Part six in the series. The year was 1963.
"It's My Party"
Song link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsYJyVEUaC4
In August of 1963 I turned fifteen. I'd done a lot of growing up in the past seventeen months. In the aftermath of the rape (and the resulting disclosure of it to my parents some months later) I coped by having a mindset rationalizing if a boy could just take sex from you, then what was the point of saying no? So I didn't. Even though sex did not do anything for me I allowed it to happen repeatedly. I remember one evening letting some boy have sex with me in my bedroom. When my parents came home to check on us kids I had shoved him into my closet until they left again. I was just "lucky" I didn't ever get pregnant.
I had a "sort of" boyfriend who was a few years older than me. I say he was my boyfriend, but in reality there is no way he was. I was just an easy lay, plain and simple. His name was Lane Ramsdell and he was a senior. Sometimes we double dated to the drive-in movies. I couldn't tell you even one title of a movie I saw with him, but I do know the windows were always steamy.
When he graduated from our high school, Highland High, he joined the Army and went to Viet Nam. Later I heard that while in a helicopter a bullet passed through the floor and hit his foot. I remember being happy he survived it.
On the flip of this picture I wrote:
I am sending you this picture to remember me by, for I'll never forget you!!! Stay as you are and you'll never have problems with girls! Good Luck!!!
(The green stuff bleeding through on the picture is from the back where I had marked out the note I wrote with a green marker. He left for the Army before I could give it to him. An additional side note about the photo, I made my outfit, but rolled it so the hem appears uneven.)
I skipped school more than a few times that year. I had learned to fake my mother's signature, so I always had a note saying I had a dentist appointment or something as outrageous as an electrolysis appointment. Even then I was somewhat creative. I finally got caught because I had missed a total of a quarter semester and the attendance director called my mother. That was an uncomfortable day, except my mother did agree I had legitimately missed all but three of the days. Go figure.
When I skipped school it was usually to go do something fun with my best friend, Debbie. Debbie was older than me by a year and had a white VW Beetle. We thought we were so mature looking that one night we drove out of town to a bar/restaurant and thought they would serve us a drink. I remember that she had a phony ID and we figured if they asked she'd show hers and I would say I didn't have mine. Our concocted story had us there waiting for our husbands. We even had on fake wedding bands. Figuring they would not check since we had painstakingly fixed ourselves up and assured each other we looked 21. Of course the waiter was not buying our story. We left entirely sober but laughing about it.
During the week, when we were not ditching school, a small group of us would squeeze into her VW bug and go off campus to McDonalds for lunch. We'd be listening to the radio, laughing, joking and squealing as only high school girls can.
Friday, November 22 began as any other. I was looking forward to this Saturday because my little brother Barry turned 14 on the 21st, and his birthday party was to be on Saturday since it fell on a school day.
At lunchtime four of us went to eat at McDonalds with Debbie. This particular day we were running a little late, as the line was very long. We drove back to the school campus shoving french fries in our mouths singing along to Lesley Gores's big hit, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to....CRY IF I WANT TO...you would cry too... if it happened to you...." Then the music stopped. Someone tried to adjust the sound. It was 12:40 PM when we heard the immortal words piped in from Walter Cronkite, "In Dallas, Texas, three shots were fired at President Kennedy's motorcade in downtown Dallas. The first reports say that President Kennedy has been seriously wounded by this shooting." All laughter stopped. We looked at each other incredulously, not believing what we just heard. Then there was another report. "The word we have is that the President is dead." Stunned, we all exited her car and hurried into the safety of school, but it was unfamiliar. It seemed like we were stepping into an episode of "The Twilight Zone".
Students and teacher alike were walking the halls, crying. I looked over to the students who sat on the stairs, or up against walls, heads in hands,
sobbing uncontrollably. In the confusion I decided it would be best to go to my classroom. There were only about three students there, all with their heads buried in their folded arms on the desk. You could hear the hiccups of their muffled sobs. I sat down at my desk, tears of my own now streaming down my face, no longer able to contain the overwhelming sadness I felt.
Through the crackling of the public address system intercom came the sound of our principal's voice, "Due to the tragedy in Dallas school is being suspended. Please go home and be with your families...." It was then I finally understood... this is real. I wanted to be with my family.
I don't remember how I got home, but I do remember sitting with my family, glued to our black and white television watching things unfold. Events none of us could ever have imagined. There was no birthday celebration on Saturday for my brother.
To appreciate the enormity of the task faced by the networks over the next four days, it is important for you to know that in 1963, before the days of high-tech, globally linked sleek mobile news units or cell phones, the technical limitations of broadcast journalism severely inhibited the coverage of live and fast-breaking events in multiple locations. TV cameras would require two hours of equipment warm-up to become "hot" enough for operation. Video signals were transmitted cross-country via "hard wire" coaxial cable or microwave relay. On the spot coverage of unfolding news, out in the field, demanded high speed and mobility. Since television cameras had to be tethered to enormous wires and electrical systems, 16mm film crews still dominated location coverage, with the consequent delay in transportation, processing, and editing of footage.
In covering the next four days, many people would look back at it as "controlled panic". Indeed, I remember it as being so. Just remembering these events is very uncomfortable, and may well have cemented my extreme distaste for violence.
On Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963 an unprecedented televised event blasted the story of the assassination of John F. Kennedy out of the realm of national tragedy into another moment of surrealism: the on-camera murder of Lee Harvey Oswald was telecast live. At 1:21 P.M. in Albuquerque, as preparations were being made for the solemn procession of the caisson bearing the President's casket from the White House to the Capital rotunda, the accused assassin, Oswald was about to be transferred from the Dallas City Jail to the Dallas County Jail.
NBC elected to switch over from coverage of the preparations in Washington, D.C. to the transfer of the prisoner in Dallas. Our family was going to watch the procession as a family on our favorite network, NBC. Only NBC carried the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald live. "He's been shot! He's been shot! Lee Oswald has been shot!" shouted an NBC correspondent. "There is absolute panic. Pandemonium has broken out."
I remember hearing screams, whether or not they were on television or in my own living room I don't know. Probably both. My father's reaction was to get up, reached over and shut off the television. Our family, like some millions more, had just witnessed the horror of a murder, live, in our own safe house. The saturation coverage of the assassination and burial of John F. Kennedy and the startling murder of his alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on live television would produce a shared media experience of astonishing unanimity and unmatched impact, an embedded cultural memory that as years have passed comprise a collective consciousness for a generation. My generation, the Boomers.
From now on it was going to be our party and we'd cry if we wanted to.