November 22nd: Recalling 50 & 34 Years Ago

November 22nd is a day of major note.  All day this year, more so than in others, the significance and memories were on my mind.  Perhaps it being 50 years since the JFK assassination, that being a milestone of note, is the reason.  As the day wore on it became more top of mind and as evening came close to the clock turning to November 23rd, I posted on Facebook what follows below. As sometimes occurs,after posting to Facebook I realize that it really should be a blog post.  Or be expanded and then a blog post.

So, what follows with just a few small edits, corrections and additions, is what I posted.

Not only do I vividly recall the events of 50 years ago today, but also of 34 years ago, as well. That was thanksgiving Day, and I was in a near-death car wreck. An 80+ year old doctor, a Holocaust survivor in a Buick, T-boned my Mercury Bobcat, which rolled over 4 times and ended up facing the opposite direction we had been headed, with the windshield crushed and some if it embedded in my forehead.

Obviously I lived.  It was a tough year or so that followed the accident, but then a few years later the Holocaust survivor's insurance company decided to settle the case and spare us anymore time in court. Sometime after the wreck, perhaps two or three months later, I called the car dealer from whom my client had leased that Mercury, to get some insurance information. When I identified myself he reacted with anger, telling me that he knew the car, he knew who Dean Landsman had been and that this was not funny, that no-one had survived that wreck. The car, he said, was crumpled, and I better tell him who I really was and why was I calling.  I managed to convince him that it really was me, I was indeed alive.  He hung up and called back a half hour later, having verified my identity and phone number from the client.

This evening I spoke with an old buddy, a schoolmate from 1962 to 1969, about Nov 22nd, 1963.  He and I were walking from art class to the main school building when we heard the news.  At the entryway to the main building, sitting somewhat slumped on the steps with a small group of silent students around him, was Mr. Whitlock, the Social Studies teacher, holding a transistor radio.  We joined that group, heard news of the shooting and then that the President had been pronounced dead.  On the school bus ride home, rather than the usual rambunctious affair full of loud kids, music and frivolity, it was a quiet and somber trip. Then there was the weekend in front of the television: seeing Jack Ruby gun down Oswald, Johnson in his first moments and then days as President, and the funeral procession in Washington, D.C., John-John's salute to his father's coffin was broadcast in black and white, and remains a memorable moment.

In 1979 on the day of the wreck I was sent by ambulance to an ER in a Brooklyn hospital, then sent home with 50+ stitches in my head and not doing too well.  The next morning, as I was going downhill rapidly I called my doctor who heard me out and told me to immediately get myself to the hospital where he had privileges, to go to the ER there and have them call him.  By the time I got there I was spiraling downhill.  A Neurologist in the ER examined and had me admitted right away.  I spent the next few days in that hospital, unable to speak or to feel anything on my right side.  I had a brain bruise, they explained, and it would be alright, but the recovery would be slow. I did have some salient, lucid thoughts during that period, which I followed up on in the months afterward as I went through the recovery process.  There was a girlfriend I subsequently broke up with, who dropped me off at the hospital and then went shopping to take advantage of sales that day, before the day was commonly known as Black Friday.  There were other relationships over which I gained clarity during the very frightening moments that took place in the days immediately following the car wreck. There's nothing quite like a life-threatening event to offer clarity into the people and relationships in one's life.

The country took months, perhaps years, to react and respond to the Kennedy assassination.  The US went from having a charming and charismatic young leader to a crochety old pol at the helm.  The press treated LBJ much differently than JFK.  To this day there are conspiracy theorists and many who feel the truth of that day will never be known.  It was, for many of us alive that day, a defining moment, one of the most remembered and impactful days of our lives.  Even to this day, 50 years hence, recall and discussion are high.  There are those, and I count myself among them, who wonder if the '60's as we recall them would have been anywhere near the same had Kennedy not been shot.

34 years since that car wreck it is much less of a major issue, although there is a scar that I can see, of which most others take no note, or even see at all.  It is in some ways a footnote in my life, in others ways it turned out to be quite the defining moment.

Today is also the birthday of my college girlfriend.  She will share this day with the Kennedy assassination for the rest of her life.  This is similar to friends of mine who have the dubious distinction of sharing a wedding anniversary with the events of September 11th.

November 22nd.  It is a day of reflection and memory for many of us, and a catalyst for thinking of many other associated events and times of our lives.