew him, because he was all my brother and I had heard about for as long as I could remember. Mom campaigned for JFK (the “All the Way with JFK” signs are still in the attic somewhere) and she admired him so, having bought recordings of many of his speeches (parts of which I could recite to my mother’s great delight), and God knows how many books and Time and Life magazines that are still at the house somewhere, though the books are still there in my mother’s bookcases.

Through the years, she would talk about having sat several rows behind JFK for a half of the Army-Navy game (Glen graduated from the Naval Academy), as during halftime, the president, himself a World War II hero in the Navy, crossed the field from the Army side to sit on the Navy side for the second half.

And Mother, Kevin and I certainly experienced quite a day in 1998 when our friend Terri took us to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

John Kennedy gave my mother and millions of others hope for our country and for our world, and I remember feeling our hope being threatened that day when news of his death came and I watched my mother, and seemingly everybody other than my father, continue to cry.

I remember watching the funeral, and too soon after that there would be more funerals — those of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy — and we all cried together again. But we weren’t afraid.

It was 60 years ago today. I was 4 years old, and I remember because for the first time in my life, it seemed as though all hell had broken loose. We all remember, of course, those of us who were here, and we always will; because, in a very true sense, all hell had broken loose and our hearts broke right along with it.

Through his triumphs and his flaws, John F. Kennedy challenged us to make a difference, inspiring solidarity and helping us realize our very best was always ahead of us.

We still imagine what could have been.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT