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A Sad Birthday That Year

by Julie Burnett

November 22 was my mother's birthday.  

She didn't make it to her 80th birthday. She did not even make it to her 65th birthday. It's still very sad to me even though it has been a long time since she passed away.

>>Share your own memories of November 22, 1963 with us

I have many memories of her birthday parties. There's one in particular that really stands out.

I remember the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee greeting me at the door after a long bus ride home from school. The aroma of the coffee was mixed with a sugary sweet cake scent reminding me of walking through a gooey bakery.

Julie Burnett, 1963

On my mother's birthday, as was the tradition in a small towns, all of her friends met at the birthday girl's (lady's) home in the afternoon for coffee and birthday cake. Her friends gave her little trinkets as a gift to commemorate their time together. I think that they were all very supportive of each other.

This time, instead of the usual noise of all the ladies speaking at once, all the ladies' eyes were glued to the black and white TV screen. All three TV channels were broadcasting the same story. The women were eating their homemade two-layer cake on fancy china plates and drinking coffee from flowery bone china coffee cups that were sitting gingerly on their matching saucers. The beautiful cups were all different and were ranging in color from delicate purple flowers to pink columbines.

They were made in England from such companies as Royal Dover, Queen Anne, Adderly and Royal London. I know that drinking from those delicate cups made the coffee taste better.

This time, it was not a celebration, but a day of complete shock and horrible grief. It was a day where every moment could be remembered and replayed in an instant.

President John F. Kennedy had been shot.

>>Find much more about the JFK anniversary, including photos of the young president and his family, and a remembrance by CBS journalist Bob Schieffer, on our JFK home page.

Earlier in the day, I had been sitting in my 5th grade classroom when I heard the news. One of my classmates had gone home for lunch, and came back with the news. No one believed her at first, and then the teacher told us that the president had been assassinated. There was a moment of silence for the president. There was a deep sadness surrounding all of us.

The classroom was in an old brick school. Each room had 10-foot ceilings and radiator heaters. The rooms were very large with beautiful wood baseboards. The desks were large wooden desks with the chairs attached. Opening the hinged tops exposed all the crayons and pencils, books, pens, paper and pencil boxes that were uniquely each child's.

It's strange how a tragedy can heighten our awareness of our surroundings. It's as if time freezes, and we can remember everything about that day down to tiny crayons in a desk drawer.

That day is imprinted in my memory forever.


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