Fifty-five years ago today, November 22nd, the 35th president of the United States was assassinated on the streets of Dallas, Texas.
For the nation’s Roman Catholics, it was particularly traumatic. They’d felt a kinship with this first Catholic president, this grandson of Irish immigrants named John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was one of them. They wore their pride like the parents of summa-cum-laude graduates.
Add to that group my late grandmother. A lifelong Middletonian and the occupier of the same pew each Sunday at her longtime parish, Idabelle Nelson Walburg was a Kennedy devotee from the very start. It’s not surprising : her mother was a McCormick and the family revelled in all things Irish. And now the President of the United States not only Catholic but Irish, too.
To my devout grandmother, praying throughout the day was as natural as breathing. Looking back, I believe it was her way of coping with years of grief after the tragic deaths in her immediate family : her firstborn child at the age of five or six and the death of her husband at a relatively young age -- both from illness.
Tragedy didn’t end there, however. Years later came the horrific automobile accident in which her only son, the driver, and his friend, the passenger, were killed. Her remaining children were my mother and my aunt.
Therefore, it was no surprise that Idabelle’s natural reaction upon learning Kennedy had been assassinated was to pray. I can still hear her words upon learning of any death: “God have mercy on his (or her) soul,” she would say softly.
In mourning, then, she joined my family for several days to witness the solemn aftermath of the president’s untimely death on our black-and-white TV. The coverage was consistent and live, the likes of which we had never seen. Included in the ongoing coverage was the transfer of Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, from the Dallas police department to another facility.
Then, as my grandmother normally wouldn’t say, all hell broke loose.
Pictured are the Life publication, “The Day Kennedy Died….,” “JFK in Words and Pictures” edited by Stephen Kennedy Smith and Douglas Brinkley, the children’s biography titled “John F. Kennedy, the Making of a Leader,” by the editors of Time for Kids with Ruth Upadhyay, and the DVD, “The Kennedys,” part of the PBS “American Experience” history series.