Kennedy’s assassination had such an impact that even those of us who were very young at the time carry the memory with us

What it was like to be six years old on that day in  November 1963

Share
Related Topics

With every passing year, the where-were-you-when-Kennedy-was-shot question is relevant to fewer and fewer people. The number who remember the assassination is dwindling, and you couldn’t be much younger than me – 56 – to scrape in. Basing my calculation on figures from the US Census Bureau, those aged 56 or over now represent somewhere between 12 and 15 per cent of the global population.

I’ve often pondered the accident of birth that meant that, exactly 50 years ago, I was just old enough for my imagination to be receptive to the single most seismic, shocking peacetime event of the 20th century. “Personal” memories of early childhood are one thing – of getting lost, say, and the fear that goes with it – but memories of a public event are different. I guess by the age of six one is becoming dimly aware that there is an outside world, but it still takes something pretty remarkable to penetrate such a young consciousness so deeply.

Other generations have their own Kennedy moments of course. For my daughters, it is the death of Princess Diana in 1997 (they were six and three at the time). Four years later they were absorbing 9/11.

So what do I mean by “remember”? I think it is partly a memory of the atmosphere that prevailed that weekend. My mother was distressed, and that made an impact on me, not least because I couldn’t understand why. I have one very clear and specific memory of a television image, and it is of Jackie Kennedy, in her black veil, standing at her husband’s graveside in Arlington Cemetery. We watched Kennedy’s funeral on a TV set my parents had acquired only the year before.

Did I ask questions about who Kennedy was and why all this mattered? I doubt it. But I didn’t need to ask questions in order to register that something very disturbing had happened, that it had cast a shadow over everything, and changed the world, and that it had occurred in a place that was the big “out there”, far beyond the Home Counties housing estate and primary school that represented the limits of my existence.

The myth of the 1960s is in part built on the magnitude of its news events, and what followed on from Kennedy left no doubt that one was growing up through a kind of hyper-History, a process that went hand in hand with the birth of the mass media. We worry in 2013 about children and teenagers spending too long in front of screens, but when I was growing up I watched TV for hour upon hour. And many a night, it seemed, something dramatic was happening on the global stage.

Did Kennedy sharpen one’s awareness of the real world? My earliest sporting memory dates from the following year, the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964 – or at least the BBC theme tune that accompanied its coverage, which I can still hear in my mind’s ear now. First football memory – the 1966 World Cup. That same year was the Aberfan disaster, which was something I suspect my parents tried to shield me from – the death of children my own age. In 1967 there was the Beatles singing “All You Need Is Love” on the “Our World” global TV link-up. In 1968 came the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy – the latter event the first time I heard a newsreader warning viewers that we might find the pictures upsetting. There was Vietnam. Finally, the culmination of a boyhood of wide-eyed wonder – the Moon landing in 1969.

It has since struck me that my generation was curiously blessed in its formative years. Not in the way that the teenagers and young adults of the era were, but in the strict sense of being children of the 60s – in my case aged two when they began, 12 when they finished. I was making sense of the world, and the amount there was to make sense of was extraordinary.

I still have in my possession copies of The Times for the three days that followed Kennedy’s death. Like a lot of other people, my mother kept them, and one day years later she passed them on to me. I look at them from time to time, and I’m looking at them again now – a connection to a moment that, for me, marked a kind of awakening.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine