5167, 53 Years Ago, Nov 22, ‘63
Tuesday Evening, November 22, 2016
I was in second grade at Holy Family Elementary on Liberty Road in Randallstown.
All of us in every classroom got called out to come immediately to the church. It was a cheap building with low ceilings and lousy acoustics. None of us had a clue what was going on, but there were lots of whispered speculations and anyone could see the Sisters of Mercy were shaken. Their nervous hands parsed rosaries and sopped tears with damp tissues.
Something big was happening.
We didn’t know what we were praying for, but we knelt and prayed anyway.
On the way out of the chapel, one of my friends got pulled out of line because his mother had come to pick him up. She rolled up in a white 1963 Mercury Comet convertible. We watched him walk out through the front doors of the front foyer of the school, envious. How come he got to go home in the middle of the day? He wasn’t even barfing. We did a practice run of “duck and cover” just in case a ‘nukler’ bomb might come down. I knew from Dad and Uncle Tim’s conversation that the only proper safety came from a home-dug bomb shelter in your backyard. Here, there was no place to duck and cover except for under the cheap desks. I wondered if the legs of the desks would hold the roof up. I leaned down. They were metal, thin and shiny, and didn’t look all that sturdy to me.
Back in our classrooms, we stared at the American Flag in the corner and the crucifix on the wall over the blackboard. Our teacher, Sister Somebody, came in crying. She led us in a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers. She sobbed. I got an idea. What if one of the priests was dead? WHOA!!! Where did they find him? Was his car mangled like on the weekday afternoon news shots? I was working on being an alter boy. Maybe I’d get to serve at the Funeral Mass. I heard from the 4th grade guys that Funeral Masses paid almost as much as weddings and the Mega-Bonus-Mass —- CHRISTMAS EVE MIDNIGHT MASS! I could buy an English Racer bike with 3 speed gears and handlebar brakes. Too bad for you, Father… Anyway, I hoped it wasn’t the priest that let the servers guzzle the leftover mass wine in the Sacristy if he didn’t gulp it all down himself during weekday morning Mass.
Nope. It wasn’t one of our priests.
It was President Kennedy.
Mom and Dad didn’t like him all that much.
They made no secret that they would have felt a lot safer if Goldwater had his hand on THE BUTTON. Plus, what if the Pope told JFK that he couldn’t nuke the other side? Everyone knew that the Rooskies had the H-Bomb, too. But there was lot of talk about a new bomb that would leave everything intact except humans. Cows would be fine. Your dog and your goldfish would be fine. Except you would be totally dead. What if the Pope said we couldn’t fight and JFK had to listen to him because Catholics had to answer to the Pope? Would we be crisped and they would all get to drive around in our cars and on our English Racer 3 speed bikes and lay on top of our beds and use our furniture?
For my parents, the choice for President had been clear.
And even in our house where a lightswitch plate could do double duty as a Holy Water Font so you could bless yourself before going into the kitchen, Catholic Presidents were a no-no. Who could depend on what the Pope would decide when ass needed to be kicked? And, all their fears were realized when Pope John the Nth, at Vatican II, in 1963 (?) allowed the Mass to be said in English and the alter rail to be removed and the alter itself to be turned around so that 2000 years of solemn sacred ceremony could get stood on its head. The whole world was changing around them. Their cherished beliefs were being challenged, and there was so much more change coming. They had no idea.