I perched on a stool at a curved wooden bar in a dark New York City tavern. My long-legged boss, Patricia “Pat” Chapman and I were running late, so we ordered beers and sandwiches. Our beers slid into place.
A blaring TV hanging above us featured “As the World Turns.” Pat and I groaned at the low-class fare, then laughed.
Our sandwiches came. We munched down.
Above us, Thanksgiving provided a crisis for the TV soap. “Nancy” tried to bring “Grandpa” up to date when a CBS News Bulletin broke through. Walter Cronkite’s voice said, “Three shots fired at President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas.” My head snapped up. “Seriously wounded.” I struggled to believe this.
Pat stood and fumbled with her purse. “Come on,” she said.
Cronkite’s voice continued: “Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She called, ‘Oh, no.’ The motorcade sped on.” I wanted to howl in protest, but I had no time. Pat slapped cash down. “Let’s move it!” Our lunch stayed on the counter.
We ran and jogged back to the office, Home Furnishings Daily (HFD), our handbags slapping our thighs. By the time we arrived,“seriously wounded” has changed to “dead.” I felt glazed.
At HFD, sister paper to the famous Women’s Wear Daily, I worked as a market reporter. Our trade paper appealed to buyers and makers of home furnishing products.
Gender lines divided the paper. Men wrote the page-one stories that dealt with important products that women couldn’t understand. Washing machines, for instance. Pat and I wrote inside stories for less significant items like wall decor and bone china.
At her office desk, Pat divvied up the work. We turned to our phones. I called manufacturers and importers of dinnerware, asking each the same thing: “How will the president’s death affect your business?” I found the question difficult to ask but jotting down answers proved even harder.
Our routine reporting seemed distasteful. Kennedy, to me, had been larger than life, so asking how his death might affect business seemed crass and disrespectful. My body didn’t stiffen, but inside, something congealed.
That night, my husband, Tom Henshaw, a feature writer for Associated Press, called from the office. “We’re putting together a book about Kennedy, all stops pulled. We want to be the first out with a hardcover book, but we need copy editors. Can you come down?”
So I put my feelings on hold and worked around the clock with the AP guys to produce The Torch is Passed. Heady with our achievement, whatever I might have felt about Kennedy’s assassination disappeared.
Until now. Until I saw, on YouTube, in black-and-white the familiar face of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite detailing Kennedy’s death. Then, I broke down. I sobbed, moaned, and keened for the young president that I had loved and lost to an assassin’s bullet. For the smashing of his Camelot. For weeks and months that could have been.