October 30, 2018

Just Saying…

By Q.C. Jones

A November Memory

Memories, good memories, strange memories, and tragic memories, we all have them. But a very few recollections have been so vividly burned into our conscience, so firmly entrenched in our minds, that we can recall vivid details of the event years and years later. Allow me to chronical one such bit of consciousness from over a half century ago.

It was an unseasonably warm but drizzly Friday in November. My friends and I had made good use of a break in the drizzle to enjoy the morning recess and a fine variation of basketball called HORSE around the mud covered basketball hoop in the playground. The ball got dirty, but we continued the game, getting a fresh coating of dirt on our school clothes, hands and perhaps a bit on our faces. I remember struggling to play because I was no longer equipped with the “tennis shoes” worn during the warmer months (actually I had outgrown them by November). Instead, I was wearing my newly purchased school shoes from a long defunct retailer named P.N. Hirsch. They too were dirty and mud-stained by the end our recess time.

The mud and dirt was our downfall. Our ever mindful teacher decided to move the lunch recess indoors not to some fancy activity room but to the basement of our classroom. Allow me to digress a bit.

At the time, I was attending a country school, Brushy Branch School to be precise. This school was unique in that it was a three-room schoolhouse. Created in the first wave of school consolidations in the 1940’s, Brushy Branch was the result of moving three one-room schoolhouses to a single location and connecting the dissimilar buildings together on a single foundation. There were two grades per room and I was in the classroom housing third and fourth grade.

Young people of today would call the school primitive. It was definitely “old school” antique in every sense of the word. The most striking part of this theme was the telephone service. The school was served by a single 1920’s style party line crank phone which was located my class’ coat room. Each time one of the nine households or our school received a call the phone rang. However, each location had a specific ring; a code if you will. Two longs and two shorts meant the call was for the Coffey family just down the road. The school ring was one long and two shorts. In the case of an emergency, something like a tornado, the phone rang constantly and everyone picked up. And, this is where my memory kicks into overdrive.

It was shortly after the lunch recess, our third-grade class was working (mostly) silently, while our teacher, Mrs. Shea, taught reading to the older fourth graders, that the phone began its continuous emergency ring. Everyone in the class stopped what they were doing in anticipation of some new adventure. Tornadoes and bad weather generally led to a quick trip to the school basement which was always fun. Once or twice a year, we got word of a citywide nuclear attack drill. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? In spite of the potential of being fried in a nuclear attack, we still had fun with the “semi-orderly”
progression down to the nuclear shelter portion of the basement. This time was different.

After taking the call, Mrs. Shea came running from the room in a crying hysteria. This was so out of character for her. She was a powerful woman; big-boned and relatively tall. Irish to the core, Mrs. Shea had reddish hair, rosy cheeks, an ever-present smile and was stern but good-natured. Weeping, wailing and shrieks of intense emotional stress were not an expected trait from any grownup, much less an adult of authority like our teacher.

Without a word of explanation, she bolted from our room and made quick visits to the other classes, gathering the teachers into a huddle in a small anteroom between the three separate classrooms. We knew something was up, but had no idea as to it’s nature. Strangely, even the biggest class cut-ups remained quietly at their desk. I suspect we were all in a state of shock.

An eternity later, Mrs. Shea and the other teachers came into our room with somber looks on their faces to inform us that President Kennedy had been assassinated. Truthfully, most of us had no idea what the word meant. Very lovingly, they broke it down for us. He had been shot by someone and was being taken to a hospital in Texas. All school work stopped, and we kids mostly sat attentively while Mrs. Shea who was both Irish and Catholic talked in the most respectful tones about our Country and our President.

The next few days, actually all of the time leading up to Thanksgiving the next Thursday, was devoted to President Kennedy. There was no school and in my young mind, there was nothing good to watch on TV. All two of the channels our family’s TV received ran coverage of the events in Washington and around the Country. To my young mind and attention span, it was massively boring. To add insult to injury, they canceled the local Christmas Parade. I was sad.

Just saying…

Filed Under: History