Sunday, November 17, 2013

That Day…

On November 22, 1963, a motorcade on Dealey Plaza in Dallas, at about 12:30 P.M. changed my life forever.

And yours.

And our nation. Our world. The future of planet earth.

The incident is still the subject of widespread debates, books, films. Has spawned numerous theories and scenarios in fiction, as well as non-fiction.

A moment before the murder, the First Lady of Texas turned to him and said, "Mr. President, you can't say Dallas doesn't love you!"

If you or I wrote that in a novel the editor would probably cut it out. Truth IS stranger than fiction.

Jackie said, moments later, " They have killed my husband! I have his brains in my hand."

I have rarely read a more poignant sentence in any novel…

One of the most amazing facts was that at that time it was not a federal offense to kill the President of the United States!

People often ask, " Where were you… ?"
- December 7, 1941?
- November 22, 1963?
- September 11, 2001?

That day in 1963, a day of lost dreams and dashed hopes, America's sacred honor was stained with Jack's red blood and universal dreams were shattered.

The mystery of who the killer was still haunts us. Was it a lone gunman? The mob? The Soviets? The CIA? The government?

This crime of all crimes to many of us…

The quest for the truth continues. The weeping has not ceased for 50 years…

Where were YOU?
That day?

THAT DAY . . . . . .( written November 22, 1963)

You prince and king and everybody's hero,
idol of the poor,
friend of intellect and all we knew to be
in our reborn post-war world.
Could any mature man
not weep
THAT day, when ignominy raped our youthful joy?
Why… oh God, why???

The cry of Dallas-town
will echo down the empty alleys of time
as long as there is any wind
to blow limp papers along deserted city streets.
Until the last corn stalk
in western civilization outlines an autumn sky.
Until the last grave is dug
in what we call

Don't tell me, critic-man, there are no
messiahs of politics, no kings in democratic states… or that
grown men are ashamed to cry.

THAT day, their women kissed the dust with
women's tears. But women have no monopoly
on weeping. We know to live is to weep.

THAT day everyone of us knew
a little part of ancient Greece.
Tragedy became large, wide-eyed,
terribly personal. The horrible events
were echoes, tapes and films and heart-rending photos
of a world's pathos and grief
we had always known, since Virgilian plagues,
those high tragedies by Euripedes, all the Greek-greats of ancient times.

Some part of each of us died
THAT day. Our own red blood
spurted out in Dallas. The ballads now
sing "In Dallas-town…"
The elegies will sing
a hundred years from now
and carry out the long tradition
of tragedy's tale. God will
there will be elegies
in a world not quite
all Western…
A hundred years from now…

Thelma Jacqueline Straw

Dear Friends and Colleagues of Crime Writers' Chronicle,
Please share with us where you were… THAT DAY…



  1. On November 22, 1963, I was in Rome, Italy. I lived in an apartment with two other women, loving everything about the city and my life. When one of my roommates announced that President Kennedy had been shot, we were in total disbelief. Surely he wasn't dead. How could something like that happen? We all went down to the American Embassy and stood outside in shock with all the others from the U.S to confirm the bad news. If you were alive on that day, you will never forget where you were and how you felt. Never. And you still wonder why it happened.

    I'm from Massachusetts. Senator John Kennedy came to my high school. He was charming and handsome and funny. We all fell in love with him. On that November day, you're right, everything changed. It prefaced open season on those trying to do good things after him: Bobby and Martin and many more since. Even today, we hold our breath that the present president, so much more maligned than Kennedy in his day, will live through his term. How sad.

  2. I was living in Washington State working as a power sewing machine operator, stitching together swim suit pieces in a long production line with other women. The supervisor of our section, with tears streaming down her face, walked the aisle of seamstresses telling everyone about JFK's assassination and that the factory was closing for the rest of the day. The ride home with my coworkers was like riding in a strange unfathomable dream and then arriving home, I sat in front of the small black and white TV trying to make sense out of how this could have happened.

