Joy and Stan Steiner came to Jackson in 1980. After 10 years they left but returned in 2014. Joy’s career was working as a free-lance storyteller in schools and libraries. She was also a preschool teacher. During the pandemic the Senior Center of Jackson Hole had an essay contest. Joy entered and took first. She agreed to share her prize-winning essay with us.

Encounter with Forgiveness

My mother was slumped on the floor just a few feet away from our small black and white TV. Her face dripped with tears and loud sobs shook her crumpled body as she leaned close to the screen to see the grainy images. My toddling brother wandered aimlessly, sucking quietly on his comforting thumb. I was bewildered too. The president must be someone important, I thought, but why would they shoot him? My stomach growled, I had finished my kindergarten day, buttoned my sweater against the autumn chill, and walked home, but there was no homemade lunch waiting for me, as usual, not even a reheated bowl of Chef Boyardee spaghetti. Should I make my own lunch? I looked at my sagging mother and nudged myself into her lap. She clutched me fiercely. Together, we watched the motorcade pass through waving Dallas bystanders as the president smiled, recoiled, and fell against his beautiful Jackie in her pillbox hat. The images replayed again and again. Then the news reporter dealt a crushing blow: “President Kennedy is dead.”

My mother wailed, and Nov. 22, 1963, was burned into my young heart as the day I realized bad things could happen in the world.

My dad came home after his working day as manager of the shoe department at Sears and Roebuck. His presence calmed Mom, and all our family routines fell back into place, although we were still dazed. Later, we heard the news that Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot to death. We didn’t know if we should feel relieved or justified, but mostly, we wondered about the pretty Russian wife and two small daughters he left behind. Mom spent another tearful day watching the somber funeral for JFK. She cried especially hard when tiny John John saluted his father’s casket. I wondered what Caroline was feeling. She was only a year older than me. In her black dress, Jackie’s classically carved features and stoic jaw sailed like a figurehead on choppy seas.

Sears Roebuck offered my dad a promotion, so we moved to Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. We spent many weekends exploring. With the high-speed roadways, merging traffic, skyscraper and ultra-fashion malls, Dallas was the most chaotic place my young eyes had seen. Mom wanted to see the place where Kennedy was shot; we drove to Dealey Plaza and parked. Dad held Mom’s hand as we walked around the Grassy Knoll, and pointed out the window on the Texas Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald fired his rifle. The building seemed to have a forlorn and ominous appearance, and seeing it filled Mom’s eyes with sorrow, but a bit of closure, as well.

Our family flourished in Richardson. There were regular games of kickball in the neighborhood, trees to climb, piano lessons, and plenty of black Texas loam for mud pies. On Saturday nights we put on our pajamas, piled into our roomy ’57 Chevy and watched Sofia Loren looming large and luscious on the local drive-in movie screen. We spent many joyful hours at the Westshore Methodist Church singing in the youth choir and gorging ourselves at summer ice cream socials where the favorite was our own mother’s pistachio nut ice cream, which had no actual pistachios, but was appropriately neon green from food color. I was learning that life contained far more good than bad.

Rumor circulated that Lee Harvey Oswald’s widow lived in Richardson under the protection of the Secret Service. Young and lovely, many people felt sorry for Marina Oswald and her daughters. One day, I awoke with a terrific earache. The pain was so great, I cried all the way to the doctor’s office and couldn’t control myself even in the waiting room. All the other parents looked at me with pity, but still my sobs would not be quelled. Then something distracted me, and as if a switch was flipped, I stopped crying. A young mother and her two girls watched me fearfully from the opposite band of chairs. She spoke to them softly in a language with an abundance of sh sounds, and I heard Mom whisper, “I think that’s Marina Oswald.” I wondered if we should avoid them, but my mom beamed her warmest smile at the mother, complimenting her and the pretty girls, reassuring them about the good doctor. I would be fine, she said, and so would they. Clearly relieved, the mother smiled and spoke to mom in broken English. The nurse called us in to see the doctor and we never saw the little family again, but mom taught me a lasting lesson in that small moment.

In the months that followed there was a lightness in mom’s countenance, and her joy fortified our family. Although we will never know if we truly saw Marina that day, Mom made a conscious choice to forgive her and Lee Harvey Oswald, as well. Forgiveness healed my mom. I follow her example every day.

Connie Owen would love to hear your stories. Call or email her at 605-593-2730 or connie_owen@msn.

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