Monday, July 20, 2009

Where Were You. . . ?

This post started out as a quick follow-up to my February post about Growing Up In the 60s, but life, and other things, intervened. . .

And today being the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, it seems an opportune time to bring it back up. . .

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The Kennedy assassination was one of those 'definitive' events in US history. As I alluded before, it is almost the marker for the beginning of 'The Sixties', in terms of the broad social/cultural changes that people associate with that period. For people of my generation, it is a huge, bright marker of time in our lives. Ask anyone over 50 where they were, and what they were doing when Kennedy was shot, and they will almost certainly be able to tell you, in great detail. It was a little disorienting when, in the 80s or so, I started running into young adults who, when the question came up, could only say, "I wasn't born yet."

The president was shot on a Friday, in the early afternoon, and I was walking home from school (2nd grade), laughing and goofing around with a few of the neighborhood kids. When we got close to my house, my mother (the one who recently died) burst out of the front door and yelled for me to get in the house, that the president had been shot, and this was no time to be goofing around. Which sort of set the tone, right off the bat.

As it turned out, my dad had just taken a new job, and our family was moving Up North that very weekend. The president's funeral was the following Monday, and I remember going to my uncle's house to watch on TV, before beginning the long drive to our new home. So, for me, the Kennedy assassination was a marker of all kinds of changes in my young life.

For folks of my parents' generation Pearl Harbor was a similar 'watershed' event - the kind of thing where you remember where you were when you heard the news, and you know instantly that this is something huge.

Just like September 11 was, in more recent days.

And the first moon landing, as I mentioned in the earlier post (and today, as already noted, is the 40th anniversary of that auspicious event. . .)

The King and Robert Kennedy assassinations in the spring of 1968 were also huge events. I remember my mom waking us up in the morning (it had to have been one of the last school days of that year), telling us that 'Kennedy was killed last night', and, in my groggy 12-year-old state, I said, "Mom, that was five years ago. . ."

It's funny, but in the comments to the previous post, FTN mentioned the Challenger explosion, and I do think that it was a similar 'I remember' event for quite a few people, even though it hardly portended huge, world-changing events. But I remember very clearly, being at work, as the word began to go through the office, and a bunch of us gathered around the TV set in the lunchroom to watch the coverage. The thing is, for most of us, at least of my age, the space program was sort of one of our 'engineering idols' - these were the best of the best, the guys who epitomized the best of what it meant to be an engineer. So watching that shuttle explode into a million tiny fragments was like watching one of our heroes dying in a car crash.

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I have an aunt whose birthday is December 7, 1931; so she was having her tenth birthday party when Pearl Harbor happened. Her daughter, my cousin, was born on November 22, 1963 - the day of the Kennedy assassination. Which was all weird enough. But it became spooky when we realized that my grandma's birthday - the mother of the same aunt - was September 11, 1902; the towers fell on what would have been my grandma's 99th birthday. (Should I be glad that my cousin has no children?)

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So - what are the 'watershed' events of your lives - the things that stand out in your memories, that you remember where you were, and what you were doing when you heard?

17 comments:

Cocotte said...

I've been thinking about these events lately too....many seem to have taken place in July.

I remember in July 1981, watching a bit of Prince Charles/Lady Di's wedding. I was at the Maranatha Camp in Muskegon, Michigan. We didn't have TV's in our rooms, so some of us watched it in the lodge.

The Challenger was another one. I was working in a major dept. store, managing the "home" section and all the employees were gathering around the TV's on my floor.

I also remember where I was for the few earthquakes that have hit our area in the past 30 years.

FTN said...

Hey, thanks for making me feel young, as I was one of those that wasn't alive for most of the things you mentioned. (Heck, I was too young to even remember the *Reagan* assassination attempt.)

It's pretty clear that 9/11 will go down as the big "life marker" on the level of the moon landing or the Kennedy Assassination for most people. There's been nothing else in my life that has been so huge. We had just moved into our first home, were pregnant with our first child, and traveling for my aunt's funeral. Some other distant relatives even died in car accidents that day, on the way to the funeral.

Of course, both of my children will be some of those people that, in 20 years, will be telling the older generation, "I wasn't even BORN when 9/11 happened."

This is only a fraction of the magnitude, but the Columbine shootings in '99 was also a bit of a marker that stands out. It seemed to be 'the big one' that heralded in a new era of school shootings, public fear, and the whole idea of "active shooters." Something about it is just a fascinating (tragic) dissertation in psychology and sociology.

for a different kind of girl said...

