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11-22-1963

131030-jfk-jackie-dallas-1963-01November 22, 1963

             Algebra II class.  Pickett County High School.  That’s where I was on Friday afternoon, November 22, 1963.  Mrs. Brock, my teacher, erased the green chalkboard where she had demonstrated how to solve one problem, and we students copied it onto our notebook paper.  Yellow dust swirled around Mrs. Brock’s desk that set at the front and center of the classroom.  We students were to solve the next thirty problems.

Mrs. Brock, the math teacher for Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, got her gold lipstick tube out of her desk drawer, removed the top, rolled the bright red lipstick up, and while looking at us students, she coated her lips.  Three quick swipes.  Top lip, middle to each side; bottom lip, left to right.  I’d watched this routine for the past 2 1/2 years during math classes.  Next, she’d adjust her slip straps and stand.  And then, while we students kept our heads down and yellow pencils moving, she’d march between the rows of students’ desks.  Thirty desks, six in a row, five rows, all in straight lines.

A loud knock on the classroom door startled everyone in the room.  Mrs. Brock threw her lipstick tube in her desk drawer, slammed the drawer shut, and walked quickly to the door.  Mr. Hassler, the school principal, motioned for her to meet him in the hallway.  He closed the door.

Within minutes, Mrs. Brock came back into the room, quietly closed the door, and walked slowly to her desk chair and sat down.  She opened the top drawer of her desk, got out her lipstick, and swiped it across her already red lips.  And then she just sat there.  Back erect, staring toward us students.  My best friend and I made eye contact across the room and giggled.  We brushed our hands along our shoulders.  Did Mrs. Brock forget to adjust her straps?

The classroom was silent.  If we students needed help as we did our math assignment, we raised our hands and Mrs. Brock came to our desks.  During the next few minutes, no one raised a hand, and Mrs. Brock didn’t march between the rows of desks.  And then I heard the crackling sounds of the school intercom.

In a few short sentences, Mr. ­­­Hassler, announced that school would dismiss early.  President John F. Kennedy had been shot while riding in a motorcade in Texas.  He had been taken to a hospital.  Students who had driven or walked to school should get their things out of our lockers and leave immediately.  Students who rode busses should stay in their classrooms until the busses arrived.

Mrs. Brock nodded, as if to say that she’d heard the announcement, and it was okay to leave the room.  The hallways were quiet as I walked among classmates to my locker, gathered my books, and left the building.

I walked alone across the school parking lot.  It was a short, five-minute walk home.  When I opened the back door, I heard Mom rushing from the den to the kitchen.  She put her arms around me and held me tightly.  Her eyes were red and her cheeks were wet with tears.

When I think back to 11-22-63, I see myself as a high school student in a mental video of a normal school day that ended with frightening news.  And after Mom’s hug, the scenes that follow are blurry and confusing.  Just as they were 50 years ago.

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