In 13 days, it will have been 19 years, which isn't exactly yesterday. But like so many of you, I remember, in forever-frozen detail.
I was in a biology lab, sophomore year of college, the day we cut open frogs to analyze their digestive systems. Three hours of that can make you a little stir-crazy. So I wasn't humming on eight cylinders when the lab ended and my pal Jordan, arriving for the next lab, marched up to me.
"They say he's dead," said Jordan.
"What are you talking about? Who?"
"Yes, President Kennedy. Haven't you heard?"
"Heard what? No. I've been cutting up frogs all day."
"Shot in Dallas. Some guy fired at a motorcade. Got the governor of Texas, too."
By the time I sprinted to the nearest television, joining the mob already in front of it, Jordan had turned out to be right. JFK was gone, Lyndon Johnson was being sworn in and Lee Harvey Oswald was being arrested. Since that cold afternoon in Chicago, it has often seemed that nothing in my life -- or the country's -- was the same again.
Including the way Americans try to find a common thread. Maybe a few people still ask what your sign is, and nod knowingly when you reply, "Gemini." But the gap is bridged more meaningfully, I think, with the question: "Where were you and what were you doing on the day the president was assassinated?" The answer ties us together. It rekindles the memory of a day when we felt both loss and pride, both fear and hope.
I have always felt I missed some of the wallop of that day, because of frogs. So I have been repaying myself by collecting "Where were you . . . " stories for the last 19 years. There are some dillies.
A college classmate was sitting in his dorm room, studying. He decided to turn on the radio for some company. The instant he turned it on, the announcer said: "We interrupt this program for a bulletin from Dallas . . . . "
A friend was riding the subway in New York. He remembers the conductor walking from car to car, chanting, "The president's been shot! The president's been shot!," like a New England town crier.
A Post colleague remembers that he was shopping at the Hecht Company's main store on F Street. He describes how word of the shooting spread through the store like "the wind across a lake."
A friend was making a business trip to Dallas. He landed at Love Field about five minutes after the shooting. He stopped to call his wife in Bethesda. Midway through the discussion, a Secret Service agent grabbed the phone away from him and shoved him aside, shouting "National security emergency!"
Another friend was in a hospital emergency room, about to undergo an appendectomy. A nurse said, "Hey, in case you haven't heard . . . . " Then the anesthesia took hold. It wasn't until that evening that my friend heard the whole story.
Where were you, and what were you doing when the news broke on Nov. 22, 1963?
I'd like to publish some of your tales on Nov. 22, 1982, as a tribute to a man I thought was a great president, and as a way of reaffirming for the 19th time that we can draw strength from recalling such a shocking, wrenching day.
Please jot down your recollections of that oh-so-recollectable afternoon and mail them to me at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW., Washington, D.C., 20071.
"I had two Norwegian college students visiting me," writes Margery Windes of Silver Spring, "so I took them into Washington on the subway to see all the Smithsonian museums on the Mall.
"As we were about to return home, I was standing at the entrance of the subway on the Mall when two women got off the escalator and approached me.
"One, with a heavy Texas twang, said to me, 'Can you please tell me where I can buy a pair of shoes?'
" 'A pair of shoes?' I asked, in disbelief.
" 'Well, yes,' she said. 'Isn't this a mall?' "