Let's see --

My mom was supposed to travel to California and meet my dad in California the day MLK was assisinated, and she planned to travel with me, very much a new baby, but her parents were adament she not travel that day for they feared some large scale response in relation to King's death might occur.

I was baptized the day that man first walked on the moon (a little tidbit I only just found out about because my mom called me last weekend to inform me of that).

I vividly remember the morning my Dad woke me up for school and quietly told me John Lennon had been killed. It was the morning after a night when my dad and I had been discussion Lennon. And Lenin. And you had to be there, really. But I vividly remember thiking he was lying to me and how devastated I felt. I think I was 11?

I was up to watch Charles and Diana marry, when I was 12 or 13, I believe (I'm fuzzy on some years),and then was up and tending to my brand new first born child the night Diana was killed.

I was sitting on my living room floor, pregnant with my second child and working on quarterly reports for a job I hated the morning I watched the planes fly into the WTC buildings and I remember spending the bulk of that day in tears.

The Challenger exploding.

Reagan's assisination attempt.

Definitely the Columbine shootings.

I feel like I'm likely missing some major things, but those are what stand out.

Desmond Jones said...

Cocotte - The Charles/Diana wedding, huh? I wouldn't have thought of that. . . And I've no doubt been in Lake Michigan not far from that camp. . .

Funny that you mention earthquakes; the area where you are isn't exactly known for them (funny, too, that I slept thru one while I was California once). But I do remember one, in the summer of '80, just before Molly and I got married. I was over at the house where she was living, on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in an overstuffed chair, when all of a sudden, the chair felt like it was gently moving up and down, for about 15-20 seconds. It was startling, for sure, but when I asked if anyone else had felt it, they all looked at me like I was on drugs. So I was very gratified later in the day, when it was on the evening news. . .

FTN - I'm sure you don't need my help to 'feel young'.

(whippersnapper)

The Reagan assassination attempt is a good one. You can be sure that folks my age were having some deja vu over that one. And then, only a couple months later, the pope was shot, too. So for a while, it was like, 'what the hell is going on here?'

Columbine is another good one (altho, like you say, it's not quite the 'world-shaking' event that some others are). But it was sorta the 'crest' of a whole wave of school shootings, and became the occasion for a lot of soul-searching.

That also reminds me of the Oklahoma City bombing, which, when it happened, seemed like it might be a 'world-shaker' (plenty of folks, at least initially, thought that OKC was what 9/11 was). 6F was born five days later, and the newspaper we bought on the day of her birth is full of OKC stuff.

And, as a weird aside, Terry Nichols was testing his early fertilizer bombs on a farm in Michigan's 'thumb', about 20 miles from Molly's parents. . .

faDKoG - Wow, you ticked off quite a list, all of them good.

You were baptized on the day of the moon landing? That's pretty cool. Just be glad you didn't get named 'Moon Unit', or something like that. . .

Molly and I were four-month newlyweds when John Lennon was murdered. And like you, it was just too surreal to really get a grip on it, at first. . .

And again with the Charles and Diana. Must be a chick thing. . .

My employer gave us all time to go to church during the 'national mourning' after 9/11. And that was when the tears hit me. So many widows and orphans made that day, just because their spouse/parent went to work. . .

Cocotte said...

YES..the 1980 earthquake I was on a mission trip in northern Minnesota (on a reservation) and I remember we heard on the news about the earthquake hitting home. We must have been too far north to feel it where we were.

I neglected to mention remembering when the Berlin Wall came down. Had recently given birth to my first child and being German and having a relative from Berlin, it was a watershed couple of weeks.

Trueself said...

Hmm. . .

I remember (barely) all the coverage of JFK's assasination. I was way young, only two, but I remember we were out at the farm and it being the only thing on TV and my grandparents and dad just sitting and watching the coverage (which was totally unlike them because there were always chores to do on the farm).

I remember when man first walked on the moon. We were at my granny's house, and I was old enough to be perturbed that everybody was focused on what I considered a totally boring event but not old enough to realize that it was anything but a totally boring event.

I remember when Shirley Chisholm made history in 1972 when she was the first black woman to run for president. I was in sixth grade and read all about her in our Weekly Reader and was very impressed. I was sad when McGovern beat her for the Democratic nomination.

