I was sitting near the front of Mrs. Mastin’s freshman Biology class at Madera High. It was nearing 11 in the morning and she was talking to us about dissecting frogs sometime in the future. As the girls squirmed and moaned, “oooh” and the boys smiled and rubbed their hands together, a student came running in and handed the teacher a note. She opened it, read it and immediately went into the back room, off limits to students. We sat there whispering, and wondering what had happened.
When Mrs. Mastin reappeared she looked quite different. The bright, ever-encouraging smile had disappeared from her face — replaced by a pale, tear-stained sadness. She cleared her throat and slowly uttered, “students, the President of the United States has been shot. You are all excused to go home.”
Some, including myself, just sat there for a few minutes pondering what Mrs. Mastin had said. What it meant. A few others hurriedly scrambled out the door of the classroom. Others quietly picked up their books and left without talking to each other.
Heading home I thought of that first summer I had started working for my father at his crop dusting business. One night while my stepmom, Gail, was cooking dinner he called me into the front room. “I want you to see this son.” It was a replay of the inaugural address by Alabama governor George Wallace. I had sat down and listened to the fiery, hate-filled rhetoric and Wallace’s thundering words, “and I say, segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” ...