A Fourth Grade History Lesson in four chapters by Charles Johnson

Nov. 1, 8, 15 and 22, 2013  @ charliesixty.wordpress.com

To appear in full version in Hometown Focus, Virginia, MN on Nov. 22, 2013

(www.hometownfocus.us)

 

CHAPTER 3 – THE RADIO

Shy waves from nine-year-old hands indicated that Mr. P had parked his car and was looking up at the windows.  The RCA radio, about the size of an old microwave oven – and almost as heavy – required both arms, so he could only manage a small finger wave in return, along with a nodding smile.  He strode up the sidewalk and into the school yard.  He made his way up the eight steps, opening the door with in a semi–coordinated effort, his right hand balancing the large radio, his left hand pulling the door handle.  His left knee held the door as he wedged the radio and himself into the building.

Although the weight of the large radio kept him from taking the stairs two at a time, he scaled them at a good healthy pace.  His students crowded the door, greeting his return with questions of all sorts and in all kinds of voices.  He bade them to please be quiet and return to their seats as he plugged in the radio in the outlet in the front of the room.  He would answer questions soon enough.

As the tubes in the radio warmed up, Mr.Pacetti told the kids that this was a historic time – a time they would never forget.  The radio slowly came to life, first with some electric hums and finally with scratchy radio static.  Mr. P worked the tuning dial, trying to find station that carried the news he wanted.  Identical twins Dan and Don Pecarny, offered advice from the front row.  Others chimed in to suggest which way to turn the knob.  Mr. P told them all to be patient, they’d be hearing something soon…. And sure enough, there came the voices and actual news about the shooting of President Kennedy.

After a few minutes of listening, it was clear there was no imminent news.  Mr. P turned down the sound, asking for any questions.  A flurry of hands flew into the air – some of them waving madly, some of them firm and still.

“What’s a rumor?” asked Toni Larson, looking up from her horse–drawing project that she had started when Mr. P first left to get the radio.

Dale Scott wondered who the announcers were.  Bonnie Hill wanted to know if there were police there.  More questions, more waving hands, concerned faces from all.

Mr.Pacetti raised the volume in time to hear a voice many of the kids knew from the evening news on TV.  It was Walter Cronkite…

“From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1 pm, Central Standard Time –  2 o’clock eastern standard time, some 38 minutes ago.”  There was a long pause, and then he continued.  “Vice President Lyndon  Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas but we do not know, uh, to where he has proceeded, presumably he will be taking the oath of office shortly and become the 36th President of the United States.”

Silence, but just for a few moments.  Whispers came from a few students.  Others were thinking “What did that guy say?”  The kids looked at each other, some understanding, some confused.

Mr. P turned off the radio, turning his back to the students, hiding his face for a moment, long enough to muster up some composure.  He allowed himself to feel the grief, the historic significance, the terror of it all.  He took a breath, wiped the one tear from his eye, and turned back to his students… his students, to whom he was now bound to in a way that no other class he’d ever serve.

“Kids, this hasn’t happened in our country in a long time.  You’ve all been such good listeners.  Our new president will be a man named LyndonJohnson”.  He went on to describe how our laws worked, how things would go.  The students listened, asked some questions, and he did his best to present it all in a package that they could grasp.

Paul stood in the back of the room, absorbing every word – every tragic, horrible word.

Kennedy dead?  How unbelievable – how inconceivable!  Here he is in his forties, having served in the army in World War II and seeing the waste of war – and now this….  Did he need to run home to see if his wife knew?  It was, after all, less than a block away… did he need to run down to the second grade room and check on his daughter?  He spotted his broom that he had abandoned next to the teachers’ lounge door, figuring that such chores as that were quite done for the day.

 

(fourth and final chapter coming next Friday.)

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