Friday, November 22, 2013

Where were you?

I was fourteen years old and in my first year at high school. I was also working part-time after school and on the weekends at our local store that was just a couple of blocks from my home.

On this Saturday morning in November 1963 I was at work at the shop performing one of my favourite jobs - weighing and packing the staples like sugar, flour and salt that came into the shop in wholesale quantities and were repacked into smaller retail packages. On a large set of Wedderburn scales I would place a free weight (say 1lb) plus a paper bag of the size to be used on the left side of the scales, then on the right side of the scales I would carefully fill a paper bag that I had already labelled "Sugar (or whatever) 1lb net" until the large needle on the face of the scale registered zero. My boss, the shop owner, was an exacting man who taught me that anything other than absolute precision weighing these items was unacceptable. He often selected a couple of random packages off the shelf after I had finished and reweighed them to make sure that they were exactly as labelled.

The wireless was allowed to be on at the back of the shop where I worked. It would have been tuned to one of the commercial radio stations - perhaps 4BC - where there would be a mix of news, music and sport. The popular songs of the time included Roy Orbison's "Blue Bayou", the Delltones' "Hangin' Five" and Cliff Richard's "It's All in the Game".

It was the custom to have a cuppa mid-morning, and another of my jobs was to boil the kettle and make a pot of tea. For some reason I always got compliments about the tea, but I think that it was probably more an appreciation of sitting down for a few minutes during the morning. It was quite a busy store, the only one within a radius of a few kilometres in a housing commission suburb that was a long way from anywhere and had little public transport to take you places more upmarket. In addition to the shop owner and me there were three or four female staff who served the customers.

I can't be sure now of the exact time of the special announcement on the wireless that silenced the shop, staff and customers alike, in an instant. The sombre tones foretold something awful and it took a few minutes for everyone to absorb the terrible news.

President John F Kennedy shot during a motorcade in Dallas Texas. Believed dead.

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(Photo: telegraph.co.uk)

Then there was an uproar as everyone spoke at the same time. "It's the Russians!" "Who would shoot President Kennedy?" "Poor, poor Jackie!" "Let's hope we don't have a war!"

I think the radio station changed gear. There followed continuing updates on Kennedy's condition, the search for the shooter(s), the well-being of the rest of the motorcade and especially news about Jackie Kennedy and the soon-to-be new president Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Although Kennedy had never been to Australia, his celebrity had certainly reached our shores, and he and wife Jackie, together with their two children Caroline and John Jr were as intensely scrutinised as modern movie stars. Here is a 1961 photgraph of JFK and Australian prime minister Robert Menzies.
(Photo: jfklibrary.org)

That was, of course, only the start of this astounding period.  I was intensely curious about the assassination and all things related to it. There are little vignettes of memory as I look back now:

 - The arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald and, a couple of days later, his shooting at the hands of Jack Ruby. I still remember a schoolmate telling me that "the assassin has been assassinated". There is a famous photo of the shooting.
(Photo: murderpedia.org)

 - The swearing in of Lyndon Johnson on board Air Force One.
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(Photo: wikipedia.com)

 - The funeral, including the riderless horse with boots mounted backwards in the stirrups, and that salute from John Jr.
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(Photo: history.com)

Fifty years have passed since that event deeply traumatised not just the USA, but the whole world. I cannot help but wonder what may have happened in subsequent years if the US government had been prepared then to enact gun control laws.

tff 




2 comments:

  1. In Nov 1963, my family had already had television for a couple of years. My father and I were watching when the news came on. Since the Cuban crisis had provoked such a response here, my father immediately suggested that the fascist right in the USA had murdered a very decent, liberal president for being soft on the Russians and Cubans.

    I was your age and didn't have an opinion, but the presence of guns in civilian USA was horrific, even to my teenage eyes. And remains so.

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  2. I was in Grade 7 and can remember to report on the ABC radio news that my mother listened to each morning. The assassination of President Kennedy took place at the same time my suburb had its own 'excitement'. A little boy who lived in the next street to me, had gone missing and just before the news about the president, volunteers and police were searching bushland along Enoggera Creek and suburban streets...there was even a helicopter in the search. In my memory those 2 sad events are juxtaposed...the little boy's body was found a few days later in one of the deep 'holes' in our local creek...he had drowned.

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