It was just a normal day at Carpenter Avenue Elementary on Nov. 22, 1963. I was in fifth grade, in Mrs. Dobbin’s class. We were doing the reading, writing and 'rithmetic exercises she gave to feed our fertile minds, when the news came.
"JFK has been shot."....
A silence fell across the classroom. Time was thick and suspended as it usually is in a crisis. With the exception of one boy in class who cheered at this horrific news, everyone else was spellbound.
I didn’t know much about politics at the age of 10, but I knew enough to know that this was bad, really bad. The man with the broad grin of piano teeth and a forest of hair was down, and our country would never be the same.
I think we may have been dismissed early that day, and when I got home from school, the mood in our house was somber. We were a Democratic household, and the demise of our hero was dismal news.
My mother was a teacher, and I’m sure JFK, for many, personified hope, promise and better days to come. The fate of our country was now in a tenuous balance, the ramifications of which were beyond my comprehension at the time.
Like a child’s first experience with a death in the family, the assassination of a major political figure became a historical reference point for me for many years to come.
As time progressed, issues of a political nature took on more importance in my life. Soon, I was attending classes at Walter Reed Junior High, where the political climate began to escalate as news of the Vietnam War began punctuating the headlines.
My peers began to question what was then the social norm, and whether this norm was acceptable. Skirts began getting shorter, and many of us ended up being called into the principal’s office. A quiet uproar was in the making and it escalated when we headed to North Hollywood High.
By 1968, my twin sister, Teresa, and I began wearing bell-bottoms with floral prints. We both donned love beads, and many of my shirts were tie-dyed with Nehru collars. We grew our hair long, a radical departure from the curled spray bob I wore when I was 14. It wasn’t long before I stopped shaving my legs and armpits, and discarded deodorant.
At North Hollywood High, the political fabric was close to shredding, with factions experimenting with drugs, alternative lifestyles and other questionable activities.
Close friends’ parents were growing pot in their backyards. Another pal’s father was dropping a daily tab of acid. It seemed most of my friends had tried both, along with fasting, numerology, astrology and other alternative ways of thinking.
Those challenging times propelled thought and action, but for me, it traces back to those Carpenter days in 1963, when a shot was heard around the world.
That’s when my faith in our political system endured its first major fracture.