Saturday, November 15, 2008

Witness to history

by Trish Milburn

It's our policy here at the Romance Bandits not to discuss politics on our blog. It's one of those hot-button topics that can turn friends against each other, and that's the last thing we want. I say this up front because when I mention Barack Obama's recent election as at the 44th president of the United States, I don't want anyone thinking I'm starting a political discussion. In fact, I want to talk about it in a historical context, and how there are certain times in our lives when we are truly witnesses to big moments in history, good and bad.

I had that witnessing-history feeling at 10 p.m. Central Time on Nov. 4 when the TV network I was watching announced that based on the vote tallies in the closing polls in the West Coast states, Barack Obama had been elected the next president. Not only the first black man to be elected to the top office in the land but the first minority of any kind. It wasn't huge because of the switching of political parties in the White House, but rather the fact that the country had come far enough to elect someone whose skin color at one time in our history might have made him a slave. I heard members of both political parties acknowledge what a huge moment this was for our country, how it was a positive step for our country's evolution.

In the days since the election, I've thought about other big moments in history I remember during my lifetime. I was born the year after man landed on the moon, so I have no memory of that huge event, or the Kennedy assassination or even the Vietnam War. In fact, the first big news story I remember was the Iran hostage crisis. I was 9 and 10 years old during the 444 days the U.S. diplomats were held captive. All I remember is seeing the day count on the news each night. The evening news always seemed to start the same way, just with a different number day.

Two months after that crisis ended, the new president, Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr., and barely survived. I remember my fourth-grade class being ushered across the hall into another classroom that had a TV so we could watch news coverage. It was just odd to watch this type of thing on the same TV that usually brought us episodes of The Electric Company and Nova. I was still young enough that going into that other classroom is basically all I remember.

It was a different case entirely when I was 15. That January, I watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. It was shocking and incredibly sad. It would have been horrible no matter which astronauts were on board, but the tragedy hit an extra sad chord because of the loss of Christa McAuliffe, who was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space. It seemed incredibly wrong that these modern-day explorers died trying to explore space for the rest of us, and some before they'd even had the joy of seeing Earth from space.

Thankfully, the next big historical moment I remember is a positive one, when the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989. In high school, I took three years of German, and I remember having a T-shirt that said Deutschland on it and a map that clearly showed a divided Germany. The wall came down during my first semester in college, reuniting families that had been separated for 28 years. Germany had been divided my entire life. I remember in the years to follow, I'd sometimes see people claim they had a chunk of the wall. It was kind of like when people had little bags of ash that came from Mt. St. Helen's after it exploded in 1980.

While I have memories of all of these events, the first historic moment where I can say specifically where I was when it happened was the first attack of Sept. 11, 2001. I had just arrived at work and was near the breakroom when one of my co-workers came in the front door and said, "Did you all hear a plane just hit the World Trade Center?" Thinking it was an horrible accident, we filed into the conference room and turned on the TV. I can still remember the numbness and disbelief when it became apparent that it wasn't an accident, rather something much, much worse. I worked at a magazine, and we were on deadline. Even so, we'd work for a few minutes, then come back to the TV. The day just got more unbelievable as it went on.

I know that for the first several space shuttle missions after the Challenger explosion, people inside and outside NASA were nervous each time a new mission launched. We held our collective breath and prayed for the safety of all the astronauts on board. But over time, we all got used to regular shuttle missions again, and much of the anxiety went away. The launches even began to not make big news anymore.

That all changed with yet another tragedy when the the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry after a mission in February 2003. I remember sitting in my den listening to the newscasters talking about how Mission Control had lost contact with the shuttle, thinking, "Oh, no, not again," praying that it was just a communications problem and that the shuttle would appear on the screen, intact and safe. But when the debris appeared in the sky, I cried. I didn't know these people, but it was heartbreaking nonetheless. And again, there was a first among the casualties -- Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.

I wish more of the big, historic moments in my memory were ones of joy instead of sadness, but even before my time I think it was that way. Events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the stock market crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression.

But there are positive historical moments too -- the moon landing, the end of World War II, the passage of the Civil Rights Act. And so I'd like to come full circle and leave with a positive image, one that hopefully heralds a new era in which race relations in America will only improve.

What about you? What are some of the big history-making moments you've witnessed? Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when they happened?


Helen said...

Is he staying at my place

Have Fun

Helen said...

The GR and I are enjoying my grandchildren at the moment Jayden is cooking pancakes for him and the dogs while Hayley watches.

Trish an amazing post and I agree truly historical.
I can remember watching the men walk on the moon I was in year 6 at the time and they organized to hire a couple of TVs and put them in the hall and had years 5 & 6 in there and we watched the telecast I even have a special glass that commemerates the walking on the moon that my mother was given by her employer at the time every staff member was given one. I remember the Vietnam war I had a cousin who went and came back I remember the Berlin wall coming down and how happy I was for that to happen and I remember the horror of watching 9/11 on TV something that I hope never to see again.
I would love to be around when we live happily in a world of peace and love.

Have Fun

jo robertson said...

Trish, what a thought-provoking and much needed blog. Sometimes when we're part of an historical event, we forget how momentous it is. Often time and distance are what give events their great significance.

I remember Berlin before the wall went up. My mom came home from shopping with a friend one day, looking ashen and shook up. She and her friend had wandered very near the Russian sector and were stopped by an American colonel who said, "Do you ladies know where you are? You'd better get the hell out of here." And they did!

We watched on television when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and couldn't believe that history was repeating itself. I cried all night holding my newborn baby in my arms.

But I also remember the Selma to Montgomery marches and being so proud of, but scared for, those people brave enough to make the march.

jo robertson said...

