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Ann Cannon: That Day in November

Published November 20, 2013 9:12 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

My family always jokes that I track my life by what I was eating at the time. And it's true, actually.

For example, I ate fried shrimp the first time my husband and I went out to dinner together.

I was eating homemade chicken salad at Lindsey Gardens with my girlfriend Sally (we were watching her boy Danny play baseball) when I went into labor with my second son.

I helped myself to several (!) slices of bread loaf with marzipan filling the Christmas morning I learned I was going to be a grandmother for the first time.

I nibbled on a sandwich from Kneaders in the waiting room of the hospital while my dad was upstairs having open heart surgery last year.

See what I mean? If there's food around when something memorable happens to me, you can bet good money that I'll remember the food involved, too.

This morning my husband and I were talking about the day JFK was shot and where we were when we heard the news. A lot of us will be doing that both privately and publicly this week as the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination approaches (check out Robert Kirby's excellent column, for example, at http://bit.ly/1aN7rfE).

My husband was home sick, watching "As the World Turns" with his mother, who was ironing. I was a second-grader in the lunchroom at Edgemont Elementary, eating chili and breadsticks. In those days our teachers sat at the ends of the tables so they could make sure we ate enough of our lunches before going outside to play. Mr. Adams and Mr. Keith were the teachers at my table, but instead of urging us to finish off our breadsticks, they were talking in hushed tones about the president. Who'd just been shot.

And I went what?

Even though I was only 7 years old, I was as shocked as if those two teachers had suddenly picked up a pair of sledgehammers and smashed all the lunchroom windows, spraying the cafeteria with bright shards of glass.

My husband and I vividly remember that day, as do so many others. Everywhere across the country ordinary people were doing ordinary things when the news out of Dallas broke. Americans were standing in a checkout line at a grocery store, sweeping a front porch, peeling potatoes, playing kissing tag at recess, driving across town for a doctor's appointment, mailing a letter, walking a dog, practicing their cursive letters, planting daffodil bulbs in an autumn garden, making a business call, cleaning out a closet, eating a bowl of chili in a grade school cafeteria while kicking the boy who sat across from her underneath the table.

Life is mostly like that—full of gestures and actions and routines that are unremarkable in and of themselves. Then something happens for better or for worse that causes our world to shift on its axis, and for the rest of our lives we remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when everything changed.

Fifty years ago this week, Americans were busy doing ordinary things, the memories of which have become frozen in time like an insect caught suddenly and forever in amber — extraordinary mementos of that day in November when something in our national psyche shattered.