To look backward for a while is to refresh the eye, to restore it, and to render it the more fit for its prime function of looking forward.
~Margaret Fairless Barber.
Jane Cannon Mort
I remember when President Kennedy was shot.
On Nov. 22, 1963, I was 9 years old and in the fourth grade, a pupil at Notre Dame Catholic School in a small town in the Texas Hill Country called Kerrville.
There was an extensive renovation project going on that particular November and the classes were scattered all over the place. Some were being held in the original school building, while others were being held in makeshift classrooms in buildings surrounding the school.
My classroom was in the library of the convent, which was in a building adjacent to the school. It was quiet and cozy, but somewhat mysterious, and the atmosphere lent itself well to the pursuit of education. Perhaps my memory of the room is still so clear because it was where I was on the day that Americans of a certain age still recall vividly.
On that Friday afternoon, our class was abruptly interrupted by one of the cooks in the kitchen next to the library. She came into the room and asked Sister Therese, our teacher, to come into the kitchen with her.
Quickly, Sister returned to the classroom and told us all to put our heads down on our desks and pray for the President of the United States.
She didn't tell us why.
The room seemed to darken and the mystery of it all was almost too much to bear. The only sound was that of muffled voices coming from a radio that we could barely discern through the now very slightly open door to the kitchen.
I couldn't image why we were being asked to pray for President Kennedy. In fact, I was quite excited about the mention of the President, because our family had plans to travel to Galveston for the weekend, where we would see him in a parade.
Sister Therese glided - as nuns wearing long, black habits always seemed to do - straight to her desk. She grabbed her fountain pen, swiftly wrote something on a slip of paper, then folded it in half with a sharp crease. She looked at it, then reached into the desk drawer and pulled out an envelope. She slipped the note into the envelope, sealed it, then looked around the room.
Her eye caught mine before I could put my head back down and pray as I had been told to do.
I thought, "Oh no, I'm caught!"
I started to lower my head, but saw Sister hastily making her way to my desk. My heart was pounding, although I didn't really know why.
Sister bent down, handed the envelope to me and told me to run with it to the sixth grade class and give it to the teacher.
I bolted out the door, crossed the blacktop playground, messy with construction debris, scrambled up an exterior staircase to the door of a second floor room. I burst into the room and curious eyes stared as I handed what I knew was a very important note to the teacher. I stopped and watched as she opened the envelope.
I had delivered the news of the assassination of President Kennedy to the principal of the school.
I have only blurred memories of the days that followed - tears and prayers and much sadness, as well as mortification that such an event could have happened in the state in which we lived.
And my family went to Galveston that weekend, but we didn't see a parade.
The memory of delivering the news of President Kennedy's assassination came rushing back to me as we at The Sentinel recently selected the theme for the next edition of our annual Juniata Valley magazine.
In making the selection, we thought about how much interest was generated by the "War Stories" special editions we published a couple years ago, as well as the continued response we're getting from readers for the Genre page. The weekly page that showcases poetry, prose and artwork from residents of the Juniata Valley was an offshoot of the 2007 "Arts and Letters from the Juniata Valley" magazine.
Our award-winning reader participation products continue to be very popular, evidenced by the number of contributions we receive, as well as the demand for the special sections that become collectible items after publication.
With that in mind, we've selected the theme "I Remember When ..." for the 2009 edition of the Juniata Valley magazine.
We're asking readers to submit special memories, suitable for a family publication, to be considered for inclusion in the special edition. Your memories can be in the form of a simple sentence or two, a complete essay or poem. You may also submit more than one entry. We're also accepting photographs or other artwork depicting your favorite memories to help illustrate the edition.
To show our appreciation of your efforts, five people will win complete sets of "Connections to Sentinel Towns," four volumes published a few years ago featuring stories and photos about the small towns that make up the Juniata Valley.
The deadline for submission is Dec. 31. The special edition will be inserted into The Sentinel on Feb. 21, 2009.
Submit items to: Jane Cannon Mort, c/o The Sentinel, P.O. Box 588, Lewistown, PA 17044; e-mail them to: firstname.lastname@example.org (send JPGs as attachments); or post on www.lewistownsentinel.com (click on "Submit 'I Remember When'" link under the Special Sections heading on the left side of the home page).
Jane Cannon Mort is The Sentinel's special projects editor.