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Memories of JFK assassination - Tamara Boatwright

For the last few weeks we have been asking for readers' memories of Nov. 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The responses have been numerous, interesting and revealing. Most of the submissions came from women who were young mothers at the time. One was on her way to a grocery store with her then 21-month-old daughter in the seat beside her. There was another one from a woman who had just had twin boys and was ironing when the news broke. Her words took me back to a little brick house on Ruby Lane in Forest Park and what my mom was doing that day.

Ironing.

What an odd memory for such a tragic day. My mom behind the ironing board, the creak of the metal board as she applied pressure to the wrinkles in my dad's freshly laundered uniform shirts. The occasional pause as she picked up the Coke bottle with the sprinkle attachment on top n which in those days provided "steam" n and most of all the smell. The cottony, steamy comfort of it.

My mom was nearby; my dad would be home soon. My entire universe was that little five-room house, the big fenced backyard and my Boston terrier, Lady. Life was good for that 4-year-old in the brown corduroy outfit with three-quarter length sleeves.

Mom always ironed in front of the television set. A behemoth wooden thing with three stations which aired a profile of an Indian in full headdress if you turned it on before the programming day began.

That day, as my mom pressed into the wrinkled laundry, a man came on, made some announcement and my mom started crying. I can remember as if it were yesterday. She came around from behind the ironing board, sat down and called me to her. Something was wrong, bad wrong, and it had to do with ironing and the man on the television screen.

"I needed a hug," she says today. "I wouldn't let you go outside that afternoon. I don't know why. I just didn't want you out of my sight."

She said I asked over and over what was wrong and patted her face where the tears rolled.

"I wasn't sure what to tell you," she said. "You were so young and I knew you would not understand. A 4-and-a-half-year-old doesn't know what a president or a shooting is. I was tempted to turn off the television but I wanted to see what was going on. I was a little afraid too, we really didn't know what was going to happen."

She said that because Kennedy and his wife were young and had young children people could relate to them "in a fairytale sort of way."

"He was very handsome," she admitted. "That was part of it too. Plus, I don't think I could have held up like she (Jackie) did if something happened to your daddy. And those children were so cute."

My dad's recollection of the day is less emotional.

"I was at the (Delta) jet base and we heard it on the radio," he said. "It was shocking but I was more afraid that we'd somehow end up at war and I didn't want to be called back up. I knew your momma would be crying when I got home that evening. Women all over were crying."

That's my dad, Mr. Pragmatic.

They both agree, however, that as silly as it sounds, things really did change because of the events of that day and Lee Harvey Oswald's murder the following Sunday.

"Just as some of the numbness starts to wear off we get home from church that Sunday, turn on the television and there is something else I need to shield my child from. I didn't want you to see that man get shot in the stomach. I debated whether to watch the funeral on Monday but I did. I sent you outside but I kept going to kitchen window to see if you were OK in the backyard," she said. "I'm not sure anyone ever felt really secure again. I remember Pearl Harbor as a child and that was horrible but that was before television. Before things invaded your home."

My parents' recollections, and those of my own, are not too different from those submitted by some of our readers. In the Weekend edition of the News Daily/Daily Herald we will present a package of stories, photos and memories. Part of the package is an interview with a staffer's great uncle who, at the time, was the White House reporter for the Dallas Morning News. He was riding in the motorcade that day.

Tamara Boatwright is managing editor of the News Daily and the Daily Herald. She may be reached at (770) 476-5753 ext. 272 or at tboatwright@news-daily.com.