“Lee Harvey Oswald (1963)"
by William Snyder
© 2006 William Snyder
It was 1963 and I was in a Sears department store elevator with my grandmother. The doors slid silently open. An enormous black woman filled the doorway. Her face was soaked with tears. “They killed Kennedy!” I looked up to my grandmother and she was crying too. Scanning the towering occupants of the elevator, I could see that they were all weeping and things seemed out of control. Although I hadn’t the slightest understanding of what was happening, I was scared to death.
My memory jump cuts to the dinner table at my grandparents’ home. We were having Jell-O. Tiny chunks of pears, peaches and bananas bounced around inside the cubes. My grandfather, who had been eating in silence, suddenly slams his great lumberman’s fist on the table, “Goddamit! I knew they’d never let a Catholic run this country!” My Jell-O reverberates wildly in the glass bowl. On the wall behind my grandfather hangs a picture of JFK and another of the blonde, blue-eyed surfer version of Jesus Christ.
My memory jump cuts again. Sitting with my my legs crossed, Indian style, on the giant oval rug in front of my grandparents’ black and white television set, I watch a scene that I have already carefully observed at least a dozen times. Lee Harvey Oswald’s hands are cuffed as he rounds the corner in the underground parking structure. Dwarfed by giant gray men in cowboy hats, he wears a five o’clock shadow and looks like one if the guys who works on cars behind my apartment building. I hate him because he is the man who killed the Catholic president. A man appears from nowhere, his broad back to the camera. I know that his name is Jack Ruby. He bum-rushes Oswald as the towering cowboy policemen stand by - useless. There is the muffled sound of gunshots. Oswald’s face looks almost funny. His eyes are shut and he looks as though he is trying very hard to whistle. This incredibly chaotic, enigmatic scene is cemented into the foundations of the husband, father, and teacher I have since become.