Like other major historical events, people may ask where were you when some major event happened. This past week, the newscaster asked if we remembered what we were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember it clearly. I was in second grade at the Alamo Elementary school in a little Texas town called Paducah. The front of the elementary school was shaped like the Alamo, I suppose to make sure we always remembered the original Alamo.
We came in from our lunch recess, but our teacher wasn’t in the room. Back in those days, all the students went to our desks and chatted until she came in (kids back then were more well behaved than now…wink wink). When Mrs. Albright came in, we could tell she’d been crying and was still teary eyed. She told us that President Kennedy had been killed in Dallas that morning. We knew who he was, but were too young to feel much attachment to him. I remember thinking that was really sad, but that was the extent of my emotion. It was what she said after that that made me gasp. She said, since Texas allowed him to be killed in our state, the rest of the country would hate us and maybe even kick us out of the United States. Yes, she really said that. The words put the fear and terror in me. One, I didn’t want to be hated, and second, I wanted to keep being an American.
Mrs. Albright went on to say that Mr. Johnson was now our new president. That’s when it got really weird.
Linda Johnson was a girl in our class who was dirt poor. As a small child, she’d been playing in a cotton gin where her father was working when she tripped and fell into a fire burning husks. She survived, but her arms and legs were covered with burn scars, She told us the rest of her looked like her limbs. We didn’t care. We didn’t pick on her and included her in all our games. The thing that set her apart was her ragged clothes. Once she said they were poor because they were still paying off her hospital bills for when she was burned.
Anyway…when Mrs. Albright announced that Mr. Johnson was our new president, the whole class turned around to look at Linda. Someone said, “Is your dad the new president?”
Her eyes got really big and she replied, “I don’t know. I’ll have to go home and ask him.”
Mrs. Alright flew into a rage. “There’s more than one Johnson in the world!” With that, she handed out pages to color that had our president and the flag on them and told us to be quiet while we colored. As I pulled out my crayons, I kept thinking how lucky Linda was for her dad to be president. They might pay off those hospital bills faster, and she could wear nicer clothes.
School was let out early that day. As all the students gathered in the auditorium to wait for the buses, everyone was asking Linda if she was going to Washington DC when her dad got to be president. She was quite the celebrity for the afternoon and was beaming. She didn’t know if she’d come back to the Alamo because she might have to move.
By the time we all returned to school, we knew her dad had missed out on being president. I felt sorry for her. She was going to stay poor. Some teased her about pretending to be important, but my classmates and I didn’t mind. We went right on including her in all our games.
I think about Linda every now and then and wonder what happened to her. I hope she found her way out of poverty. I’ll never forget her and the afternoon she was the First Daughter of the United States.