Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today ~ The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Where were you at the at 1:00 p.m., Central Standard Time, on November 22, 1963?  

At about 11:20, Mountain Standard Time, I left my freshman level United States History class at what was then known as Colorado State College (now University of Northern Colorado) to head back to my dormitory room in Wilson Hall.  I was scheduled to work lunch duty in the dining hall and was happy to get out of class a few minutes early because we had been shown a film that day that ended before class was normally over.  It was a Friday, and I was looking forward to going on a date that night.  I was also happy that it was nearly time to go home for Thanksgiving Vacation which would occur the following week.

As I said, at just before noon, I had been attending my freshman history class, a class I greatly enjoyed that was taught by one of those professors able to make history come alive.  I still have a copy of the book we were using:  The United States to 1865.  I kept it thinking it would be a good resource in my teaching career.  Now, after all these years, I think I also kept it as a tangible piece of my own personal history.  I carried this book with me as I crossed campus that day fifty years ago today.

With the quarter drawing to an end, our professor had nearly finished teaching us the course.  Just days before, it had been noted that it had been 100 years before that Lincoln had given the Gettysburg Address.  On this day, November 22, 1963, at around 11:00 a.m. MST, my classmates and I watched a film about the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Our professor talked briefly about the assassination and the film before he showed the film.  He talked briefly about the hopes that Lincoln had for his second term in office.

 I quote from this textbook some of the words that our professor spoke about as he introduced the film:
In the spring of 1865, when the lilacs opened early and the dogwood spread its pure white blossoms in profusion  Lincoln was hoping that the nation's second birth would be free of complication.*  Our professor did not want us to miss the hope that Lincoln had for the the future of our country when he was tragically killed on April 15, 1865.  

I will never forget that just before the film started, our professor placed a trash can next to the classroom door that led to hallway outside.  He said, "This is for your kleenexes.  The film is very realistic and will cause some of you to become emotional."  He was right.  At the end of the film, I was crying.  I continued to walk across campus with tears in my eyes thinking of that great president who had been shot nearly one hundred years before.  

As I crossed campus, other pathways began to fill with students emptying out of other classes.  I tried to get my emotions under control.  Just as I came to the crosswalk near Gunter Hall and Bru Inn, I saw students coming onto campus from the dorms.  I noticed that those coming on campus were crying.  Finally, I stopped someone and asked what was going on.  I was told that they had just heard that the President had been shot.  "No," I said.  "You probably heard someone talking about the film we saw about the assassination of President Lincoln."  I was told that the news was spotty and the sources not specific, but that it did indeed appear that President Kennedy had been shot.

I continued on in my state of denial.  "This just could not be true.  Presidents don't get assassinated in our country."  I continued walking the short distance to my dorm room and climbed the three flights of stairs to my room.  After I changed into my uniform that I wore to serve in the dining hall, I stood at the window and stared to the ground below as I listened to the news on the radio.  There seemed to be such confusion over what had really happened.  I was all alone in my room.  I heard Walter Cronkite announce that President John F. Kennedy was dead.  I was overcome with grief and disbelief.  Soon, I had to leave to go to work in the dining hall.  I still remember that we were served tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch that day.  It was a Friday.  We were not served meat for any meal on Friday.

I remember I went out on my date that night.  I don't remember who the date was with.  I don't remember who else was with us.  I only remember we went to get pizza, but none of us were hungry.  We were too upset to eat.

I remember I just wanted to go home.  My youthful idealism had been shattered.  I remember that for days, before we all could go home for Thanksgiving Break, all of us sat in the student lounge, the only place where a television set could be found,  and watched the days that followed Kennedy's death unfold on the television screen before us.  Those images will stay with me forever.


In 2007, my husband and I spent the day at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts. We were enthralled with the exhibits and totally overcome with emotions as we end our visit that day after we watched the newscasts that had gone around the nation on the day Kennedy was shot.  We felt as if we had gone back in time as we viewed artifacts from the 1950's and 1960's.  We felt the years fall away as we remembered those time.  Viewing all of the newscasts made it all too fresh for us again.  We both wept.

