The world was black and white.
That's the first thing you have to know; color existed only in your immediate field of vision and what you remembered from previous days spent at school or the ice skating pond and other confines of your tiny town, halfway up the Minnesota border to Canada.
The world didn't start for hundreds of miles past the last house out of town on each end, and the only window was television, and no one had color TV in 1963, so the world was, despite Disney's boast about The Wonderful World of Color, black and white.
And so it was in full color when I heard the principal announce "President Kennedy is dead. School is dismissed early..." the color part starts to fade here, as teachers--some sobbing in the halls--get us out to the buses and send us home.
At first, it's like an action film: gunshots, police sirens. all the high drama networks have been feeding me from the age of five. My stepbrother and I discuss possible Russian involvement as the news bulletins roll in, interrupting boring soap operas and commercials about coffee and toothpaste.
It becomes the Kennedy show. The whole family is drawn in, my mother in tears every time Jackie's face appears, my psychologist stepfather holding court on the criminal mind of Oswald.
It's Oswald who finally does me in. We're all watching the moment when, as he's being transferred to the county jail, Ruby shoots him. The pure chiaroscuro painting of Oswald's grimace (which is still burned into my brain) is the exact moment I fully believe the world is coming to an end. The grownups have failed us, I think.
Later that night, as I'm staring at the ceiling, the black and white images on rotation, my mother opens my bedroom door a crack, something she's not done since I was six years old.
"You OK, Stephen?" she says. Yes, I lie. "It's going to be fine," she lies back. And shuts the door.
Today, I looked at just one thing, a gift from the internet, something I didn't get to see that Friday over 50 years ago. It was Walter Cronkite, the battleship of TV newscasters--announcing the official notice of Kennedy's death.
Huge black horn-rimmed glasses on his face. "President Kennedy died at 1 PM CST," glasses off looks up to the newsroom like the professional he is, "2 O'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago," just the facts Ma'am, still the voice of TV God, puts glasses back on, presses his lips together huge six-second pause, .." Vice President" trembles "Lyndon Johnson has left the hospital in Dallas but we do not know(glasses off)...to where he has proceeded..presumably he will take the oath of office to become the 36th President of the United States"...glasses on.
Seeing the wisp of a crack in the granite that was Cronkite defines the moment. It was not going to be fine, not anytime soon.