They say you don’t remember much until you’re about 5 years old. I remember the day after my 5th birthday perfectly: I was in school and then suddenly we all had to leave because someone had shot the President.
I also remember that I loved Josephine more than my mother.
She was a big black lady who took care of our house, and made me feel like I was the most special kid in the world. She used to say “Ernest, one day you’ll be the President of the United States, just like Mr. Kennedy.”
Then, on a Friday morning in 1963, Josephine’s encouraging words turned sour. The future wasn’t certain anymore.
A couple of months after the assassination my parents brought me on one of my dad’s business trips. When the pilot announced we had landed in Dallas, I panicked and refused to get off of the plane.
I remember paddling in the blue hotel pool, clinging to a squeaky, brightly-colored animal float-toy. The sun on my face felt warm, and I was starting to feel good about the future again.
Then, a few months later, my parents told me they were getting divorced. I didn’t know what divorce was, just like I didn’t really know what a president was. But I understood when something really bad was happening. So I cried.
It’s funny, but I don’t remember much else from that time. Except for one other thing: I had a weird, persistent belief that Kennedy’s assassination was somehow the reason that my parents got divorced.
Here’s what I know now.
Memories are unreliable but powerful. And you can’t count on the future.
I learned that on a Friday, exactly 50 years ago from today.