I remember when Reagan was shot because I was walking through my dorm lobby when I caught the coverage on TV. I was much more concerned about Jim Brady than Reagan though as Mr. Brady was from one of my hometowns.

I remember Di and Charles' wedding. I was recuperating from having my wisdom teeth removed, lying on the sofa in the living room of my apartment as I watched the hoopla.

I remember the Challenger explosion. I learned of it when I went to lunch a couple of blocks from work where I liked to go so I could watch All My Children on their big screen TV. That day there was nothing but coverage of the Challenger.

I remember the 1989 Northern CA earthquake that delayed the World Series. I was at work, just getting ready to leave a few minutes after five when the world pitched and rolled. The three of us still in the office looked at each other for a moment before scrambling to get to the nearest doorway. My boss was on the phone with a CPA in Oakland and the phone went dead. I drove home not knowing if/when I might come across damage as I listened to the radio coverage about the collapse of a section of the Bay Bridge.

I remember being online on Prodigy (sp?) on a Saturday night when I got the news of the accident that killed Princess Di. I felt the most overwhelming sadness for her boys when she died.

I remember hearing on the radio as I drove to work that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. It was early in the morning on the west coast, and I wasn't awake enough yet to make much sense of what was being said on the radio. It seemed so unreal.

Well, I guess I've taken up more than my share of comment space here so I'll shut up now.

schweeney said...

John Lennon's death sucked the air out of my lungs when I was starting my freshman year in college in DC. I bonded with quite a few people over that event.
Frankly I was not nearly as disturbed about the attempted assasination of Reagan. I actually had some rather unkind thoughts that I now regret as I "mature." I'm glad he survived for the sake of the nation. He was a tough old bird with a pretty good sense of humour.
I will never forget when Ron Brown's (Sec'y of Commerce & my husband's boss) plane crashed with one of our best friends (not to mention a bunch of his co-workers) on board and the emotionally shattering welcome home ceremony at Dover AFB for all aboard. Too many flag covered caskets, too many shiny hearses for at least 11 people my age trying to make a difference in the world.
I may never forgive him (DH) for heading out to work right after the Pentagon was struck on 9/11 leaving me to figure out how to get the kids back from school (still in DC).
2008 Election night on what was referred to as DC's Black Broadway, had me in tears of joy. Especially after living within 2 blocks of its burned out riot torn shell from 1987-1997 and finally being able to rejoice with what seemed like the entire City.

lime said...

interesting post! as for the moon landing, well, i was 9 months old and more interesting in crawling after the cat. don't remember it at all.

the very first events of historical significance i recall were the watergate mess and the evacuation of the last troops from saigon. i remember seeing the footage of the people on the roof and the helicopters. as for watergate i remember the hearings on tv and sitting on my dad's lap as he snarled, "nixon's a damn crook."

i also remember being scared to death watching the news footage of the killings at the munich olympics. between that and the home invasion robbery we endured ski masks still just freak me the hell out when i see them, even if just on display in a store.

since we live in PA and we had family in the harrisburg area the TMI disaster also made a fairly indelible mark on my memory. again, watching the news with my family, i can remember asking how bad was it? will our family out there be ok? will we be ok?

the challenger explosion occurred my senior year of high school and since it carried the teacher in space, christa macullife, we had tv monitors all over the school tuned in to the footage. i was on my way to lunch when my friend deb told me the shuttle had exploded. she was laughing so i thought she couldn't possibly be telling the truth but seeing the replay a million times and how the cameras zoomed in on the macullife family at their moment of realization is just seared into my mind. i couldn't eat.

9/11 was just utter horror. we live close enough to NYC that many people here commute there to work. we knew people in the towers and in the vicinity. i had been soaking in the tub because my neck was messed up. when i got out i saw a message from my husband telling me to tune into the news, something terrible had happened. i was getting ready to take my daughter's forgotten lunch to school when i switched the tv on just in time to see the second plane hit and then see both towers fall and hear the report than an unaccounted for plane was somewhere over PA. there are certain shall we say "strategic" potential targets very close to where i live. the question became to i take lunch to my daughter or do i bring my kids home from school? i went to the school and saw long lines of other parents yanking their kids from classes. bad lunch in my hand, i stood there like a deer in headlights. the secretary asked if i was dropping off lunch or if i was taking my child home. i just said, "i'm not sure." she told me they were under a media block, no tv, no radio and they were not telling the students what had happened since so many have parents working in the city. i opted for normalcy and left my kids in school and cried all the way home as i was driving, wondering if it was right. my son got done with morning kindergarten and i brought him home. he was playing in his room while i tried to quietly keep up with news reports on tv. he jarred me back when he came downstairs screaming bloody murder because he had stuffed a bead up his nose and was afraid we'd have to cut his nose off to get it out. poor little guy was terrified of that. i gently assured him no amputation would be necessary, we got it out. i hugged him and wished that the biggest tragedy of that day really was a bead up the nose.