I was a young 18 year old college freshman when Kennedy died.  Away from home for the first time in my life, my letters from that time reflect a young girl who was trying to make the transition from high school to college, and trying to move from carefree teenage days into a more adult time of life.  In reality, I was woefully unprepared for college and for adulthood.  I was extremely idealistic.

JFK represented a new time in American History for those of us who were born just as World War II was ending.  I had been raised in a family of longtime Democrats.  My paternal grandparents were as dyed in the wool Democratic Party as you could get for the time.  They were active in local politics and served on many committees.  My grandmother was president of the Jane Jefferson Club in my hometown.  Grandpa was an Adlai Stevenson man.  When Kennedy was chosen to represent the Party in his bid for the Presidency, I have not doubt that they supported him because he was loyal to the party.

To me, Kennedy was a bit of "fresh air."  He was not like the politicians that my grandfather talked about.  Kennedy had the "cool" factor.  He was young, handsome, smart, had a great accent, and of course, I adored Jackie Kennedy.  I listened to his speeches when I could, and I felt the hope for the future that he seemed to bring to our country.  I had hope that he would bring great progress to the Civil Rights Movement.

Our country was so different then.  We had a sort of innocence about us not found in today's society.  I have always believed we lost our innocence as a Nation that day when JFK was assassinated.

Now, we know so many things about Kennedy that are not flattering.  In 1963, I believed in Camelot.      I did not see the Kennedy family as royalty, nor did I believe that they should be treated as such, but I did believe that Kennedy spoke of vision, youth, and optimism. At that time, I did not know that a young girl, just about my own age, Mimi Alford, had been his secret mistress.  I did not know that he treated this young girl just months older than I, so despicably and exploited her youth and her innocence. Trying to reconcile the Kennedy that was a womanizer with the Kennedy that the public saw is no easy task.

In the end, I choose to remember the vision that he seemed to transmit to those of us that were young when he lived and died.  I am grateful I was born and came of age in those times that spanned the end of World War II until the day, November 22, 1963, when Kennedy was shot.  I take a line from Kennedy's Inaugural given on January 20, 1961 and say, "Yes, Mr. President, you were right.  I would not exchange places with any other people of any other generation.  Thank you for inspiring us with these words so many years ago.  I believe these words still burn deep in the hearts of many from my generation.

I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.  ~ John F. Kennedy, January 20, 1964.

Kraus, Michael. (1959). The United States to 1865. United States of America: University of Michigan Press.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Autumn of My Life

Is it because I am in the autumn of my life that I hang on to this season so fiercely? 
I seem to want to embrace the season so deeply that it cannot easily slip away before I have fully experienced every bit of its beauty.
Perhaps, the lyrics to September Song are subconsciously planted within my brain and I am reminded over and over again that my days are dwindling "down to a precious few."
This song, September Song, could be the love story that parallels my life with my husband.

I've known my husband since those youthful days of May over 50 years ago, but like the foolish girl in the song, I tossed my curls and refused my young man's offer to spend a lifetime together.
We spent those years of planting, building, and producing married to others. 
We didn't even live in the same states during those years.
One day, 30 years after I had last seen this great love from my youth, 
we were reconnected and soon
"as time came around
she came my way."

Now, at this time in my life, I am grateful that during these autumn days my husband and I have each other for these our golden years.

Here is a recap of how we spent this fall season.

While the fields were still filled with pumpkins ready to picked to create Halloween jack o'lanterns,
or pumpkin pies,

we made sure we gathered in some of our favorite harvest foods:
honey crisp apples from Canon City, Colorado,

and Pueblo peppers, fire roasted and ready to be frozen so we could add them to our favorite dishes.  (Click on the link to learn more about these wonderful peppers and to see some recipes that call for the peppers.)

One other fall day, both of us feeling well and fit, and also very grateful that the days of back pain for Jim and the erratic beating heart days for Sally, were behind us, with Boston by our side, we walked the mile and a half uphill from our house to the beautiful sanctuary that is Mount Saint Francis.
Mt. Saint Francis sits an altitude of 6875 ft.  
We climb nearly 300 ft. as we walk the mile from our home to this beautiful site.
I had to sit on the rock wall and rest a bit when we reached our destination.

