Time was frozen on Nov. 22, 1963.
Awakening to a normal, chilly upstate Middletown, New York, autumn morning, I dressed, ate breakfast and was dropped off at my old red brick intermediate school.
The day started as more of the norm:announcements, recess, math class. Suddenly in a flash everything changed.
We were briskly removed from class and sent back to our homerooms. Herded like sheep, the teachers were silent, gave no directions, no small talk, just cold silence. Once there, we were seemingly abandoned for what felt like hours. Then our teachers, wearing pale faces, and somber looks slowly guided all of us into a large, dark meeting room.
Except for a small black and white television in the comer blasting words and noise, the room was gray and silent. They seated all of us on the floor in front of the TV. Teachers, some parents and unknown figures lined the walls. Looking up at the screen, I saw icon Walter Cronkite speaking from his CBS news desk.
Everyone was hushed, ignorantly fearful and wondering what was going on. As we watched, Cronkite was handed a note. He paused, removed his glasses, put them back on and proceeded to speak.
“At 1 o’clock Dallas time, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was pronounced dead, killed by an assassin’s bullet.”
There were no explanations, no consoling, just quiet sobbing and disbelief. Was this really happening or was it a bad dream?
We continued to listen for what seemed like a lifetime, some teachers were crying and children tears abounded. In those times, there were no cell phones, no texting, no calls home, no fast school pick-ups, no early buses home. We were all ushered out into the cold, bleak day and sent home on our own.
My almost 1.5-mile solemn journey seemed surreal. The overcast, cold day was silent except for the crunching of leaves under my feet. The 25-minute walk dragged on even though I walked at a fast pace. The streets were empty. When I reached the top of my street, I broke into a run toward my house.
I pushed open our heavy front door and shouted, “Mom, Mom!” No answer.
“Mom!” I couldn’t see her. Worried, I looked everywhere until I witnessed a sight that changed my naive world forever.
There was my rock, my safe harbor, always cheerful mother, sitting on our back porch with her face in her hands, sobbing. She jumped up, grabbed me and hugged me tight. I can’t remember if any words were spoken other than “I’m sorry, Mom, I'm so sorry.”
At that moment, in each other’s arms, we shared the grief, the grief of a nation, of a family and of the world. Time seemed to stop, frozen and the end came to the innocence of a country and of a generation. The rest, unfortunately, is history.
Cliff Lloyd is a 38-year resident of the Fresno area. When he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in 1976, Walter Cronkite handed Lloyd his diploma and shook his hand. A Realtor with London Properties, he can be reached at 779-5600.