September 1958 ".... I Pledge Allegiance.... "
I remember feeling very small and insignificant as I entered my new classroom on that chilly fall morning. Second grade would be much harder than first, at least that's what my older brother assured me.
As I sat at my new desk at the very front of the classroom, I was immediately aware that it was too small for me -- or was my chair too tall? All I knew for sure was that my feet did not touch the floor, and I wasn't about to tell anyone.
I looked above the blackboard to the familiar printed alphabet, A through Z. Beneath it was the script we would be expected to learn this year. My eyes followed the letters that extended the full length of the room, so perfectly formed.... how would I ever learn to write like that? My brother was right, second grade would be very hard.
My teacher took a Bible from off her desk and stood before us.
"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lands..." Psalm 100 --
I remember it as if it was yesterday. We would fold our hands, bow our heads and pray for our class and for the day ahead.
"Please stand and push your chairs under your desks."
That was the only part I didn't look forward to. The boy seated behind me seemed to have such difficulty pushing his chair in without making the most ear-piercing, screeching sound, sending a chill from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. The teacher would give him one of "those looks" and continue.
"Place your right hand over your heart, and now in unison.... 'I pledge allegiance to the flag.... of the United States of America...'"
As I looked around at my classmates reciting in unison, and up at that familiar red, white and blue flag, my little heart would feel a flutter of exhilaration. Was it pride, or an overflow of thankfulness? Now we not only had the blessing of God, maker of heaven and earth on our day but were reminded once again that we were a part of a very great nation, a nation under God.
Somehow I began to feel less insignificant. It was a very secure feeling, a feeling that gave me confidence, to do my very best -- to learn that script and whatever else was in store for a big second grader.
The second-grade classroom was surrounded by pictures of some very important people. Not ordinary people -- presidents of the United States. There was our very first president, George Washington, he was also a very brave military leader and Abraham Lincoln.... I knew he was the sixteenth -- he was assassinated by a man named John Wilkes Booth. Then there was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was in office that year, 1958. His wife's name was Mamie. She had bangs and so did I, so my Dad nickname me 'Mamie'. Little did I know that the name would follow me for the rest of my life.
"... And what would you like to be when you grow up?" was the question often asked during those first years of school. Hands would dart up quickly, desperate to be the first to be called on. "Fireman! Policeman!" most of the boys would blurt out. On occasion one who had not been called on would be asked, "And how about you? What would you like to be when you grow up?"
".... President of the United States."
There would be a hush. Everyone would look over at this classmate and finally let out an "...OOOH!"
Because we all knew that presidents were very special people, and very few people would ever become president.
November 22, 1963... Sixth grade.
The announcement came over the public address system in my sixth grade classroom that our president, John F. Kennedy had been shot. There was a hush -- some tears and commotion in the hallways. My two best friends and I walked quickly home from school shaken by the news.
I ran in to break the news to my parents, but they already knew. Their eyes stared in disbelief at the black and white images on the television set; a motorcade through downtown Dallas, a slow-moving Lincoln convertible transporting a smiling waving JFK, suddenly hunched over in the first lady's lap, stricken by a gunman's bullet. Then came word from newsman Walter Cronkite — “The president has died,” he said, before slowly removing his black-framed glasses and becoming visibly choked up. Our nation mourned, the entire world mourned with us. The president of the United States, the most prestigious office one could aspire to, the office that sets the tone of our land and the course of our nations future -- open for all the world to observe. Someone killed our president.
Something died in the soul of our nation that day. Whether a Republican or a Democrat, it didn't matter -- our president was dead.
Today is the 56th anniversary of JFK's assassination.