Saturday, November 22, 2008

45 Years Ago Today

As editor of Redbook, I was about to make a lunchtime speech to three hundred advertising people at the Ambassador East in Chicago. After that, I would check out, have dinner on the Twentieth Century Limited, read myself to sleep and be home in the morning.

Shortly after noon, I was at a table with guests, nattering about nothing over shrimp cocktails, when a waiter bent to my ear and whispered, "President Kennedy's been shot."

I followed him into the kitchen. A small TV set was surrounded by waiters holding trays, chefs with knives and cleavers, maids carrying mops, frozen in shock, tears in their eyes. On the grainy screen, Walter Cronkite was talking evenly about a motorcade, a book depository, Parkland Hospital, but his stricken face was telling more.

I came back to the dining room, went to the platform and tapped on the microphone. As the clatter calmed, I found words coming out of my mouth.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you, but President Kennedy's been shot and it looks...bad. I know you'll want to go where you can find out more. Thank you for coming."

As I sat down dazed, the waiter asked if I wanted lunch and I shook my head. A minute later he put a goblet of brandy in front of me.

A white-haired man came up and asked, "Aren't you going to make your speech?" I shook my head.

The large TV screen upstairs showed Cronkite's face crumpling as he told of Kennedy's death. I packed my bags.

On the train, I felt I was going from where my life had been to somewhere else. In my fortieth year, in the dining car, I tried to take in people talking and laughing, but nothing made sense. I went to my roomette for a night of sleepless sleep.

Three months earlier, I had been in the Oval Office with the man now dead in Dallas. Kennedy was sitting in a rocking chair and his face, under the Hyannisport tan, was drawn, lines around his sunken eyes telling an unspoken story of pain and pills. We talked for half an hour and, when he rose to shake hands goodbye, I thought I saw him wince.

Now he was gone, and the world would never be the same again.

1 comment:

Stephen C. Rose said...

I added this to a video remembrance. I was walking to a md's appt. a few blocks away.