A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


It was 45 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. We were traveling to California for Thanksgiving, and had spent the night in Las Vegas.  We were just finishing one of those "All You Can Eat For 29 Cents" breakfasts at the Silver Slipper when a waiter walked by, shaking his head.

"Such a shame, such a shame," he said to no one in particular.  Then he glanced at my father.  "They just shot the president," he explained.  "Somewhere in Texas, I think."

Suddenly an unsettling wave of commotion washed across the restaurant.  Pockets of isolated breakfasters merged into a single concerned community.  Bits of information erupted and flowed through the dining hall, burning a memory into our minds with the red hot magma of tragic truth.

" . . . President Kennedy . . . "

" . . . shot . . . "

" . . . Dallas . . . "

My 8-year-old brain struggled to comprehend each bit of news.  It didn't make sense.  This sort of thing didn't happen.  At least, not in America.  We were the good guys, remember?  I looked at my father, whose holiday mood had suddenly turned somber and serious.  He looked at my mother.  "Take the kids out to the car," he said calmly.  "I'll be along in a minute."

Dad joined 20 or so patrons and employees huddled around a radio near the restaurant kitchen while Mom took my two older sisters and I out to the car.  "But I thought Dad didn't like President Kennedy," my sister Kathy wondered as we made our way through the hotel lobby.

"No, we didn’t vote for President Kennedy," Mom explained.  "He wasn’t our candidate.  But he is our president."

When Dad joined us in the Impala we were anxious to hear what was going on.

"President Kennedy was in Dallas and somebody shot him," he reported.  "They don't know who, or why."

"Is he . . . dead?" Mom wanted to know.

"He's been taken to a hospital."  Dad looked at Mom.  "Let's pray for our president."

We bowed our heads while Dad prayed as fervently as I ever heard him pray for President Kennedy, for the Kennedy family and for our country.  When he finished I felt better -- except for one thing.  "Dad," I asked, "if the president dies, does that mean we have to be Russians?"

He looked over his shoulder at me, wedged in the back seat of the Impala between my two older sisters, and for the first time in what seemed like hours, he smiled.

"No, son," he said.  "Everything's going to be all right.  Vice President Johnson will be our new president."  Dad turned to start the car.  Then he glanced over at Mom.  "Lyndon Johnson," he muttered, rolling his eyes and shaking his head.  "Maybe we'd be better off if the Russians did take over."

I think about that day every four years about this time.  After what seems to be an increasingly long and bitter season of campaigning, during which the country sometimes seems on the verge of ripping apart along the lines of our various divisions, we somehow manage to fall into line behind our new president.  Oh sure, we have our differences – we always have, and we always will.  But where we once had several different candidates, we now have a president. And while he may or may not have been our candidate, he is our president.

And we will pray for him.

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— © Joseph Walker

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