The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 17, No. 3

November 22, 1963 (from Ewing Family Memories: An Oral History)

by Ben Fountain

I was fourteen at the time, enrolled at the military academy down in San Marcos. Momma was pretty much at her wit’s end, poor woman, and military school was a last resort, her way of trying to get me to live up to my potential. Everyone said I was a smart kid. I aced every IQ test they ever gave me, but it was the day-to-day stuff I couldn’t handle. Behaving in class, keeping my mouth shut, doing my assignments. Teachers were always saying, Look, Cliff, you could be the top student in this school if you’d just put your mind to it. They said discipline was what I needed, a dose of hardcore discipline, so Momma scraped up the money and shipped me off.
     Thing was, that wasn’t any better. Kept right on running my mouth and cutting up, but at military school, man, that had consequences. Serious consequences, which in my case meant beaucoup demerits I had to march off. I must’ve marched three hundred miles on the parade ground that fall, with forty pounds of river rocks in my pack and a six-pound dummy rifle on my shoulder, around and around and around, going nowhere fast. So I’m out there marching, it’s about three in the afternoon, and Smith Crutcher comes running out and hollers, Hey Barnes, did you hear? Hear what, I said. I’ve been out here since lunch, I haven’t heard a damn thing. They shot the president, he said, in Dallas. They’re saying it was a machine gun. They got LBJ and Connally, too. We might be going to war with Russia.
     Well, I felt pretty bad. I thought Kennedy was a helluva good guy, a great role model for any kid, and especially one like me who, you know, lacked a father figure in his life. I lost my father at a very young age, as you might be aware. Tragic circumstances and all. A pretty sad business. So Kennedy getting shot felt sort of like that, brought up all kinds of memories and unresolved feelings, but I knew better than to stop marching. Listen, Russian paratroops could have started dropping out of the sky, MiGs strafing the parade ground and everything else, but that was nothing compared to the scorching I’d get if I stopped. I had to wait till Commandant Swindell came out and dismissed me, and there wasn’t any sign of him. So I kept marching.

Miss Ellie
Jock and I were at the Trade Mart that day, for the luncheon honoring the president’s visit to Dallas. It was in the Grand Courtyard, which is a huge space—I’d heard there were some 2,600 in attendance, and it certainly seemed like everyone was there, so many of our friends, Jock’s business partners, government officials and CEOs, just a who’s who of Dallas’s leading citizens. Whether we personally supported the president didn’t matter that day; the prevailing attitude was, We’re going to give the Kennedys a real Texas welcome! We were especially determined after all the poor publicity from Ambassador Stevenson’s visit, the heckling and whatnot, him getting hit on the head. Things like that gave Dallas a bad name. Of course it was just a small element causing all the trouble, but they’re the ones who get the limelight, unfortunately.
     Later I heard there was a disruption of some kind planned, a group of young people were going to barge into the middle of the luncheon and stage a demonstration. Well, I was horrified about that. After we’d worked so hard to make sure Dallas put its best foot forward! I’d seen the critical ad in the Morning News, and those handbills, the Wanted for Treason posters, they’d started showing up around town just a few days before the president’s visit. Terribly poor taste, if you ask me. You don’t treat your guests that way, any guests, much less the president and first lady of the United States of America.
     Of course, it never happened. The luncheon, the demonstration, none of it. We were all waiting in that huge hall with the tables set, everyone just milling around. Some people started to complain about the president being late, and how rude that was of him, to keep everyone waiting.

November 22, that was the day I lost my virginity. Well, not technically, but let’s just say it was the first time I did it for love. [Laughs] I’d turned sixteen a couple of weeks before, and the day after my birthday Daddy took me over to Fort Worth, to this joint out by the river called the Black Cat Club. A classy place, for a bordello. Daddy said he didn’t want me worryin’ about certain things and it was best just to go ahead and get some experience. Daddy, he was smart that way. He knew what it took to raise a boy to be a man.

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