The day was glorious.
The sky so very blue, with only a few wisps of clouds to give it interest, provided the backdrop for
the vignettes of beauty I saw everywhere I looked.
The uniqueness of the rock formations just above the buildings below begged to be photographed with a border of gold provided by the trees.

This autumn, we celebrated the one year anniversary of moving into our new home. On that same day, we celebrated Jim's 70th birthday.  
Boston joined Jim for his birthday portrait.

The days of this autumn have been filled with many walks "under the sun."
I have loathed thinking of the days these colors would be gone.

Instead of picking up leaves from the ground and pressing them in a book as I might have done as a young girl, I have photographed them as they cling to the trees.

These leaves, complex in color, shape, and texture,  also seem to loath the day that they will fall to the ground to become pulverized to dust under the feet of those who walk under the bare trees.  
Their beauty of each leaf screams out to me for recognition. 
"See us.  Really see us before we are gone."

On another day, and on another path,
the trees appear nearly naked.
My beloved, and his dog, walk ahead of me on the path.
We are walking in the neighborhood where I lived when he and I were dating twenty plus years ago.

These trees, these old cottonwood trees,

have been here longer than I have been alive.
They were here when my grandparents walked these streets.
They shaded this street when my mother and father were first married just blocks from here.
These bare branches and limbs, soaring toward the blue, blue Colorado sky,
have shed the last leaves of this season.
They are entering winter.
They remind me that we too will soon be entering winter.

As I gaze at these tree limbs, I think how they represent the deep connections to my roots I feel in this community, my hometown, the place where my family has lived for five generations.
I think of my parents and grandparents.
I think of the seasons of their lives.
Except for my mother, all from the generations before me are now gone.
I am very aware of the season of life where I now reside.

The lyrics of the September Song come back to me.
I am keenly aware of why I wish to hang on to these autumn days.
Oh the days dwindle down to a precious few,
September, November.
And these few precious days I'll spend with you.
And the wine dwindles down to a precious brew
September, November

And these few vintage years I'll spend with you.
These precious years, I'll spend with you.*

I am truly blessed to spend these precious days with you, my beloved husband.

Enjoy Tony Bennett singing "September Song" by clicking on the video below.

*Words from "September Song were written by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

To Blog or Not To Blog?

In December of 2008, I posted the following blog post.  I was new to blogging.  I had not one follower.  I wasn't sure if I should continue to blog or not.  Thankfully, I did continue to blog, but I find it interesting to read what I was thinking at that time.  Perhaps, you will too.

Reflection on Blogging from December, 2008

Of course that is the question...I started this blog, and sometimes I wonder why I continue to keep it. Do I write for an audience? That is a question that just appeared on Jim Burke's ning. It is a question that I am asking myself as I write this blog post. It is a question that does not have just one answer.

I have always enjoyed writing and have kept various types of journals over the years. I kept sporatic journals when my children were small as an attempt to just try and keep some sort of record of what life was like during that period of my life. I didn't really have an audience in mind when I kept those journals, but they were often more than just some sort of daily log of experiences. I wish I had been more disciplined in my journal attempts during those days because now I do have an audience for what I wrote during those busy, hectic times: myself and possibly my children.

Many young moms are blogging these days. They create fabulous blogs full of wonderful pictures of their children. They are pretty blogs filled with flowers and flowing designs. They represent the technological gifts that this generation of moms have developed. I envy these young moms and their blogs because they will have a precious record of their lives with their children. What a gift and a blessing. What I wouldn't give to have the same type of archive of my childrens' activities when they were young. I think these moms must have a permanent camera in their hands to capture all those adorable photos. They also must be incredibly organized to be able to produce these wonderful blogs, cook the meals, do the laundry and clean the house.

When one writes, the audience does not always present itself immediately. We wrtie because we have a need to record our lives. We write to express our dreams, our needs, our disappointments, our heartbreak, our insights, or even as a means of trying to make sense out of what is going on around us. Writing is intensely personal, and for that reason, we are sometimes hesitant to put down our most intimate thoughts and emotions on paper because we fear an unknown or known audience. Audience can intimidate us and cause us not to write or not to write well.

