Birthday girl found no one could be happy on 11/22/63

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On the 50th anniversary of an important day in our history, the inevitable question will be asked thousands of times: "Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard that President Kennedy was shot?"

So many people have vivid memories of those moments, but I have yet to see anyone who was a child at the time talk about his or her memories.

Nov. 22, 1963, was going to be a huge day for me; I was celebrating my 11th birthday and planned to have a big party, with all my best girlfriends coming over to my house after school. We all lived within walking distance of Colfax School in Squirrel Hill, and the party was set to start by 3:45 -- it only took 15 minutes to walk home from school.

I had already been home for lunch and had helped my mom get things ready, so that we could start to party the second we walked in the door. I remember gleefully walking -- well, practically skipping -- back to school after lunch. All I had to do was wait for dismissal at 3:30.

At about 1:30, Mrs. Slife, my awesome sixth-grade teacher, was just beginning to go over some classwork when our principal, Dr. Pregler, made an announcement over the loudspeaker that the president had been shot. She requested that all of the teachers turn on their classroom televisions.

I remember, even at that young age, how stunned we all were. I remember that Mrs. Slife burst into tears and had to step into the doorway for a moment to collect herself. I vividly remember the sights and sounds we all watched on the black-and-white TV and Walter Cronkite, taking off his glasses, rubbing his face, brushing away tears, and eventually announcing that President Kennedy had died from gunshot wounds.

I cried along with many of my classmates. Before we were dismissed, we were told that any after-school events were canceled and that every student should go directly home from school -- no excuses, go directly home.

I walked home alone, smacking the pickets on the various wrought-iron fences with my hand as I walked by. My heart was heavy and so were my feet as I approached my house. Those images were barreling through my mind.

When I walked in the door, the balloons were still hung, the party games were off to the side, the party plates and cups were waiting on the dining room table, and my mother was sitting on the sofa in front of the TV, crying.

I sat down, continued to watch history unfold, and somewhere deep in my child-mind I cried for myself and the loss of my big day, which in some ways was a loss of innocence. I cried for Caroline and John-John, who lost their daddy. But even at the tender age of 11, I cried more so for the deep and tangible loss to my country.

I remember Nov. 22, 1963, as though it were yesterday, and always will.

The PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays, especially interesting memoirs relating to the upcoming holidays. Send your writing to; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.

Diane Heller Klein of Plum, a professor emeritus of deaf education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, can be reached at

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