As we walked into our 9th grade algebra class, our teacher told us to go home immediately: President Kennedy had just been shot. I walked home in a daze, not yet appreciating that I had dodged the proverbial bullet that would eventually get me, too—I would be missing my weekly algebra test for which I was unprepared. I found my mother sprawled on the couch, sobbing disconsolately. The whole nation, even my Rock of Gibraltar wild woman mother, was in shock, and the three days of national mourning had just begun. There would be no music, no dances, no parties, no movies, no jokes, no laughter—nothing that could remotely resemble fun—at least not that I knew about. I loved President Kennedy, but I loved being a teenager even more. And worse yet, it was only Friday afternoon.
Friday was a total waste, as were Saturday and Sunday. And then Monday dawned cold and gray—poor President Kennedy would be buried today and as if that weren’t depressing enough, I would be facing one more totally wasted day, too, but then it hit me–this was a whole day off from school! I got my mother’s blessing to go to my best friend’s house so she could help me with my algebra. Once there, Marilyn helped me slather on some forbidden makeup and lipstick. After stashing my algebra book in her room, we sallied forth to the incredibly deserted main drag, where she bought us each a chocolate egg cream at Marty’s Soda Fountain. Marilyn was the coolest friend—funny, pretty, and so very generous—she had a babysitting job and had developed a taste for some bigger ticket items that I would never have thought to buy. As we were leaving Marty’s, she scooped up a few candy bars, and two packs of cigarettes—a red pack for her and a green one for me. Marilyn magnanimously paid the grand total, and off we went to smoke our respective packs of cigarettes.
A mile or so later, we were on one of the many paths threading through the huge, scrubby fields of tall, dead grasses and low trees towards “The Canyon.” We picked our way carefully down the precipitous slope and made ourselves as comfortable as we could possibly be while sitting on rocks in almost freezing temperatures. At least we were protected from the wind, which was fortuitous, given that lighting cigarettes was the first item of business on our agenda. We proceeded to smoke each and every cigarette and eat each and every candy bar. All the while, we laughed, told jokes and funny stories, and became so giddy, we were choking, snorting, crying and drooling, not necessarily in that order.
The cigarettes were gone. Our throats were as raw as the dropping temperature. Our bladders were full. It was really time to leave. Suddenly, the gloomy twilight chillingly revealed the silhouettes of five boys on the rim of the canyon. They lobbed rocks at us and laughed while we frantically scrambled around to avoid the stinging blows. Miraculously, they ran off. We climbed out of the canyon, and limped back to Marilyn’s house. I retrieved my algebra book and coughed my way back home.
That night, we watched the news of President Kennedy’s funeral. I remembered the algebra test which I would take and fail tomorrow, and I burst into tears. My mother, mistaking my misery for grief for the dead president, wrapped me in her big, wild woman arms and said, “You’re the best kid in the world. I love you, Googs.”
Photo Credit: http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/dyn-graphics/image-430/silhouette-gang.jpg
Music Credit: Sukiyaki (Ue o Muite Arukou) – Kyu Sakamoto (English Translation and Lyrics)