As a teacher, I now see I might have confused my students when I taught about audience and writing. I would tell my students that they did not need to consider audience when they wrote in their journals. In fact, I encouraged them not to think about the reader while writing. I told them that they were just to write. They did not have to worry about punctuation or spelling or any other grammatical rules as they wrote in their journals. I just wanted them to feel free to write without being intimidated by feeling that they must write perfectly if they were to write at all. I told them to focus on developing voice.

Many of my students would write stunning journal entries. They would amaze me with the uniqueness of their individual voices. I would get glimpses into their true selves through their journal writing. Sometimes, I would be heartbroken by what they had to share. Sometimes I would be alarmed. Always, I was grateful that they trusted me enough to write transparently and honestly when they knew I would read what they wrote. I was their audience, and they trusted me enough to write honestly.

Othertimes, when the students had a writing assignment, I would teach about audience. I would remind them that they should consider their audience when they wrote. Unfortunately, many times, these formal writings lacked an ability to touch any type of audience. They became stilted, boring, and seemed to only represent some sort of stylized writing that came about from trying to follow the form style writing that they had been taught in previous years of schooling. This writing would lack life. It might be perfectly representative of a five paragrah essay, but it lacked true meaning. The concept of writing for an audience was difficult for many students to grasp.

When my father became very ill and was hospitalized just days before he died, my students took a quarterly essay test that I had to grade before I could leave to drive over to Grand Junction to be with him. They had to respond to Li-Young Lee's poem, "The Grandfather." They knew they were writing for me - their teacher. They wrote mostly to get a grade. They clearly understood their audience. Interestingly, after all the responses were read, the grades were assigned, and I had left my role as teacher to drive to my father's bedside to become a daughter who only had a few more days to spend with her father, I found that my focus as an audience who had read assigned poetry responses shifted. I found myself recalling the poem, and even more importantly, I recalled the responses my students had shared with me about the poem in their tests. Their words began to comfort me. They gave me strength.  They allowed me to peacefully surrender myself to the moment I found myself in. I realized the power of the written word in a unique way. The freshness of my students' youthful responses that spoke of the value of caring for the elderly grandfather while treasuring his final stories spoke to me. We don't always know what response our audience will have to our writing.

Now, I find that I question the appropriateness and usefullness of my own attempts to write by using a blog. One of the most freeing lessons I embraced during this summer's writing project, was the concept that "there are not final drafts; there are only due dates." I can hear Katherine Frank's voice in my head whenever I repeat this saying to myself. I also embrace Anne Lamott's quote about some writing being a "shitty rough draft." The problem with a blog is that those types of drafts are immediately published! Horrors! What was I thinking???

Blogging is certainly the new "in thing" to do. I have so enjoyed our family blog. It has kept me smiling when I read the funny responses my children post. It has been a place where we can share our pictures and update our lives with each other. In today's world, so many of us have children spread all over the place, so it is nice to have a place where we can connect. The blog has been that place for us. It almost reminds me of the old round robin letters that my grandmother's family would circulate.

Blogs that are successful, seems to require audience. One would not continue to blog very long if one did not have some sort of audience. The beauty of the blog is the ability to have a place where one can post something that can generate an immedite response.

As of today, the jury is still out. I am not sure of the benefit of this blog except for serving as a place where I can create a bit of a history of what is going on in my life at the moment. I am newly retired. I struggle with my new status at times. I miss the academic life, and yet I am also happy to leave the daily demands of it behind. I miss my students. I miss the interaction. I miss my audience. That is one thing a teacher always has - an audience. As I used to say, "Just give me a stage!" But, I also like to think that my classroom was a place where we were all learning together. I like to think that I created a more generative, constructivist type of classroom. It wasn't just like the classrooms where I went to school most of the time. It was interactive and interesting. Certainly, if a blog is going to be successful, it must be all of those things too. At the moment, I think my blog mostly serves as a place where I can contemplate and explore where I want to go with my life as as a retired teacher. I don't necessarily need an audience to do that. I only need a place where I can record my thoughts and activities so I don't get lost. So, for now the blog continues.

A Short Reflection on Blogging from 2013:

And, now in November of 2013, I wonder what my life would be like if I had not taken up blogging.  I am grateful for the richness that blogging has brought to my life.   What are your thoughts about blogging?  Why do you blog?  Has blogging opened new doors in your life you did not even realize were there?