Wednesday’s WIP: (Fictional) Memories of the Kennedy Assassination

President and Mrs. Kennedy descend the stairs from Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, TX, 22 November 1963. (Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)
President and Mrs. Kennedy descend the stairs from Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas, TX, 22 November 1963. (Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

I wasn’t yet born when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 50 years ago this week. In fact, on that November day in 1963, my parents, then college students, were still a few months away from being introduced. But as I grew up, I heard from both of my parents how much the Kennedy assassination had affected them and everyone else at the time.

Fast forward to the morning of September 11, 2001. Before leaving my apartment to meet with students in my office in a Harvard humanities building, I submitted the new story due later that week for my low-res MFA program (I’m always beating deadlines like that: see “P√ľnktlichkeit”). The story was titled “Calendar Man”; many revisions later, it received an honorable mention in a Boston-area contest and ended up published by The Pedestal magazine.

It’s a story I’ve read aloud several times, at the celebratory contest reading and in other instances. And I have to confess that a chill always runs through me when I read the part that references the Kennedy assassination’s aftermath as the history-focused protagonist, Jack Dougherty, recalls it:

The movie. In truth, they had been movie-like, those November days. The opening, captured on Zapruder’s camera, even if they hadn’t seen those frames right away. For days they’d stared at the television; everyone was in on it, in on the action of this movie. There was Walter Cronkhite, removing his glasses. And his own real-life father, sober before the screen those days and nights, out of respect. His mother, praying, weeping, praying. His older sister, talking above the other voices about sending birthday presents to Caroline and John-John, because it was important to keep things as normal as possible for the children. The film continued through the funeral; everyone else spoke of the beautiful widow, and the tiny boy’s salute, but Jack’s eyes followed the tall French President, the proud General looking for the first time a little humble, yes, humble, and sad. He wouldn’t have looked that way for FDR, (he’d probably just sent someone else across the ocean for that occasion, though he’d been his country’s leader back then, as well). So this, too, was the power of a single stranger concealed in a southwestern Book Depository. To make even Charles de Gaulle acknowledge that the world would never be the same minus the man who had accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.

4 thoughts on “Wednesday’s WIP: (Fictional) Memories of the Kennedy Assassination

  1. Wonderful excerpt, Erika. [But maybe there wasn’t a single shooter! ūüėČ ]I was alive then, but only two years old, so it’s all a blank to me. My parents didn’t talk about it much. My mother’s main comment about Kennedy was that it was the only president should could remember who she really enjoyed hearing speak. And by that she did not mean his accent.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thanks for sharing, John. (As for the single shooter–you know, Jack just doesn’t buy the conspiracy theories.)

  2. Mike Hooker says:

    Congrats on publishing in The Pedestal…I was eight when JFK died. My third grade teacher waited until 15 minutes before the last bell to tell us. As I remember, I didn’t think too much about it at that moment. But when I got home, it was on every channel (only three channels and PBS back then).

    We sat glued to the TV for the next few days. I witnessed Oswald getting shot on live TV. We just couldn’t believe that it actually happened right before our eyes.

    I think, for me anyway, the saddest part and the scariest part for an eight-year-old, was the funeral march. To this day I remember it like it happened yesterday. I can’t explain it, but I still get the same feeling inside when I think about it as I did on that day 50 years ago.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      So moving, Mike. Thank you.

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