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Written by Texas Highways

In response to November’s feature on JFK, TH reader Amy Cunningham shares her memories of November 22, 1963. 

By Amy Cunningham

President John F. and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy exit Air Force One at Love Field in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. (Photos: Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. Public domain) I was born and raised in Dallas. My grandfather’s people came to Texas in a covered wagon to farm land just east of Dallas.  I’ve always felt the grounding of those roots, though my life took me to New Orleans for most of my adulthood.  

In November 1963 I was just starting high school.  Because Dallas school kids had permission to leave school to go downtown to watch the President's parade, my best friend and I took the city bus and stood on the curb of Elm Street – just 2 blocks from the Texas School Book Depository.  Like many others, I remember it was one of those gloriously clear and sunny Texas winter days.  The crowd filled the sidewalks and there was a general feeling of excitement and anticipation. Dallas at that time (like now) was a very politically conservative place – but the times were more civil and although there was political distrust of Kennedy, I saw nothing of that in the crowd there to see him.

I’ve tried many times to describe to my family and friends why it is so much a part of me.  Maybe it was my age, maybe it was because I was there, maybe because it happened in my hometown, probably it was all those things and more.

In those days no one went “downtown” without dressing up a bit, and the people watching for the motorcade were in suits and dresses.  We heard the police motorcycles approaching, and found that we were on the side of the street nearest to President Kennedy.  When his car passed he was turned toward the other side of the street, so I only saw him from the back.  But Jackie was facing us and I saw that bright pink suit, and her wide smile.  It was over so quickly, but I have an indelible picture in my memory.

View from President Kennedy's motorcade through DallasMy father worked for the First National Bank in Dallas, just a block away. It was our plan to meet him there after the parade and he would take us home.  My mother was at the Trade Mart – part of the audience waiting to hear the President’s speech.  We spent a few minutes talking about how special this all was, and had just turned to walk to my father’s office when what sounded like every siren in the city beginning to wail.  There an immediate feeling that something terrible had happened. The word flew up the few blocks from the grassy knoll.  The President had been shot – but no one knew anything else.  I remember people standing in stunned silence, people holding on to strangers, and people already beginning to cry. 

By the time we reached my father’s office, the radio report was that Kennedy had been taken to Parkland Hospital.  And then – that he had died.  Of course we all know now that the shots were not survivable – but there was a bit of time for hope then – and then there was none.

 In addition to the grief was the disbelief that this had happened in “my” city, my home. There was a feeling that what was safe and known was spinning out of control within our sight.

Frightened onlookers lay on the grass in reaction to shots fired as cameramen record their actions at Dealey Plaza in Dallas.No one knew what to do.  My memories of that first night are chaotic.  My aunt and uncle were florists, so I went there for a while to help them with the deluge of orders that began to come in.  By evening the grassy knoll and Dealey Plaza was covered with flowers.  The same places where as a child I would play after meeting my father downtown for lunch.  The churches of the city stayed open all night, and I remember how strange that looked to see the stained glass windows lit so far into the night.  I also remember my family going to our church together – just to sit with friends and to pray.  In addition to the grief was the disbelief that this had happened in “my” city, my home. To make it worse, I lived in Oak Cliff, and learned soon enough that Oswald had been living just a few blocks from my church, and was captured in the Texas Theater – one of my neighborhood places.  And then there was Ruby.  There was a feeling that what was safe and known was spinning out of control within our sight.

My memory of the next days will forever have the sound of horseshoes on cobblestones, the slow beat of drums, and of taps and rifle salutes.  Although it’s common now, in times of disaster, for there to be continual TV coverage, it was new to me then.  The funeral, the woman who I had seen to be so lovely in her pink suit in the Texas sunshine now veiled in black, the children not understanding what was happening, the famous people walking across the Potomac bridge, the riderless horse with boots in the stirrups, lighting of the flame, and the rocking chairs being carried out of the White House.  All in black and white pictures – which still seems appropriate.