lime said...

oh, one other event...

the hostage crisis in iran.

as i've told you i was raised in an areligious environment. this event however led me to pray every night when i went to bed that god would allow these people to safely get home to their families. every night without fail for 444 nights. i just had to. no one told me to. in fact my parents would have thought i was kind of nuts. when they were finally released i felt in my heart that for the next 444 nights i should be saying thank you prayers. i don't know if i was as faithful to that promise, but i do remember feeling very strongly convicted in that regard. again, no one told me i should do this and i didn't tell anyone of my decision. but looking back i felt like it was a formative spiritual experience.

schweeney said...

Shoot! forgot to mention location. All were obviously in DC
Lennon- Dorm Room
Reagan - Class Room/Frat House
(Forgot to mention plane crash into 14th street bridge. Went to Red Cross to donate blood - boy was it cold for this newly transplanted FL chick!)
Commerce Plane - My Office (with 3 hours thinking Adam survived)
9/11 - Bed then Kitchen then pick-up kids at normal time because I'm almost as wise as Lime (and hate traffic so didn't want to go out on the road with all the worry-worts).
Election Night-In the thick of the celebration.
Never a dull moment here! I love this place!

FTN said...

I think some events seem to loom larger when we are in certain "life-stages," such as high school or college. Or some events, for some reason, just get way too much press for what they really are (like the Charles and Diana wedding).

Although for me, I suppose I'm really referring to the OJ trial and verdict. I think I was a sophomore in college, and stuff about it was EVERYWHERE.

Two other memorable '90s events for us Gen-X'ers were Waco (11th grade for me) and Kurt Cobain's suicide (end of my senior year).

Desmond Jones said...

Cocotte - Ah yes, the Berlin Wall. Actually that whole summer/fall of '89, and the collapse of communism, was utterly stunning, especially for those of us who had grown up against the backdrop of the Cold War.

One of my college roommates was actually living in Berlin at the time, which was incredibly cool. . .

Truey - Kudos to you for neatly organizing all your events in chronological order! ;)

Shirley Chisholm is a name I haven't heard in a long, long time. . .

And the home-town angle sure makes things look different, doesn't it?

Again with the Charles/Diana wedding; pardon me while I roll my eyes. . . OK, I'm back.

And don't you hate it when reality pre-empts your soaps?

You were in the Bay Area for the '89 earthquake? That would be pretty freaky. It was weird enough watching the World Series on TV, and having everything go haywire, to be replaced with news coverage of the earthquake. It was just so surreal to think about just driving home from work, and suddenly freeways and bridges are collapsing, and generally, all hell is breaking loose. . .

Likewise when Princess Diana died; I kept thinking, somebody is pulling my leg here. . . And then Mother Teresa died the same week. . .

When I got to work the morning of 9/11, the 'early birds' in the office were buzzing about a plane crashing into the WTC, thinking it had been some kind of bizarre accident. But when the second plane hit the other tower, and then the Pentagon got hit, it was instantly clear, on the order of Pearl Harbor that this was no accident. . .

Schweeney - John Lennon's death was another one that took a while to register with me; so bizarre, I thought, this can't be right. . . And, I confess - among my first thoughts was, 'I guess this is pretty much the end of any Beatles reunion'. . .

And I'm so sorry that you lost a friend with Ron Brown. Back in the 80s, a guy that I worked with died in a plane crash in Detroit, and it was just utterly strange when it sank in that he really wasn't going to come to work anymore. . .

Desmond Jones said...

Lime - Well, you're welcome for the opportunity to say that 40 is 'too young' for something. . . ;)

Your comment is just full of interesting events. The summer of '73, I was freshly graduated from HS, living on my own at the YMCA in downtown OurTown (I should blog about it sometime). And I spent a lot of my free time watching the Senate hearings in the TV lounge. And, as it turns out, Molly and I got married on the 6th anniversary of Nixon's resignation.

