Younger Son has a project for English class where he is supposed to interview one of his parents about where they were and what they were during certain significant events. I am happy to oblige. Unfortunately, I realize that most of these events are tragedies.
Here’s my list:
JFK assassination, Nov. 22, 1963. I was a 6-year-old kindergarten student. I was in a department store in the early afternoon and I was with my mother and grandmother in a department store in the small South Arkansas town where I grew up. Someone came running through the store, telling us about the shooting. I remember going home and seeing Walter Cronkite on TV somberly announcing that President Kennedy had died from the gunshot wound. I remember how Lee Harvey Oswald was then shot by Jack Ruby. There was hardly anything else on TV for the next several days.
MLK assassination, April 4, 1968. I was ten years old and had only a vague knowledge of Martin Luther King, Jr. I was at home with my parents in the evening when we heard about this. I remember hearing a lot of differing views on Martin Luther King in the days ahead. Remember, this was the South in the 60s.
RFK assassination, June 5, 1968, less than two months after the MLK shooting, the final in the tragic trilogy of shootings that gave birth to the song, “Abraham, Martin and John.” I was a ten-year-old, it was summer and school was out. I got up that morning and my mother told me Bobby Kennedy had been shot in Los Angeles. I remember watching the footage over and over that showed him going through the crowd in the hotel, then being shot by Sirhan Sirhan. I was haunted by that image for months afterward.
Moon landing, July 16, 1969. I was eleven years old and as I recall, it was a Sunday. I had been at the swimming pool during the afternoon and thought I would be going home to watch live coverage of the first moon walk, but I believe it was well after midnight when Neil Armstrong spoke the now famous, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” My mother, dad, brother and I watched in awe and I remember it like it was yesterday.
Death of Elvis, August 16, 1977. I was 19, between my freshman and sophomore years in college and had a summer job driving a mail truck from a local oil company’s downtown office to its other locations in town. I was on my last run of the day and heard on the radio that Elvis had died. I had never been a big fan but in the days to come I would hear more of his music than I had ever heard previously. He became more popular via his untimely demise.
The 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team victory over Russia, Feb. 22, 1980. I regret that I did not see this in “real time,” only in replays. I was a senior in college. My school was on the quarter system and our winter quarter had ended that day and we were about to have a week-long break. I was leaving the next day on a snow skiing trip and was in the middle of packing when one of my buddies in the same apartment complex burst through my door to tell me the news. I remember hearing a couple of days later, while on the aforementioned trip, that the U.S. had won gold.
The Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, January 28, 1986. This one stands out in my mind more than any of the others because it was four days after Older Son, our first, had been born, and the day we took him home. We were in the hallway of the hospital with our entourage of Wife in a wheelchair (per hospital regulations), our new "precious cargo" being gingerly held in Wife's arms, the nurse who pushed them, me pushing a cart with the flowers, balloons and disposable diapers I had pilfered from the hospital, and my buddy with his video camera documenting everything. We could hear network announcers on the televisions from rooms we would pass, conveying the awful news. If you watch the video of us in the hallway, you can hear it in the background.
September 11, 2001, now infamously known simply as "9/11." I was working out at the YMCA before work. The aerobic machines now have TVs built in, but at that time there were TVs mounted on walls so, unless you had radio head phones tuned in to a designated frequency (which, that morning, I did not), you could only see the screens and not hear. I was on a treadmill and I remember seeing Katy Couric, then the NBC Today Show anchor, and then the screen cut away to what looked to be a fire at one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I really didn’t give it a lot of thought, thinking it was just a fire. I went downstairs and showered and when I got back upstairs, people were crowded around the TVs and I heard what had happened. On the way to work I heard on the radio about the attack on the Pentagon and the aborted flight that crashed in Pennsylvania that had been headed to the White House.
I remember thinking that this could not be happening, not in my lifetime, not on American soil. I called Wife to make sure she was OK (I remember thinking maybe the attacks were nationwide) and to ask her if she thought our children knew about it. It was such a surreal day and I couldn’t stay away from the only TV that we had at our workplace, which had poor reception. I was with another bank at the time and I remember our CEO sent out a mass e-mail lamenting the tragedy but reminding employees that they still had a job to do (I thought that was extremely inappropriate).