Honest, Mrs. Cline, President Kennedy is dead

By JOSEPH TINTLE

All of us 57 years of age and older remember where we were the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. Many, like myself, were sitting in a grammar school classroom listening to the CBS announcement over the public address system. Some of us cried, a few laughed, but most remained silent. All I could think of was how I was going to tell Mrs. Cline, who was sitting in her car a block away waiting to pick me up along with her son, John, and our friend, Bill Henning.

As the school bell sounded at 2:50 p.m. I bounded from my seat, grabbed my book bag, headed for the door and dashed down the fire escape. I wanted to be the first to tell her the news.

I dashed across the playground of Our Lady of Peace School in Fords, New Jersey, weaving in and out of sobbing mothers and stunned students. As I passed the Flynn and Son funeral home, I saw Mrs. Cline’s car parked across the street. I looked both ways, crossed, and opened her front door excitedly.

“Mrs. Cline, Mrs. Cline,” I said, puffing a bit. “President Kennedy’s dead …”

“Joey Tintle,” she said in a raised voice, “you and your stories. Now you’ve gone too far.”

“It’s true, Mrs. Cline. He was shot in Dallas. The guy on the radio called it an assassination.”

Just then John and Bill arrived and sat in the back seat. They were quiet for some reason, probably because Mrs. Cline was chastising me.

I did not argue with her. In 1963 when an adult told you off, you just took it without complaint.

As her car moved down Ford Avenue, she tried to make small talk with John and Bill. They mumbled something inaudible and perhaps because they did not mention Kennedy Mrs. Cline threw me a stern glance. A half mile later we arrived at an intersection near P.S. 14. That’s when she reached to turn on the radio.

Uh-oh.

While I cannot quote the newscaster verbatim all these years later, he made  it clear that Kennedy had been assassinated. Mrs. Cline almost drove the car onto the sidewalk as she crossed through the intersection. As she gathered her wits, she lapsed into tears. It was a combination of hearing that the president had been killed, and surprisingly to offer me a heartfelt apology for losing her temper at me.

“Well, he certainly did his job,” she said, referring to the assassin who we’d eventually learn was Lee Harvey Oswald.

We drove on in silence for another three-quarters of a mile and she dropped me off at my home.

Every five years after that I used to call Mrs. Cline and we’d talk about our shared moment in history, and never once did we deviate from our recollections. And she always apologized for snapping at me that afternoon then we’d collapse in laughter.

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