Remembering November 22, 1963

Social media 1963 style–two editions of the afternoon paper.
Living in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, it’s impossible to forget what happened 50 years ago today. Like so many alive on that fateful day, I vividly remember much of the day and those following.

I was in third grade at Lydick Elementary School in South Bend Indiana. I remember the teacher being called out of the classroom. When she returned, she was crying. A few minutes later the principal announced that the president had been shot, and we were being sent home for the rest of the day. It was much easier in those times to send kids home from school because there were fewer working moms, fewer single moms. Moms were at home crying in front of their TVs because of the news that was announced when their favorite afternoon soaps (in Mom’s case As the World Turns) were interrupted.

On the bus, the driver had a small transistor radio with him. He’s the one who told us “He’s dead. Somebody killed the president.” The bus got quiet. A few girls cried. Somebody asked if the Russians (as we all called the Soviets then) did it.                                                                                                                                                                                            You see, this was in the days of “duck and cover” drills, the Cold War exercise designed to make us feel like there was something we could do to save ourselves in the event of a nuclear attack. All it really did was scare the crap out of a whole generation.

At home we watched CBS News with Walter Cronkite. It was the first time for live “wall to wall” coverage of news events. (WFAA-TV has made their 1963 live broadcast available on their website.) My brother Mike, in high school then, came home and Daddy soon followed.  There were phone calls. I guess that’s how my parents knew to go to church–or else it was announced on TV that our Catholic church would be having special prayers. 
We sat in the warm, dark church, which was packed, and the priest led us in a rosary, and there was adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We prayed for peace, for the safety of our nation. I remember feeling very bewildered by it all. Mom and Dad and Mike and the adults all talked about scary things and political stuff I didn’t yet understand.
Associated Press photo

The rest of the weekend seems to be a blur of constant TV watching, including seeing Oswald shot, Kennedy’s lying in state in the Capitol–and Jackie and Caroline kneeling before it–culminating in the moving funeral on Monday.

Among my memories of the funeral are the horses, the clattering of hooves, the drums, and the silence of the huge crowds lining the streets of the nation’s capital all the way to Arlington National Cemetery.

America changed then, in many ways. The innocence and optimism of the ’50s gave way to cynicism. As conspiracy theories swirled and the Vietnam war  escalated, Americans grew less willing to accept everything the government told us. We asked questions, we protested, we got involved.

Dallas 50 years later

During the fall semester I teach a class at the UCD in downtown Dallas, across the street from the building where Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. My route home takes me through Dealey Plaza. I have never driven through there when there was not someone–alone or in a group–walking around, looking at the Texas School Book Depository, or the grassy knoll.

Living here means I have the privilege of attending events at which people who were witnesses to this historic tragedy speak. Five years ago, at a Dallas Press Club event, I heard Buell Frazier tell his story as a panelist in a program that included several key figures from the events of that day. He’s the guy who drove Oswald to work, and he’d never told his story publicly before.

Among the people I’ve had the honor of meeting is Hugh Aynesworth, former Dallas Morning News reporter, author, and the only person to witness the assassination, Oswald’s arrest, and later his murder. He produced a fascinating documentary that was screened at UNT this past week. The screening, and the Q & A afterward brought back memories for those of us who remember the end of Camelot.

For most of the students in the room, November 22, 1963 is a date in a history book. For those of us who remember, it was a defining moment in our lives.

"Little D" is Denton, Texas

If you’re of a certain age you can remember watching what I seem to remember was the Captain Kangaroo Show when they did a song about Dallas that went “BIG D! Little a, double l-a-s!” I can still remember that routine, even though I watched it on my parents’ fuzzy black and white TV long before Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.

Today I’m living in the town I affectionately refer to as “little D,” Denton, Texas, the third point in the triangle that includes Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton.

I grew up in a small town–Winchester, Kentucky–and while I’ve lived in a number of large towns since then (Indianapolis, Riyadh, Houston) I’ve found Denton to be just about perfect for me. For one thing, it’s close enough to both Dallas and Fort Worth to get there in a timely manner when either business or pleasure calls. Being the media junkie that I am, there are plenty of online, on-air and on-paper news sources. And when I need to shop in person instead of online, the options in both cities are endless, as well as the dining and arts opportunities.

What is most appealing to me is that Denton is neither Dallas nor Fort Worth. One-upsmanship isn’t the game here, and neither is old money. Denton is a college town, but it isn’t defined by the two fine universities here. It’s not exclusively a bedroom community, either. It’s where two freeways (I-35 E and I-35 W) meet or diverge (depending on your perspective) as part of the Pan-American Highway, and that geographic detail almost defines the two major cities the freeways run through. Each is so different it’s hard to believe they’re in the same state, much less so close together.

In Denton we have wonderful arts opportunities, especially if you like opera and classical music. The town that gave the world Brave Combo and the One O’Clock Jazz Band also has a thriving live music scene. The historic town square, which in so many towns is a tourist trap of cutesy shops and “antique” malls, is frequented by the locals who genuinely enjoy the wine bar, ice cream parlor, coffee shop and restaurants interspersed between interesting businesses. A pleasant summer evening in downtown Denton often includes dining at an excellent restaurant, strolling around to Beth Marie’s for an ice cream, and wrapping up at Wine Squared with a glass of vino or beer and great conversation with whomever dropped by.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Guanajuato, Mexico, and find it similar to Denton. About the same size, the two towns are university towns, quiet, safe and friendly. There are lots of arts activities, and in the evenings, people gather in the square to chat and enjoy an evening with family and friends. Americans have forgotten how to really relax, but not in Denton.

On weekends my husband and I enjoy bicycling. From our house we can, in less than 15 minutes, be cycling on country roads among rolling hills and horse ranches that remind me of rural central Kentucky. We can ride for miles, stopping at country stores and restaurants for refreshment, and not be threatened by the many bicycle-haters in cars and trucks on the road. The people are friendly and helpful, and happy to see people out enjoying the countryside.

Friends and colleagues in Dallas and Fort Worth are constantly asking me if I mind driving into town for a meeting, lunch or social event. Not at all. I’d even gladly make the commute daily for the right job. When DART gets the Green Line to Carrolton open, that commute will get even easier. In the meantime, I’m always happy to come home to my quiet home in “little D.”

So I’ve titled this blog “The view from Little D” because while I’m up here away from the cacophony of the huge metropolitan area, I’m not out of touch. I love the vibrancy of the big urban area, but I’m glad I don’t have to live there 24/7. I’m just kicked back and relaxing, looking at the stars (which you can really see in Denton) and thinking this is the place to be.

Now you know that “Little D” is close, but oh so far away from “Big D.”

(c) Samra Jones Bufkins, 3/2/2009.