It was a pretty afternoon with just a little chill in the air. Delia and I did not have a radio in our building, but Julia did. All of the sudden, Julia came running out of the door of her building, shouting, “He’s been shot! He’s been shot!” She was delirious. Delia spoke through my microphone. “Who, Julia, who?” “The president,” she responded and then ran back into her building like somebody was after her. “Donald, did she say the president?” Delia asked. “I think so,” was my response.
About that time, Smokey Comer, the A&P manager, came to make a deposit. He had a portable radio that he and another guy were listening to. “Guess y’all heard the bad news,” he said. “We don’t have a radio,” Delia replied. “How about leaving yours?” So Smokey left the radio and we listened to the chaos.
“He’s been taken to the hospital.”
“Maybe he can be saved.”
“No, he’s gone.”
“A guy has been arrested.”
“The president has been assassinated.”
From 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., our lot and lobby were chaotic. People forgot why they came to the bank and just stood and talked. Some were crying and Delia must have asked me about a dozen times, “Donald, what do you think is going to happen?”
“I don’t know, Cordelia, I just don’t know. We’ve just got to get through this afternoon.”
The bank in those days closed at 2 p.m. and reopened at 4 p.m. for two more hours. By then the shock had worn off and fear and anxiety had taken over. After we finally balanced at 2, Julia came over to our building and the three of us sat in our lobby and listened in disbelief. The two girls were shaking and occasionally crying. We had read that aspirin calms nerves (remember, this was 50 years ago) so I went around the corner to the A&P and bought a jar of 100 Bayer aspirin. I got back and began passing around aspirin, as did Delia.
I remember the sadness and grief every customer felt. It was like we were in a time warp where everything was moving in slow motion.
Julia, Delia and I sucked up our guts and finished the day. In fact, we tried to encourage everyone who came through. Delia called someone to bring us some small American flags that we put up and down our drive-in lanes.
During one of the tensest moments of the day, my boss, Marvin Watson, called me and said, “Donald, I understand you’ve got a lot of traffic down there.”
“Yes sir, I do.”
Mr. Watson then gave me a great bit of encouragement.
“OK, son, I’m confident you’ll handle it the best way you can.”
“Yes sir, I will.”
As to the aspirin calming people’s nerves, I’m not sure if that helped. But at the end of that terrible day, our bottle of 100 had 12 left. Our customers must have had the thinnest blood in town.
God bless America.
Donald O. Sills