Each generation has a formative moment. For the Greatest Generation and the Silent Majority, the moment was December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. For my millennial son’s generation, the events of 9/11/01 are seared into memory.
For Baby Boomers, the day President Kennedy was shot is that moment.
An ordinary Friday at South Whitley Elementary School, teacher Jane Stump led 30 first graders in the Pledge of Allegiance at precisely 8:20 a.m.
We worked on an art project that morning, making Thanksgiving decorations. Using my chubby, oversized pencil, I traced my left hand on brown construction paper. With sticky Elmer’s Paste, I glued feathers of orange, yellow and red paper, and finished with my crayons. My 64-pack of Crayola’s – with the special sharpener – was still pristine in its yellow box.
Near lunchtime, Mrs. Stump marched us through the green-tiled hallway to the cafeteria. Balancing a yellow plastic tray with a glass milk bottle precariously to one side challenged any six-year-old. Twice that fall I dropped my tray, shattering my pride and the glass milk bottle.
That day there were no accidents.
Mrs. Stump prayed before our meal as she and every other teacher did throughout my elementary school years. Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s influence wasn’t yet felt in this small town in northeastern Indiana, even though prayer was officially removed from public schools that year.
Shortly after lunch our principal came to the classroom door and motioned for Mrs. Stump to come out into the hall. Returning, the shaken Mrs. Stump told us President Kennedy had been shot.
At 6, I didn’t know what that meant. Every male over ten years old had a gun; boys started with a Daisy pellet gun for shooting tin cans off a fence, or other egregious things parents aren’t supposed to know. For adults, guns were for hunting, shooting deer or quail or an errant coyote.