November 22, 1963: I was all of 17, a senior in high school, and my assignment was Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Then the school’s PA system sprang to life. Shots had been fired at the presidential motorcade in Dallas.
At that point, the lesson was over. There was no point in delving deeper into Gray’s Elegy. When the next announcement came, that the president had died, all classes were dismissed till further notice.
Now, according to my mother, the sun rose and set on JFK. When I arrived home, I saw my parents’ VW parked outside the house. That meant my mother was at home and she knew. She knew. Who could say what state of mind she was in?
I found her in the depths of her own private Irish wake. Although we lived in Washington, she refused to go downtown for any of the ceremonies. She did not want to remember him as being dead. Instead, she kept watch over the TV, keening softly. But her sorrow was a veneer over the depths of rage at the one who had done this.
Her only bright moment of that long weekend came when she heard Oswald had been shot and killed. “I hope he suffered,” was all she had to say. It was not her sorrow, but her rage that became the inspiration for poor mad Katie.
Mary M. Schmidt has a BA in English from Notre Dame of Maryland and studied in Rome during the ‘60s. There she became aware of the many colonies of feral cats and the cat ladies who tend them. She is the author of Persephone’s Song, Cat Lady, Our Frail Disordered Lives, and Ask Not.
She lives near Annapolis with her rescue cat Gemma.