Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Where Were You?
There are few events in our lives that we remember vividly enough to remember exactly where we were and what we were doing. I remember the births of most of my siblings ( I was too young for a couple of them), I remember my graduation from high school, I remember my wedding, and I remember the births of my children and grandchildren. I remember the horrible days that I learned that my brother had been killed in Viet Nam, my niece died, my father died, my mother died, and my other brother died. I remember joyous occasions like weddings and births.
Those are personal memories. Sometimes the memories blur a bit because some things are too painful to deal with all the time. But the memories are there waiting to be acknowledged. All I have to do is call them up and it is like they happened yesterday.
Then there are memories that are shared by most of the world. We watch enraptured as a new pope is elected. We watch as countries elect, choose, or have new leaders forced upon them. We see the atrocities committed for whatever cause is supposed to be the "right" one. We see how people can come together, united for the benefit of most. All of those are so important.
There are those memories that you look at someone and say, " This is where I was when that happened." Usually they are catastrophic events. Usually they change the way our world is viewed from then on.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the first "rock star" president. He was the first to use television as a tool to help him be elected. He was photogenic and so comfortable in front of the cameras. He looked like calmness and strength during his debates with Richard Milhous Nixon.
JFK was beloved by his followers and by the people around him. Secret Servicemen and media members all were pleased to do his bidding. "Regular" people had pictures of him prominently displayed in their homes.
The United States as a whole adored the young president and his family. His wife Jackie was lovely and obviously elegant. Women wanted to be like her. His very young children, Caroline and John-John, were beyond cute. We loved to see them interacting with their father... just like he was only Dad and not the President of the United States.
Even though the Kennedys were one of the wealthiest families most of us felt they had empathy for us, the little people. Most politicians give the impression of being born to money and many people feel that those politicians do not understand the day-to day struggles we have.
But not JFK. He understood and wanted to do something about it. At least that was the way most people felt.
In 1963 the US was gearing up for elections the following year. President Kennedy was running again for president so he was in the midst of campaigning as well as running the country. One of his most important stops was Dallas, Texas.
In early August that year Jackie Kennedy had given birth prematurely to a son. The baby did not survive.
Needing to feel close to her husband and knowing that she was an asset to his campaign Jackie decided to accompany JFK to Dallas in late November. They were both still grieving the loss of their baby and being together made sense for many reasons.
While in a motorcade with John Connally, the governor of Texas, and his wife, John F Kennedy was shot and killed.
The phrase "where you when JFK was assassinated" came about years later. The thing is that we all remembered where we were.
I was in Algebra II class. It was a split class. We went for half a period and then went to lunch and then back to class. When we came out for lunch students and teachers were in the halls crying and with looks of disbelief on their faces. The President had been shot. He was rushed to a hospital. We had not yet heard that he was dead.
So that is where I was when I found out. For the next few days all television stations showed and reshowed all things Kennedy.
Lee Harvey Oswald had been arrested for the shooting. Two days after the President died Oswald was being transferred to another facility. As was the practice of the day media was present at all events they chose to attend. They chose to be there when Oswald was moved. It was being shown on live television.
Since the schools were closed and the whole thing was important we were glued to the television watching. Suddenly a man jumped from the crowd in the basement of the police station. He had a gun in his hand and shot Lee Harvey Oswald right there on live TV. We saw it as it happened.
Fairy tales do come true. We saw it happen when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer. It was a fairy tale wedding and we watched on television. She was such a beautiful bride. He was a regal husband.
We were thrilled when Princess Di as she came to be known had two heirs to the throne of England. They were a fairy tale family.
Then things began to ravel. Rumors of infidelities circulated. Eventually there was a divorce. The Prince remarried. The Princess had suitors. The young Princes seemed to be relatively normal.
Princess Di was the darling of the paparazzi. She was beautiful and went to the most chic and fashionable places with the most in demand people. The paparazzi all wanted to get that picture that no one else had in oprder to make their names.
Leaving a nightclub Princess Di was besieged by the usual photographers. Her driver tried to get away from them and had a terrible accident. Princess Di was killed.
I worked the night shift locked away in the cash office of a major department store chain. One of the cashiers came to the little window they used to communicate with us for whatever reason. She asked if I had heard about Princess Di. I said, "noooooo?" and waited for the punch line. I thought she was going to tell a joke.
At first I did not believe her when she told me that Princess Diana was dead. Finally she convinced me. I was in shock that something so terrible had happened. That is where I was when I learned of the death of Princess Di.
My sister and I worked together in the cash offece of a major department store. We rode to and from work together. After a long night at work I dropped her off at her house and went home. I still had to drive my son to work. He could not drive at the time for medical reasons.
When I returned from taking my son to work I laid down on the couch to watch the news. I promptly fell asleep.
What woke me I do not know. There was a talk show on TV. They were talking about an accident involving an airplane. As I watched a plane flew right into the building they were showing on television.
The World Trade Center in New York City had been attacked. Two airplanes flew directly into the towers. I saw the second one as it happened.
I called my sister and asked her if she was watching television. She answered no. Why? I told her, "Somebody just declared war on us." I could not believe it. But there it was in front of me.
Both towers of the Trade Center were hit by planes. Both collapsed causing many deaths. The devastation did not end there but that was the beginning. Today everyone on the globe is trying to deal with terrorism.
I actually called off work that night because I was mesmerized by the coverage on TV. The downed plane in Pennsylvania and the crash into the Pentagon only added my need to understand. Unfortunately I still do not understand. But I know where I was when it happened.
I was watching the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. I do not want to go into space but the space program has always fascinated me. As I watched the Challenger exploded. All seven people aboard were eventually declared to be dead.
I just remember where I was. I was sitting cross-legged in the middle of my bed.
Is it strange that I have such vivid memories of such unhappy things? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that none of them should have happened. They were all preventable. Most were the actions of someone trying to harm someone else. Why?