November 22, 1963: A Seventh Grader’s Loss of Innocence

 

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Saturday was to be the day that my Mom and I would move out of the house my family had lived in for eight of my 12 years. The large three-story home which had held within its walls a family of eight and all that that entails had grown too large.   Dad was gone and gradually the family had dispersed as families do. Now it was just me and my Mom.

She had rented the bottom of a house across from the University of Detroit. She worked there managing the bookstore so the location made sense. The local Catholic school was Gesu and run by the Jesuits who also ran the University of Detroit.
I had been attending school since the first grade at Precious Blood, a  middle class parish with several thousand families within its boundaries.  I was in the 7th grade when mom decided to move.  I was devastated that I would be leaving my friends. But I also understood that having been abandoned by her husband she had little choice so I never raised any objections.
The week prior, while Mom and I were moving items to the new flat, she asked me to run to the drugstore for something. I didn’t know where it was exactly but I was told it was only a couple of blocks away. I made a wrong turn and ended up on Livernois Avenue.

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As I was walking I noticed a couple of teenage boys crossing the middle of the street. They intercepted me and asked me if I had and “jingle”? One of them patted my pant pocket and the coins went jingle, and then I knew what was happening. The next thing I saw was the knife. I sort of froze with fear but was able to remove the money from my pocket and give it to him. Thankfully they left me unhurt standing, shaking.  It was noon on a busy Saturday and no one but me knew what had just happened. I remember running as fast as my chubby body would move.

I arrived home and Mom was with the new landlord going over details. I entered the house trembling and shaken. I told them the story and was met with disbelief from the new landlord and concern from Mom. She asked me if I was alright and I said yes. The police were not called.  That was the last it was ever discussed.  Welcome to your new neighborhood.

The following Friday was my last day at Precious Blood School. I was sad to be saying goodbye to my circle of friends. I was expecting a farewell party. It was something which was customary when a student was leaving during the school year.  I was fearful of having to make all new friends so late in elementary school.  I arrived at school with my small book for signatures from my friends.

No one ever got the chance to sign it.

It was just after lunch and we were getting settled for class. Suddenly the school public address system came on. “This is Sister James Margaret,” she said. Her voice was trembling and broken. This was odd as she was the principal and tough. “President Kennedy has been assassinated in Dallas, we will be sending you home immediately.” All around children and nuns were crying and rushing around the hallways. That is all I remember from that day at school.

It was November 22nd 1963.

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When I got home Mom was there and the house was almost empty. She was devastated as was everyone. We left the house on Steel and I tearfully said goodbye to my childhood chums.
At the new house the TV was already on. It would remain on for the next week. All regular programming had been suspended for news coverage. This had never been done before.
As the drama unfolded we stared at the small black and white images for hours. Two days later after returning from mass, we turned on the TV just in time to see Oswald shot.

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The next few days were filled with images of grief stricken Americans filing past the casket in the Capitol Rotunda.

President Kennedy gallery

The images of Jackie and the children are burned into our memories. Camelot was gone.

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Kennedy children

For me, a nation and a medium nothing would ever be the same.

Joe received a thank-you letter from Jacqueline Kennedy after his letter of condolence.

The letter from Jacqueline Kennedy was given to me by Mother Saul. She was a great friend of my mom’s. She translated the German mail of sympathy.

Joseph Maguire also posted this on his blog at this link.

 

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