Monday, November 02, 2009


I've written before about how each of us is a time machine from the past. Here's another one.

It's the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. Our fifth-grade class has a substitute teacher that day. She's a very old lady from my 10-year-old perspective. It's a sunny fall day and we're not concentrating very hard on whatever the day's lesson is. (Oh, and half a world away in Great Britain, kids are checking out the newly released, second LP from that nifty new guitar band The Beatles. It won't be long ... but I digress.)

The principal sticks his nose in and announces that President Kennedy has been shot. Now, this part is fuzzy in my brain because I didn't know what the word "fatal" meant at the time - but my memory insists that the principal said the president had been fatally shot, and the old substitute teacher said, "Well, let's certainly pray that he lives ..."

In any case, after we'd settled down a bit, the old teacher started talking about the day when she was a little girl, and she was passing the train water tower when someone called down, "President McKinley has been shot!" Perhaps that's where my memory's circuits have been scrambled - perhaps the old teacher went on to talk about how everyone was praying that McKinley would survive. As it was, he lingered for eight days after being shot in Buffalo, N.Y., and then passed to the ages. President Kennedy, of course, died that afternoon. We were released early — I remember the sun shining off the face of the old Little Falls, N.J., library as I biked away from the school.

And now I pass these images secured somewhat faultily from one time machine to another — images of a New Jersey fifth-grade classroom, a railroad water tower 62 years earlier, and a feeling of children's shock and surprise to link them together. One image survives 108 years later, the other a mere 46. What intriguing time machines we are.


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