November 1963

It seems somehow significant that I am writing this post on the 20th anniversary of 9/11/2001. Because in November 1963, an earlier shattering tragedy struck America and stunned the whole world.

In the Costain household, world events were discussed with references to the daily newspaper and the CBC radio, especially as they impacted friends and family. It is a pity that there are no letters from Cyn to her mother in St Vincent from October 1962, when the Cuban Missile Crisis had the world in suspense, because one would think the islands of the West Indies would have been affected. Sometime in the early 60s, the Costains got a television- not new, but a second-hand black-and-white set which required the insertion of a knitting needle to change to the other channel, that Cec had acquired from a colleague. I believe the upcoming Olympics were mentioned as a reason why the parents finally got what All Our Friends had had for years- and it became part of our daily lives quickly. Cec and Charlie watched sports, the adults watched the news, we all saw Ed Sullivan together on Sunday nights, and the Kennedys were part of the news the children might have stayed for, with Mrs Kennedy’s style and children, and the Presidents’ successful handling of Cold War crises.

On November 22nd in the afternoon, the principal, Mrs Tufts, came into our Grade 8 class and told us that President Kennedy had been shot. Charlie remembers his Grade 7 teacher telling his class. When we were sent out for recess, I remember walking with friends on the playing field as we discussed whether it was a Soviet plot and if nuclear war was likely to follow. (My husband, who grew up in Windsor Ontario across the river from Detroit, had practiced ‘nuclear bomb’ drills in the 50s in elementary school, where the children sheltered under their desks in preparation for a strike made at- the US car industry? We never experienced this sort of fear-mongering in Ottawa, but we were certainly conscious of living in Canada’s capital city, a possible target of war.) When the school day ended, Charlie and I were surprised to find our mother waiting with the car to pick us up, and we went home and watched, with the rest of the world, endless repetitions of the motorcade, and the announcement that the President had died, Lyndon B. Johnson being sworn in as 36th President, the plane returning to Washington, with all the gruesome details the news could include. Over the weekend, our fears were relieved by the arrest of the shooter, then there was his subsequent murder on live tv in Dallas while the body of JFK lay in state in Washington. The President’s funeral was on Monday. There was a lot of television watching.

In her scrapbook, Cyn kept a column of Art Buchwald’s from the newspaper and a cover of the memorial stamp issued the next spring. The assassination was an introduction to the troubling issues of the 60s to come: the Civil Rights struggles, the Vietnam War, the continuing Cold War, worldwide student protests, and more assassinations in the States.

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