    Thelma, this is a lovely poem.

  3. Dear Polly, thank you for sharing - what a tremendous shock that must have been in a foreign land... we hear so many people say they met him when he was young - and fell in love with him.Thelma

  4. Thank you, Margaret. What a startling moment that must have been , when they they closed down the factory. I can just see the group of young women, in that bus and you watching the tv. Thelma

  5. I was living in Newport, RI, where the spirit of the Kennedy couple was in the air everywhere - with Hammersmith Farm there and the Roman Catholic Church where John and Jackie married! That noon I was getting ready for a meeting with my counterpart at Salve Regina College - we were both admissions deans - and the nun called me up, crying. " I can't meet you today," she said. ' Go turn on your TV." And , as much of the world, I stayed glued for the next three days... Thelma

  6. I was living in Jacksonville, FL. I was in the 6th grade. I was writing on the blackboard when a teacher came in, crying, and said that the president had been shot.
    "President KENNEDY?" I asked.
    Then it seemed that only seconds later I was told that the president was dead.
    I've heard a lot since about how people in the American South were happy that Kennedy had been killed, but what I remember was a lot of crying children and teachers.
    It was certainly the first horrible, shocking thing that happened in my life and nothing that came afterwards took me by such surprise.

  7. I was married to a newsman. We were sitting around the house when the radio announced the shooting. We rushed to the newspaper office, he to work, I to hang over the teletype machines and try to find out what was happening. I thought, this is the end of the ordered life we have known. Nothing lies ahead but violence and chaos. Alas, I was right.
    At the same time that Jack Ruby was murdering Lee Harvey Oswald my husband and I were standing in a long, increasingly restless line of people that stretched for many blocks northward from the Capitol, waiting to pass through and pay our respects. It was Sunday. I was in high-heeled pumps. Hours went by. The line moved slowly. People tried to cut in at the intersections, so that those already in the queue began to run across and form up to protect their places in line.
    During one of these stampedes my ankle turned over, my shoe came off and I fell flat down on the pavement, with this great restless crowd running toward me in the dark.
    Fortunately my husband had played football in high school and was able to brace himself in such a way as to protect me from being trampled. I got up. Someone in the crowd gave me my shoe back.
    When we got inside the Rotunda at last I thought how small the coffin was, to contain the remains of the president of the United States. The flowers had clearly been chosen by Jackie. They looked like the arrangements I had seen attributed to her in Vogue Magazine, except that the blossoms were all white.

    1. What a strong picture you gave us! You have probably a unique scene in this historic event - have you written it in a story or memoir yet?? Thelma

  8. I was working in a regional brokerage firm on the West Coast when the news came in over the ticker tape that President Kennedy had been shot. Many of my colleagues were sobbing, but my most vivid memory is of a trader, who stood, phone in hand, watching the prices of stocks dropping in reaction to the news. Quietly and without emotion he placed one buy order after another. Many years later I was taught in business school that it isn't the content of the news but how you use it that counts. Somehow, I already knew that. B. Bent

    1. What a vivid tableau! I can see you and the trader... like a movie... thelma

  9. About 10 of us were on our way from lunch to class at Fordham. The professor, a Jesuit, met us in the hallway. "Go home," he said. "The president has been shot." We went instead to the television set in the student lounge and sat there in silence for a long time.

    1. Thank you, Camille. You will never forget that Jesuit either, I reckon... Thelma

  10. Thank you, Steph, your comment about people in the south makes me wonder even more about we see and hear about current thoughts re the country... I'm sure you'll never forget that day. Thelma

  11. I was walking into a high school chemistry class. Our instructor was a precise little man, who seemed to live for chemical equations. We were never sure he even had a private life.

    We were highly agitated, firing off questions. He gave us time to get seated before he said, "The President may be dead. He may not be. In either case, there is not a thing we can do about this moment, but we can prepare for the future because our lives will go forward." He turned to the board, wrote out a complicated chemical reaction and said, "Who can solve this one?" Hands went up all over the room.

