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Linda Hudkins: My "memory of having been there while a nation's grief had yet to abate"

Linda Hudkins is a retired journalist who wrote for decades, and she recalls as a young woman how she reacted to the death of President John F. Kennedy.

The nuns who taught us were tough ladies, formidable, strict, unflinching stern.

So when one of them stepped through the door of our algebra class, her face and posture told us she was about to shatter our lives.

Swooning, clinging to the door frame, and barely able to speak, she said that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was dead.

Silence enveloped us at that moment and didn't let go for days.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Kennedy was one of us. We shared every rite, ritual and sacrament of the Roman Catholic Church. He was a hero of World War II, just like all of our dads, uncles and neighbors.

He was a husband, dad, son, brother. We had gotten to know and appreciate every member of his family.

He was Irish, just like all the Irish folks in our neighborhoods who sat beside us in Church.

We loved everything about this man.

And in the wink of an eye, he was gone.

The 1964 visit was special

I was a teenager, and, like all teens of the time, earned bits of money here and there. It was important to spend it wisely, so after 10 percent for the Sunday plate, a dime a week went to a rag tag girls club. The woman who steered us used our dimes--and probably more of her own--to take us to Washington, DC, where we saw Kennedy's original resting place. We were among the first of 16 million mourners to visit the grave in the three years before it was moved to a permanent spot.

When we visited, it was surrounded by a low white picket fence and lighted by a propane- fueled eternal flame that had been lit by the president's widow Jackie.

The memory of having been there while a nation's grief had yet to abate, still feels like a holy day in my life. I still like to look at the black and white photo I snapped with my Kodak Brownie camera that day.

The aftermath

Throughout the next few years, my dimes and dollars were spent on books about Kennedy, from his valiant deeds when his PT 109 was shattered by a Japanese destroyer, to the Warren Commission Report that detailed his death.

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