My wife and 1 moved to Texas in the early fall of 1963. We’d lived in Germany for a year while I finished my Army tour of duty, and decided to settle in Houston to be near her sister.
I worked with native Texans, who were deeply suspicious of anyone not from the Lone Star State, and it didn’t help that I was a Yankee Wasp from Massachusetts who thought that JFK was the cat’s pajamas. They knew that Kennedy was the Devil incarnate and were convinced that that Eastern Establishment so-and-so was letting the Catholic Church run the country. They were also in perpetual mourning for LBJ, who, as Vice President, had been shoveled into a corner.
I learned quickly that discussing politics was not the intellectual exercise I was accustomed to but rather like a declaration of war. After being soundly defeated a number of times, I knew to keep my mouth shut. Arguing with my Texas co-workers had only convinced them that I was just like every other Yankee—addled. Nice people, but don’t let them near the good china.
I managed a day off the week before Thanksgiving and took my wife shopping in the city. It never occurred to me to wonder why there was such a big crowd in downtown Houston in the middle of the week. Rather than going about their business, shopping, hustling down the street, most people were lingering at the curb, peering around as if waiting for a parade.
We paused at the corner, waiting for a chance to cross, and found ourselves standing next to some neighbors, both native Texans and firmly convinced that God had abandoned America when Kennedy was elected.
Instead of being greeted with looks of surprise and murmured comments about “what a small world it is” I heard remarks about how it figured that I’d show up today. My neighbor shook his head slowly and smiled, adding that he guessed I didn’t want to miss the chance to cheer my hero.
As I stood on the curb trying to decode those cryptic comments, a caravan of police cars and limousines appeared, sweeping grandly down the street. My friend pointed at the approaching cavalcade and commented, “He’s nuts. He’s a fool to come down here.” The cars drew closer and then pulled abreast of where we were standing. President Kennedy sat in the back, hair moving slightly in the breeze. He didn’t seem bothered that nobody was cheering and few were clapping. He smiled and waved, looking around and calling out, “Hi … how are you?” Hearing his accent made me homesick.
As the motorcade continued slowly past, my neighbor shook his head, never taking his eyes off the car. “I tell you, Yank, the man’s crazy. Carrying guns around here is a way of life.” He poked his arm out, and up, first pointing at the President and then at the hundreds of windows in the office buildings that lined the street. “Anyone could sit up there in one of those windows and pot him like a corn-fed hog.”
A stranger, standing with us and apparently listening to our conversation said, “Hell, why go to the trouble when all you’d have to do is run five steps into the street and dump a stick of dynamite in his lap. You’d be gone before anyone knew what had happened.”
I just stood, watching the line of cars. He never stopped smiling, and waving, and saying, “Hi there! How are you?”
The next day, I was having lunch and listening to the radio when I heard: “We interrupt this broadcast to bring you a special announcement. Shots have been fired at the presidential motorcade in Dallas …”