    1. I like this man. He had the right attitude.

    2. Sharon, this man was a rara avis ... I guess we've all known or seen someone like this - but most of us are different kettles of fish! Thelma

  12. I was working as a technical writer at the Equitable Life Assurance Society on Sixth Avenue, four months into my first job out of college. A newly arrived manager in the department, named Kerry King, came into the open office where our desks were lined up in rows. He told us the President had been shot. I sat there in stupefied. My supervisor, a short, nasty twerp of a jerk said, "Not soon enough." I got up and walked away, to the window, looking out, shocked to core. Mr. King (as we called him) sat near there. He came to me. "They are going to send us home," he said. "Let's go over to St. Patrick's and pray for the President and the country." We did. The cathedral slowly filled up with weeping people. Less than a year later, Kerry King and I were married in the Lady Chapel of that church.

    1. My goodness, that was a nice surprise at the end of your comment! I'm glad I didn't know the jerk-twerp! Thelma

  13. I was in school, at lunch. I don't recall how we found out about the shooting. I have no memory of that. But we were taken from the cafeteria, stunned, in line to our home rooms, and as I passed my history teacher Betty Jo Wallace, standing in the doorway, another teacher came up and asked in a shattered whisper what she'd heard. Until I saw Miss Wallace's face, I thought of course he would be all right. He had to be all right. Nobody would kill him, could kill him. Betty Jo shook her head. That's how I found out he was dead.

  14. Thanks, Sheila. How many children's lives have been affected by That Day... thelma

  15. I was a copyboy on the New York Journal-American, an afternoon daily. I suppose the first news had come off the AP wire in the Teletype Room where copyboys patrolled to rip off breaking news bulletins to be rushed to the City Desk. What I remember is standing in the City Room amongst all the reporters, editors and us, fallen deathly still as Walter Cronkite said the President was dead, from a black-and-white TV set on a shelf high up on the wall that divided the City Room from the Press Room, where the clacking of scores of linotype machines had been silenced.

  16. Robert, the silence of the linotypes itself would have been ominous. Thelma

  17. I was at home (Hanford, California) getting dressed to meet a friend for lunch in town. Phone rang. My friend said, "Turn on TV. Someone just shot the president." I remember standing in front of the TV set yelling, "Where the hell was the Secret Service?" When I went into town it was eerie. Everything had simply stopped. Nothing moved. People everywhere just stood in silence. The only sounds came from radios and TV sets.

    I was stringing for The Fresno Bee and they had assigned me the front page of the Women's Section for a Thanksgiving story. I spent days working on it. I will never forget picking up that paper, looking at my story and thinking, "Why did I think this was important?" I still have that section with my front page story. Somehow it has survived my moves since 1963..

    That assassination shook the country to its very foundation. I spent a week watching TV, crying the whole time.

  18. Thanks, Pat. It is interesting that so many Americans talk about how much they cried... Thelma

  19. I was attending Pasadena City College. I went out after class and saw everyone wandering around, stunned, some of them crying. When they told me the President had been assassinated, I thought, "But wait. Things like that don't happen here. They happen in South America." Boy, was I wrong :(

  20. I was in 8th grade art class in Agassiz Junior High School in Fargo, North Dakota. It was near the ends of the class period and we were cleaning brushes at the sink after some foray into painting when an announcement came over the PA system. It was the principal--we all recognized his voice--but it was different, slow, almost snuffling. We all shut up immediately, which I don't believe had ever happened before, and listened to the announcement. Nobody said a word until the bell rang for the end of class a few minutes later. By then, the art teacher, a man, was crying and the rest of us absolutely had no idea what to do.

    Nobody else did, either, it turned out. The school closed and sent us all home, another thing that had never happened before (unless there was a foot of snow on the ground, the wind blowing horizontally and no hope for any of it stopping). We all sat, as a family, glued to the television for nearly four days. The whole town did, and probably the whole state, watching in disbelief as events unfolded that none of us imagined possible. I can still feel the weight of that week when I think about it.

  21. Thanks, Alice and Karen. We are still crying, in some underground level, as we rethink what happened That Day. Thelma

  22. It was my 10th birthday and my sister and I were walking home from school in Springfield Mass, - someone stopped and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. I can still remember the shock and disbelief.

    1. Thank, Ann, how many many children were influenced all their lives by that day.... Thelma

  23. I was in a Constitutional Law History class at Northwestern University when we got the news. The professor, an elderly emeritus from the University of Michigan, settled the class down and explained to us how the government would continue to function no matter what the tragedy. There had been reports that Vice President Johnson had also been killed. He explained the constitutional process, and discussed earlier Presidential assassinations. It was a good place to be at the time, I guess. We then left class, and it was a very sad drive 16 miles to my home, where I could share the tragedy with my parents. I was also sitting in front of the TV when Ruby jumped out of the crowd and killed Oswald. One more surreal happening that sad weekend.

    1. Margaret, what a wonderful thing that old man did for you students... Thelma

  24. I was just walking out of freshman English at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York and passed a car full of students. The door was open and the radio was on, and everyone was still, frozen. A boy said, "The president's been shot." We were listening to the radio in disbelief. We were shocked, but the loss was so huge it was hard to comprehend it. I remember thinking how vulnerable we all were then, the entire country as well as each one of us separately. And then they caught Oswald, and along came Ruby. Events moved so fast that I think we never really caught up. The funeral was the only event for days, planning it, watching it, talking about it. I recently heard the late George McGovern speak, and just hearing his voice brought back those old feelings of being young and hopeful and convinced we could and should change the world. We lost a lot more than I understood that day in Dallas.

    1. Yes, Susan, we all lost so much.. we may never know how much... Thelma

  25. A comment to my email from a dear longtime friend in N.C. " Thank you, Thelma. I love your poem and its awareness of a living tragedy as described by the ancient Greeks. Have you shared it with Tom Brokaw? I can see you reading these words for his documentary. At the very least, the Kennedy Library ought to have a copy. "
    My reply, thank you. No, it hadn't dawned on me to share it with the likes of Tom Brokaw!!! tjs

  26. And another friend in Manhattan, Renee. " I am sppechless. As tragic as it was, your poem about JFK's death was a masterpiece. It cut through every emotion one felt... as a husband he was no prize, but as a leader... who knows what hje might have accomplished!.. I lost my own father when I was 10 and he was 42. Children never get over the loss... no matter who the parent was..

    1. Thanks, Renee. I am so sorry for your loss... maybe that was why C. Kennedy left the country at the time this week she did...I agree with your comment re him as a husband, but then, look at today's scene in DC! I'm glad we didn't know all those facts on That Day. tjs

  27. Another friend in Wash. D,C,, wrote, " I was in my 8th grade English class and it seemed strange how in a moment, the world turned upside down as we tumbled down a long, , dark hole in the ground."

    1. Thanks, Lil, your comment was quite vivid... Thelma

  28. Loved your poem, Thelma. On that day, I worked in an office at the B&O Railroad in Baltimore. Another man left for lunch and returned ten minutes later with the news. "Kennedy's been shot in Dallas." I had no idea then that all these years later I would be living in the Dallas area. I've visited Dealey Plaza several times and always feel the same. Numb all over. The same feeling I had when I visited Gettysburg and Pearl Harbor. One of the most significant events in history took place there. November 22 will always be a constant reminder that everything can change in an instant, or as it happened in Dealey Plaza that day, eight seconds.

    1. Thanks, my friend Earl, for your kind words and your comments re Nov. 22... I've been watching a lot of the programs this week on C-Span and listened to the all-night radio show Coast to Coast... amazing how many different accounts there are re what really happened and how much research individual citizens have done! Wonder if we will ever know the real truth!!