My dad loved Richard Nixon. I don't think I ever saw him so disappointed as he was when it became clear that Nixon had done what he'd done. . .

The Munich Olympics is another good one. So utterly surreal at the time, and on so many levels. I'll just say that I still have trouble getting my mind around that kind of evil. . .

And Three Mile Island was scary enough, even without having family members living there. . .

I hadn't realized that the McAuliffe family was on TV at the time of the Challenger explosion. That had to be absolutely horrible for them.

I also remember the Columbia shuttle disaster - I was attending one of 4M's sixth-grade basketball games that morning, when people started talking about it. The video of shuttle debris falling out of the sky on a town in east Texas was utterly surreal. . .

And goodness, 9/11 was a lot 'closer at hand' for you, wasn't it?

In 1993, our family vacationed with friends of ours at a cabin their family owned in the hills of Somerset Co, PA, about 5-10 miles from where Flight 93 went down, eight years later.

And that whole month of September '01 was freaky. I remember how weird it was to have no planes in the sky for a week or so after the 11th; you don't realize how things like that become 'embedded' in your psyche, but I remember it just feeling spooky to not even see any contrails snaking thru the clouds. And it being oddly comforting when the flights eventually resumed.

Another story - there was a traffic accident on the rural stretch of freeway that I took to work in those days, and while we sat there waiting for the accident to be cleared, a plane was crop-dusting a nearby field. This was during the anthrax scare, and I had a minor panic attack that the accident was all a setup, and we were all about to be 'thraxed. And I had serious conversations with people about setting the AC in my car on 'recirc', rather than pulling outside air. . .

Your story re the Iran hostage crisis is just touching. "The Lord works in mysterious ways. . ."

And, when I was in grad school, I shared an office with an Iranian student, who was very concerned about the Islamic revolution and the ayatollah, and what it might mean for him, and being able to complete his degree. . .

FTN - Nothing personal, but would you mind if I just let the whole 'Royal Wedding' bit pass without further comment?

Some things - I don't know if it's the 'Cult of Celebrity' or what - just get media coverage out of all proportion. At my office, people were actually leaving their desks to go watch the OJ 'slow-speed chase' on TV in the lunchroom. . .

And - what?!? Kurt Cobain committed suicide???

Desmond Jones said...

Schweeney, redux - My apologies; I didn't mean to leave you out above.

I've heard that about DC (and also New York) - things are just happening there, all the time. Which is pretty much the opposite of how I grew up. Anything that might ever get on TV was happening far, far away. When I went to college, it was weird to me that I could take a short walk to see a football game, or just stay in my dorm room and watch it on TV. . . Or that my hometown could fit in the stadium, five times over. . .

Trueself said...

Des - I'm nothing if not neat and tidy with everything in order. We bean counters like precision. :-)

Yes, I was in the North Bay when the quake of '89 struck. Very freaky. Fortunately, there wasn't a lot of damage north of San Francisco so all was well where we were. . . except of course for all the worries over friends closer to the epicenter.

Therese in Heaven said...

Hmm...

I was driving to my morning biology class, Freshman year of college when the WTC attack happened. I remember the radio DJs saying that it looked initially like a helicopter hit it, and then I spent the rest of the day glued to the story on campus as it unfolded.

Columbine was a big deal, too, particularly since it wasn't all that far away from us. Nearly everyone knew SOMEONE who was affected personally by it.

Oh, and this wasn't nearly as big a deal as the other two, but I remember the morning Princess Diana died. After Mass, my great uncle was talking about how if she were in his really old Lincoln Town Car (man was it a tank!), she'd have lived.

Desmond Jones said...

Truey - I'm sure that was 'close enough', eh? Molly's sister lived near Santa Cruz, which was actually not too far from the epicenter, but they didn't sustain a whole lot of damage; I think their chimney got shifted on its foundation. . .

Therese - Hey, good to see you!

Things always look different when they happen 'close by', don't they?

Your mention of Columbine reminded me of the Kent State shootings of 1970. A very different scenario than Columbine, to be sure, but very 'emblematic', in its way, of the social and 'intergenerational' tensions of the late 60s / early 70s. And in both cases, young folks died who were just going to class that day. . .