I’ve mentioned that I’m not a sweet young thing, right? So, here you go: I was in grade two when Kennedy was killed. And like anyone who lived in United States—or Canada—I know exactly where I was when I was told that Kennedy had been shot.
I was in class.
I don’t remember the teacher, my classmates, or hearing the news. But I had to be in school, because I know that school closed for early dismissal and I remember the walk home with an acute clarity. (This memory block thing is fairly standard operating system for me—I have a defence mechanism which kicks in whenever I see a bad body blow coming. When shit flies, I shut down emotionally; I chill and deal. Until later, when I deem it safe to crumble.)
So this is actually the story of my walk home.
Back in the 60’s, there was house on the south east corner of the intersection of Queen St and Union Boulevard in St Lambert. It had white clapboard siding, and an enormous black walnut tree. I really didn’t like that tree. It shed its seed pods every fall and left its green missiles on the sidewalk to rot. Which was problematic for me and my saddle shoes, as I was only allowed to use that side of the street to walk to school. The tree was huge, and its canopy wide. Its litter made fifteen feet of sidewalk a navigation nightmare.
On November 22nd, 1963, half-way through the obstacle course of those rotting ugly seed pods, I crumbled.
It hit me like a slap. Right there, one saddle-shoe lifted. Kennedy—the president of hope, the husband of Jackie, the father of two kids not much younger than me—was dead. My lip quivered. By the time I got past the landmines left by the walnut tree, I was sobbing.
A couple of nights ago, I was watching the news which had a segment about Kennedy. Not surprising. After all, it’s been 50 years. (Am I really that old?) I hadn’t made the connection until then. Kennedy’s death, and my reaction to it—the loss of innocence, the sweeping sadness, the impotent anger—is there on the page.
Those of you who read my books will notice it. Cast your mind to Threall, and those two black walnuts that hulk on the edge of oblivion.