There was such a sense of sorrow that this thing that was so palpably terrible had happened in Dallas – but joined by a deep need to defend the city I was still so rooted to.  I remember that when we traveled to other places – before 1963 – the usual silly question asked by strangers had to do with whether everyone in Texas/Dallas owned a horse.  After 1963 those remarks were much more sinister and hurtful. 

I remember that when we traveled to other places – before 1963 – the usual silly question asked by strangers had to do with whether everyone in Texas/Dallas owned a horse.  After 1963 those remarks were much more sinister and hurtful.

I went on a youth choir trip to Washington DC in the summer of 1964.  We visited Arlington Cemetery, where the eternal flame I had seen lit in black and white still burned, surrounded by faded caps from the service men who had carried the casket and a white picket fence.  It was hard – but important – to tell people we had come there from Dallas.  It felt necessary to be there.  I still feel that when I visit the Kennedy grave site – like I owe that tribute.

President Kennedy's casket is loaded on to Air Force One at Love Field in Dalla on Nov. 22, 1963.

For all the years after, November 22 has been a day I am aware of – no matter where I am or what I am doing.  Like Pearl Harbor Day for my parents, like September 11 for all of us.  When there are film clips on the newscasts I live those days again.  I took my girls to downtown Dallas during one of our visits “home”, unaware that was a filming day for one of the assassination movies.  That day they were filming the motorcade scenes.  I saw the “period” motorcycles, and the black open limos go by, with another woman in a bright pink suit in the back seat.  Then there was rifle fire and the cars sped away.  I was immediately 15 again, with tears streaming down my face.  I’ve tried many times to describe to my family and friends why it is so much a part of me.  Maybe it was my age, maybe it was because I was there, maybe because it happened in my hometown, probably it was all those things and more.

History has shown us many of John Kennedy’s faults – but I remember such a feeling of promise that the country could be made a better place, that service to our country could be something my generation could do too. 

The election of John Kennedy  was the first that I paid any attention to.  My parents were survivors of the Great Depression and WWII, and FDR Democrats to the bone.  They were conflicted, though, about voting for Kennedy because of his religion.  But they did and I remember watching the inauguration avidly.  There was such an vivid change in the image of the presidency.  Youth, culture, glamor, laughing children, poets, gifted oratory.  History has shown us many of John Kennedy’s faults – but I remember such a feeling of promise that the country could be made a better place, that service to our country could be something my generation could do too.  Hope for a future we could make a good one – and inspiration to do so.  So his death, in such a sudden and cruel way, was a loss of all that innocence and invincibility.

LBJ actually accomplished many of the things that were part of Kennedy’s shared vision of change.  But he was such a personal contrast – and there was the fact that he was so decidedly Texan.  Next there was Vietnam, and Watergate, and so much more – paralleled by a loss of trust in the governance of our country. 

I was asked to do an oral history for the 6th Floor Museum a few years ago.  For over an hour I talked to an interviewer and a camera, sitting by a window in that infamous building, overlooking that grassy knoll.  I could not talk that day without tears.  I am a grown woman, with a family and a career that I love, and I still cherish those deep Texas roots.  But all these years later, those memories can overwhelm me in an instant, and I am standing on that downtown Dallas curb again.

Amy Cunningham, MS, RD, LDN

No. 37Every Texan should experience the primordial mystery of Caddo Lake State Park. With its ghostly, century-old cypress trees draped with gray-green Spanish moss, cozy cabins built in the 1930s, and a history that encompasses pearl hunting and steamboating, a Caddo getaway works efficiently to re-set your perspective. Stay at the park, or find lodging and dining in the nearby towns of Uncertain, Marshall, and Jefferson.

The same natural beauty and fertility that first attracted Native Americans and some of Texas’ earliest settlers to the pine forests on the Colorado River still make Bastrop a welcoming escape today. Bastrop capitalizes on its rich heritage with historic neighborhoods and a downtown full of restored buildings that house charming shops and cafés.

