Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November 22, 1963, A City Boy's Reaction

St. Stephen's Steeple @ Thomas R. Pryor 2011
After lunch on Friday, November 22, 1963, St. Stephen of Hungary's student body assembled in the auditorium for our once in a blue moon movie. That day our feature was, "The Yearling." A kid adopts a baby deer and his father played by Gregory Peck gives him the business. I was happy and not happy. Happy, because the film started off pretty good. I was not happy because Dad had just shot a rabbit (his first, and last) and seeing the doe made me think this might not turn out so good for the deer. The running commentary I normally did at school movie events to entertain my company was tempered by my concern for Bambi.

Half way into the film, an upset solemn voice came out of the loudspeaker nailed to the wall near the opening where the projectionist (probably Mr. Varga, the school custodian) was running the film to the screen on the stage.
St. Stephen's 4th grade - Sept 63 to June 64

"Our President has been shot. Go back to your classrooms, pick up your coats and school bags, you are immediately dismissed."

6 to 13 year olds with their 8 teachers went up the stairs to get their stuff, and that was that. No call to the parents, no holding the younger kids until someone picked them up. 300 kids staggered out of the doors into the street like they just left an after hours club at six in the morning.

I was 9, in 4th grade. My brother, Rory was 7, in 2nd grade. Reluctantly, I located him and dragged him down the block by his cardboard school bag attached to one of his hands trying to go in the other direction. We headed home in a small pack with some of our classmates. Everyone was quiet but occasionally a voice would pipe up.

"Who did it?"
""I don't know, who do you think did it?"
"I don't know."
A wise guy 6th grader, Johnny Curtin, stuck his head into our group with his finger up to his lip and said mysteriously, "The Russians did it."

Home on 83rd Street, Mom was crying on the couch watching Walter Cronkite and an American Flag that kept popping up on the screen. I went over to kiss Mom and smelled her favorite drink "a highball." This was not a normal day.

Rory and I sat around doing nothing until Dad came in. Though his mood fit, he was no where near as upset as Mom and seemed a little annoyed at Mom when she started crying again. I thought he was going to say something to her but he didn't, only using body language that delivered a million words.

I don't remember the next day, Saturday, but I do remember Sunday, November 24, 1963.

Billy Majorrosey and I were playing catch with a football around noon in the street near East End Avenue. Suddenly, windows flew open like it was summer and Mantle had just hit a grand slam. Voices screamed.

"They killed the son of a bitch!"
"They shot Oswald!"
My first and only reaction, "Good. Glad he's dead."

Upsetting my mother to no end, Dad took me to the old Madison Garden that night to see the New York Rangers skate to a 3-3 tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs. After the game, hailing a cab north on Eighth Avenue, we bought a one star late edition Daily Mirror, with a photo of Oswald getting shot on the front and back page, with a four inch headline. Again, I had one reaction, "Good."

That night, on my way to sleep I heard my parents bickering about us going to the game but then it stopped. Mom was exhausted from crying and she didn't have her usual vinegar to go at Dad.

Half way through the night, I woke up when I heard a giant crash outside in the hallway and the sound of loud footsteps coming up the stairs from the third to our fourth floor. When the noise reached our door, there was a moment of silence, then it sounded like the air was being sucked out of the hall and dragging the air in our apartment with it. I fought to breath, the door swung open and in came a giant, a giant in a white T-shirt and grey pants, and when he lifted his head near the night light plugged into the wall I saw it was Lee Harvey Oswald. He lurched towards me in the top bunk and said, "You wished me dead!" He tried to grab me, and I hit my head against the bedroom wall as I woke from the nightmare. Scared out of my mind, I didn't bother rubbing my throbbing head. Going forward, I revised what I wish for.

Below are the front and back covers of the New York Daily News on the day following the assassination. I also included the ads for the films playing up 86th Street at Loews and the RKO. George Clark’s “The Neighborhoods,” was a featured cartoon in the paper. Shortly thereafter George Clark was drinking in Loftus Tavern on York Avenue and 85th Street, my parents, Rory and I were in there too on a Sunday afternoon. Clark asked my father could he draw Rory, then he drew Mom, here are those two sketches. I also threw in an article on the New York Giants.

Rory Pryor @ George Clark

Patricia Pryor @ George Clark

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