JFK Assassination Day at U of N Reno
The President's been shot and killed, shrieked the voice from the loudspeakers ranged around the patio outside the University of Nevada, Reno, where I was a student on November 22, 1963.
I had just finished lunch that Friday and headed across the Student Union patio for a friend's dorm room when the voice sounded. I froze, staring up at the huge stadium-type speaker mounted atop a power pole. The sight of that speaker burned into my memory.
The voice continued: the University is closed for the weekend. All classes are cancelled. All students should go home.
My home was back in the Pacific Northwest. I'd only been in Reno for a couple months, staying with my dad while my brothers and I attended college. Back then it was free for the children of state residents.
But by then I was living at an English lady's mansion
in Reno. The university employment center had recruited me to work as her pantry maid. After a couple of weeks of serving the lady and her guests elegant meals in the home's gargantuan dining room she invited me to move in so I could be of more service to her.
I remember so well the first time I climbed that narrow steep stairway that led to the servants' quarters. My first glimpse of the hallway at the top was unreal. I looked upon a slim passageway running the length of the manor house, absent any decoration, studded with about a dozen doors, each one closed.
The sweet Scottish cook led the way to a nondescript door
revealing a narrow single bed, small dresser and bedside table with lamp next to a hard wood chair. The single window dimly lit the closet sized room, showing a tiny handmade rag rug next to the bed. Thanking the cook I unpacked my suitcase and hung a few things in the closet, and returned downstairs to work.
The 72 year old cook shared her story of love lost with me, fed me well, encouraged me in my studies and insisted that I bring college friends over to tea in the kitchen.
Evidently the cook's welcome didn't embrace
an intruder in her realm. She had the whole third floor to herself, since the other servants had moved out, after the Count and Countess and all the children had moved on to college and San Francisco.
So I was moved to an expansive family bedroom
on the second floor, a room as large as my current home. It had a marble fireplace, marble fixtures in the bathroom, and double French doors that opened onto the balcony over the front portico. It was a grand room with all the accouterments of a first class establishment. I lived in that great room on the day JFK was assassinated.
My duties also extended to driving
the Cadillac for grocery shopping and applying drops to Her eyes each evening, and various tasks around the home. She had tastes that seemed odd and tasteless to me, but her accountant called in the specialty orders to her favorite grocery and I picked them up.
It's much odder that my favorite memories of the foods I ate in the kitchen (the same foods we served Her) were the nearly tasteless big round water crackers that I'd never before tasted. For years after that, whenever I felt a tug of the heart for those days I would settle down with some water crackers and a cup of tea, with a book.
The house and occupants provided
an immense cocoon of security for me, since I was a thousand miles away from my home, and I wasn't at all sure what my college focus would be. It represented the world of ideas, foreign places, practices and people, and great books that I dusted in the grand bookcases of the library and the entire broad expanse of the second floor hallway which was lined with bookshelves.
Although my dad was a professional he was seldom around my childhood home and our family's focus was on day-to-day needs, with little focus on meaty intellectual issues - that was reserved for school, if it happened there. But at the lady's table side I overheard conversations about politics and books and civic affairs.
M'Lady entertained at least weekly, and most other times her young accountant, who doubled as a chauffeur, joined her at table. I found their accents intriguing and wished I could sit right down with them and get my schooling there.
M'Lady called me to her library soon after
I arrived on that Friday afternoon in November 1963. The television blared and her accountant sat seriously at his huge desk. She handed me the keys to the Caddy, directing me to spend the next three days with my Dad's family in Carson City. Doing as I was told felt strange, as it meant the chauffeur would have to get the limousine out of the garage to make tea runs for the Lady, and they entrusted me with their car.
Never has a 35 mile drive felt so surreal
but everyone was in shock, to some degree. Everyone, from the gas station attendant to the shopkeepers and my family felt like we were walking around in some sci fi movie.
If you experienced something similar on that day, or if you study the JFK shooting, or want to, it's an exciting time. National Geographic has released reports - hundreds of hours - of recordings from the day, from the events that followed. Includes news coverages from the media, augmented by amateur movies and interviews.