November 22, 1963 was a cloudless, late-Fall Friday in Santa Fe.
Lunch at the St. Michael’s High School cafeteria would have been meatless because St. Mike’s was a Catholic school. And, back then, Catholics gave up eating meat on Fridays, a way to make sacrifice.
The large, always-angry, always-loud, Spanish-speaking ladies behind the food line served us beans, calabacitas, corn bread and cherry flavored Jell-O in which was suspended fruit cocktail. Sometimes they called us names like joto, chingon, and putito, and threatened to cut off our huevos if we didn’t wipe our metal trays clean before leaving the cafeteria. The Christian Brothers never attempted to come between the women and their vitriol.
At the time, they were the stuff of nightmares.
My good friend, Michael Sandoval and I were walking back to The Common, an area outside the L-shaped classroom building where we’d socialize with other students attending the all-boys school until the bell for afternoon classes was rung.
As we arrived, Mike noticed a group of classmates standing quietly in a circle almost at the same time I noticed yet another group. They, too standing quietly in a circle.
Curiosity getting the better of us, he joined one, and I the other.
The group I joined was listening to a cream-colored transistor radio with gold electroplate trim, about the size of a pack of cigarettes from which sprouted a long, multi-sectioned antenna above a silver dollar sized tuning knob.
It was our generation’s version of the iPhone.
Listening to the radio between morning and afternoon classes was not at all unusual. And, normally, the radios were tuned to one or the other of the two AM stations in Santa Fe, KTRC or KVSF, both of which played rock-and-roll music in the mid-afternoon timeslot.
But, there was no music, or greetings from our brothers. And, there were no smiles.
They were listing to the news of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy earlier in the day while making his way through Dallas via motorcade.
Tears streamed down their cheeks. Even the obviously named “Tank” Blea, the son-of-a-bitch who greeted me with a bruising punch to the shoulder each time he saw me – crying – like a little girl.
JFK was our first Catholic President, and he was young, and brilliant, and courageous, and charismatic, and married to a beautiful Catholic girl and was giving us beautiful Catholic babies. His light shone brightly. He was my first political campaign. “Teens for Kennedy.” I ran the organization out of the Santa Fe Public Library with volunteers from all four Santa Fe High Schools.
I didn’t realize I was crying until I pulled my handkerchief from my back pocket to wipe the tears from my face.
They cancelled our football game that night. And, the dance in the gym with the girls from Loretto that usually followed a home game.
We mourned over the weekend, and were granted the day off from school to watch Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, on our round, black-and-white television sets, cover the President’s funeral.
Jack Kennedy, having presided over Camelot for a thousand days, was killed by an angry, paraoid nobody fifty years ago today.
Ille requiescant in pace.