Countdown-40

Those who take time to explore the “Hub City” will find a notable wine scene, thanks to the High Plains’ bounty of vineyards, an influential music scene, and a fascinating selection of museums. Few cities honor their heritage as enjoyably as Lubbock, home to museums focused on Buddy Holly, windmills, agriculture, and—a favorite top destination nominee for a number of TH readers—the National Ranching Heritage Center.

The Texas Highways Readers' Choice Top 40 Travel Destinations

Last fall, we asked Texas Highways readers to share their favorite places in the state for our Texas Top-40 Travel Destinations. And share you did—by phone, email, Facebook, and through many amazingly detailed letters. Thousands of TH readers helped to shape the final list, which we will divulge throughout 2014, Texas Highways’ 40th-anniversary year.

 

In the past decade, the citizens of San Marcos have built and currently maintain more than 17 miles of trails throughout the city. Here are a few images that did make it into our print edition.

In a springtime issue of Garden & Gun magazine, I spied a recipe for a cocktail that seemed simultaneously delicious and peculiar. Created at an Alabama gastropub and dubbed the Talluluh, the drink is a sweet-and-salty mix of bourbon, Coca-Cola, and peanut orgeat. Orgeat, a concoction usually made with almonds, is a star ingredient in drinks like the mai tai, where it lends a smooth richness. Here, the orgeat is made with peanuts, and it contributes a salty and slight creaminess to a cocktail meant to conjure memories of dropping a handful of roasted peanuts into an ice-cold Coke on a summer day.

{jcomments off}Texas Highways honors the legacy of our 35th president, and we invite you to use the form below to share your memories of John F. Kennedy.

 

 

2013

December

Hill Country

From Nov. 22-Jan. 1, the Marble Falls Walkway of Lights transforms the shoreline of Lake Marble Falls into a trail of twinkling sculptures, trees, and winter scenes. From US 281 in Marble Falls, turn west onto Second Street, then south onto Main Street. Follow the road to Lakeside Park. To obtain the view across Lake Marble Falls, from US 281, turn west onto FM 2147.

(Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

See our list of holiday light trails.

 

November

Hill Country

To reach Pedernales Falls State Park from US 290, take FM 2766 east (from Johnson City) or FM 3232 north (if coming from Austin), to Park Road 6026. Travel about three miles on Park Road 6026 to the park. Enter and stop at park headquarters for an entrance permit. Go to the swimming area and take the trail toward the river. At the bottom of the stairs, turn left.

(Photo © Mark Everett Weaver)

 

October

Big Bend Country

From the inter-section of Farm-to-Market Road 170 and Texas 118, travelers can either head southeast into Big Bend National Park or turn west for a different adventure. A short jaunt along FM 170
and a turn onto Ghost Town Road leads to the Terlingua Cemetery, which hosts a Day of the Dead celebration on November 2.
The Terlingua chili cook-off championships are the same weekend this year.

(Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

 

September

Gulf Coast

From Park Road 22 at Padre Island National Seashore, take Bird Island Basin Road to the Laguna Madre side of the island, where this directional sign stands outside Worldwinds Windsurfing. The sign notes the hometowns of people who have come to windsurf at this location, considered one of the best sites in the continental U.S. Expect park entrance and basin day-use fees.

(Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

Want to see more? Check out the National Park Service website on Padre Island National Seashore.

 

Almost-Like-Mom's Creamy Pralines

A recipe that helps writer Melissa Gaskill bring back memories from her childhood in San Saba.

© Hogaboom Road Inc.
On the southern edge of Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico, there’s a town that defies the typical “Texas” stereotypes. And while South Padre Island may have a reputation as a party town, in truth it’s a laid-back island paradise, a place where you can escape the world—without ever leaving the Lone Star State.

In the August 2013 issue of Texas Highways, writer Margaret Shakespeare explores Fort Worth’s culinary scene, which as evolved in recent years—like the dining scene in other major cities—to focus more on locally sourced ingredients and global influences. Fort Worth, once (and still!) a great place to find high-quality steaks—now offers diners a range of dining options.

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