A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


For those of us who were alive and relatively coherent 40 years ago, the date is frozen in our memories.

November 22, 1963.

We know exactly where we were, what we were doing and who we were with.

For me it was Las Vegas, Nev., traveling to California for Thanksgiving, with my family. We had stopped for a late breakfast at the Silver Slipper and were just finishing up our 98 cent specials when an Hispanic waiter walked by our table, shaking his head and muttering something about "such a sad thing" that had happened. Dad, who was never shy about striking up conversations with waiters and such (no meal out was complete until Dad had called the waitress "Honey" three or four times and told her what a great cook she was Ė much to Momís chagrin), and so he asked the waiter what was going on.

"The president of Texas was shot," he said, still shaking his head. "Such a sad thing. Such a sad thing."

Now, I wasnít exactly what you would call politically astute in those days. I was 8 years old, and as far as I was concerned, having the word "president" in front of your name wasnít nearly as important as having the first name "Mickey" (as in Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mantle and Mickey Rooney, not necessarily in that order). But something about "president of Texas" sounded funny. I looked at my Dad and saw concern etched on his face.

"I heard on the radio this morning that President Kennedy is supposed to be in Texas today," Dad said. Then he looked at Mom. "Iím going to go see if I can find out whatís going on," he said. "Iíll meet you at the car."

I donít remember how long we waited out there for Dad. It seemed like a long time, but to an impatient, slightly nervous 8-year-old that could mean anything from 30 seconds to two hours. But I do remember how serious and sad Dad looked as he walked across the parking lot, and how soberly he explained the situation that was taking place in Dallas. And Iíll never forget how I felt when he asked us to bow our heads in the car and join him in praying for our president.

All of which was sort of confusing to me back then.

"But Dad," I said as we pulled out of the parking lot and resumed our journey to California, "I thought you didnít like President Kennedy."

"I donít agree with him politically," Dad said. "But heís our president."

And clearly, as far as Dad was concerned, that was enough.

There was none of the usual talking, laughing and singing as we drove across the Nevada-California desert that day. Instead, Dad flipped the car radio dial from station to station, trying to keep up with news reports as we traveled through various radio frequencies. Even our arrival at my sisterís house in Southern California was less festive than usual. We greeted each other quietly, and then moved quickly to watch the unfolding events on TV.

Iím not sure what happened to me during the following days as I watched the nation come together to mourn the loss of its fallen leader, but it affected me. I was mesmerized by it, and I was somehow different as a result. Suddenly I was aware of a world out there beyond my little circle of family and friends. It was a world filled with people and events that I didnít completely understand. But I knew it was a world I needed to learn about. And care about.

And pray for.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through