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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reflections of a Six Weeks Movie

When we were in grade school, the entire school was treated to a movie at the end of the six weeks grading period. This practice actually allowed teachers to work on averaging grades and filling out report cards. But, for the students, the six weeks movie was a real social event. Weeks before the movie, students were already planning who they might sit by, who they might hold hands with, and who might lead some mischief during the show. Girls were just starting to look as interesting as baseball, so with a bit of nervous anticipation, I wanted this six weeks movie to be a memorable event. But, being a boy, I let the girls do all the gossiping and planning as I kept on playing cool and hanging with my friends. The movies were standard fare Abbott and Costello or classic Westerns, etc. It really didn't matter as long as the afternoon was spent out of class in the dark, tiny gym. This particular six weeks movie in November ended, and as we filed back to homerooms to await dismissal, the building was abuzz with seemingly unbelievable news: President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. I remember our teacher, Mr. Underwood, had a radio and he turned it on to let us follow the tragic story. Later that afternoon, President Kennedy died from his gunshot wounds. I can honestly say, as a 7th grader, I did not know the impact this day was to have on my life. I was very foolish at the time. We had held a mock election at school in 1960, and many friends and I had supported Richard Nixon, who later lost the popular vote in the real election by 49.7 to 49.6 per cent. As kids will be, we had been sore about the loss, especially since our home state Ohio had gone to Nixon. It took a time for many of us to face reality. And now, someone had ripped our world apart. I actually felt guilty for not supporting JFK in our cheesy school election. I was dazed and confused by the brutality of the day. The death of a President and the further complication of Oswald's killing by Ruby became increasingly unimaginable. The events played out like some fictional scripted movie before our virginal television eyes. During the extended weekend, the images of the President's funeral made us all weep for John F. Kennedy and what might have been. Then, I truly realized that my generation had lost an icon and a friend. Times seemed so different then. I remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961-1962 people frantically built fallout shelters and schools showed films about what to do in case of a nuclear attack. Our school even held a timed evacuation and practice run home by buses in response to a staged missile attack. Yet, we were happy, happy in the sense that our friends were there with us and adults we trusted were reassuring us, "There is nothing to worry about." Time went on. High school days came and I loved every minute of them. Vietnam was a half a world away and the Cold War had settled down. Here, at home, classes were better, cars were better, girls were better, rock music was better, and social events were better. I laughed the first day of high school and kept laughing with each new day. I didn't want to miss school because I knew I would miss my friends. And summers! I worked and almost lived at a nearby lake as a lifeguard. Twenty or thirty dollars was a lot of money for a teen then. Life was good. It wasn't until April of my junior year in high school that I again felt such stomach-churning emotion in reaction to a singular, chilling event. I had just pulled into the high school parking lot to begin class play practice when one of my classmates told us that she had just heard that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. I was certain the United States would explode overnight. Suddenly, the dangers of being drafted, worries about my dear friends, and thoughts of going to college overwhelmed me. Everything was upside down and I was being swept away by forces beyond my control, swept into a serious, dangerous world where teenagers could drown. It was the Kennedy assassination and the Cuban Missile Crisis deja vu. Then, I made a vow out of selfish motives. I knew I didn't have long, but my senior year was just ahead, and I vowed to live it fully among the ones I loved the most because the other, crazy world was waiting after graduation day occurred. Before I let it maul me, scar me, or harm me in any way, I was going to have my finest days.
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