Looking Back to 1963: A Dim Day at Carpenter When JFK Was Shot

It was a sad day in Mrs. Dobbin's fifth-grade class.

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Like a child’s first experience with a death in the family, the assassination of a major political figure became a historical reference point for me for many years to come.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.

Mary McGrath June 07, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Thanks for sharing Teresa. There were so many personal freedoms that became available during that time period. Some people thrived with so many choices. Others found all the choices quite daunting. But it was a poignant time for most of us boomers. And our travels around the country really yielded some wonderful adventures and challenges. Five weeks on the road with my twin....wouldn't dream of it today...
teresa mcgrath June 07, 2011 at 09:17 PM
we hitchhiked and took the gray rabbit, along with a drive-away car....too bad safety is such an issue now...it was a wonderful experience with mary.
Cary Stevens June 08, 2011 at 02:12 AM
I was a first grade student at Carpenter that day. My memory is that we were let out of school early. At 6 years of age I did not understand fully until I arrived home and my Mother was in front of the TV sobbing. The world changed for all of us that day.
Mary McGrath June 08, 2011 at 01:02 PM
Thank you for sharing your memories Cary. It was a pivotal moment in so many lives. And Teresa, hitch hiking around the country was a great escape for the two of us, and tremendous learning experience. Still can't believe we were on the road for five weeks with just our thumbs and backpacks for the most part.
teresa mcgrath June 09, 2011 at 01:13 PM
cary, yes, that day changed us forever. very sobering for such young children. mary, it was such a treat to be such adventurists


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