Yummy, Helen. How lucky is the golden rooster to have pancakes!!

And I remember the moon walk too! I was pregnant with my third child, my husband was working on his master's degree and I on my bachelor's and we glued ourselves to the little black and white telly we had. I remember my dad (born in 1920) saying it was truly a miracle.

And yes, Trish, we are so fortunate to have been able to participate in such a history-making moment as the recent election.

Donna MacMeans said...

I'm old enough to remember some of the events you mentioned, plus...

I remember when John Glenn orbited the earth. I was in third grade. The school set up TVs in the cafeteria and we were herded in to watch that historic journey. We still lived in Maryland when JFK was shot. I was in the sixth grade by then. I remember the TV coverage (on color TVs now), the horse with the boots turned backwards, John-John saluting his father's casket. On 9/11 I was at a client's house working on the books for the band boosters organization. We had the TV on for the coverage following the first hit and actually saw the second plane hit. After that, we agreed neither of us could concentrate and I went home, thankful that my loved ones were safe that day.

Now that I'm depressed, let me add that I remember when personal computers were introduced into the workforce in the late 70s. I remember the day that I learned that the number of women in accounting programs in college outnumbered the number of men (I was the first woman hired as an auditor in my local office of a major accounting firm). I remember when Margaret Thatcher became the prime minister in England. I remember watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

I remember hearing a Ph.D comment that it used to be that the generation gap developed due to the changes in technology/history between the life known by parents and that of their children. In the late twentith century, this accelerated so that a "generation gap" now exists between people separated by ten years. Perhaps the more frequent world history making events is an indication of that.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

I am at the age that I have seen a good bit of American History being made.
The farthest back I can remember with any clarity was the polio vaccine. Standing in line for what seemed like hours to eat a pink sugar cube and so ended the threat of polio to my generation.

We heard the first sonic boom.
We were taken to the school library to watch man land on the moon.

We were called to the auditorium when Kennedy was killed.

I grew up with the threat of fall out and atomic bombs.

Classmates were sent to Viet Nam.

Hearts and livers were transplanted.

Babies were treated while still in their mother's wombs.

Some types of cancer have been defeated.

Color television became commonplace.

Education has progressed to the point that children in grade school are being taught what I learned in junior high.

Personal computers and cell phones became a necessity for living life good.

Depletion of natural resources has become a threat to our children's futures while knowledge has given them more hope than any other generation.

I am still watching and wondering at the capacity people have to learn and evolve.

Gee, no wonder I am so tired, I feel very, very old and think I need to go lie down. I need to conserve my strength for the next new thing coming along as we speak.

MaryF said...

I was 3 when man landed on the moon, but I remember running to my grandmother's kitchen window and trying to see if I could see them on the moon.

I was 8 when Nixon resigned. Mom called me in from playing with my friends because it was important.

I was a freshman when Reagan was shot. I was in the science building, I remember, when another student asked if I'd heard.

I was on the phone with my future dh when the Challenger exploded. We'd been watching the launch on TV. We were speechless, and I remember the hope that someone might have survived.

I was at school on 9-11 when the nurse came into my room and wanted to see my TV because one of the parents told her something had happened in NY. She turned the TV away from my PreK class, and not until those kids left was I able to see what she saw, the smoke over Manhattan. That afternoon I came home to watch it and my little kitty kept coming up to me, wondering why I was crying.

Like you, I was glued to the TV last Tuesday, watching with my son, telling him he'd always remember this event.

Joan said...

Momentous occasions indeed, Trish and history will tell the story...good or not so good.

I have a very vague memory of watching the funeral procession for JFK on TV over my Mom's shoulder (I WAS very young :-)

Was allowed to stay up to watch Neil Armstrong make one giant leap for mankind.

The hostage crisis? My most poignant memory of that came when the hostages came home and that one young soldier's little sister broke free of the crowd and ran into his arms.

Along the same lines of extremists and their views, I remember the hijacking of TWA's plane and the execution by the terrorists (we didn't have that term then, but the evil was still present) of Stithman, the young serviceman who lost his life because of his nationality.

Was working at the hospital the morning of the Challenger explosion. I'll NEVER forget the close up of Christa McAuliffe's parents as the horrible realization sunk in that their daughter was gone.

9/11? I was having an innoucous day waiting to have my carpets cleaned when I walked in to see the first tower on fire. Charlie Gibson said "A plane has accidently flown into the WTC". Moments later the 2nd plane dived into it.

My first horrified thought was "That was no accident" and the evil had manifested itself again against innocent people.

But onto more positive things ( or depressing since it's a reflection of my age :0)

I remember when cable TV was new. The first thing I ever watched was "Blue Lagoon". Pretty racy stuff for my household. :-)

Internet? Who'd have thought a) that I would have a computer or b) be able to travel, shop, visit with friends, research and generally become addicted to something like that.

The cell phone, the Wii (which I COULD become addicted to if I could afford it)Debit cards, heck the whole "power steering, power windows" in cars, for gosh sakes! And man, I want an HD TV.

And don't even get me started on iPods

Marie Force said...

I got my kids up on Nov. 4 (an hour later here in the east) because I wanted them to remember the moment Barack Obama was elected President. We talked about how, in the span of his lifetime, African Americans had gone from segregation to the highest office in the land. They were as proud of their country that night as we were.

PJ said...

I remember all the items noted by Dianna and Donna and most of Jo's. I remember:

Our first color television.

Our first private telephone line. (We had a party line for most of my childhood.)

The presidential campaign of 1960 and watching a televised debate for the first time.

I was in 7th grade science class when the principal announced over the intercom that President Kennedy had been shot. They turned on the radio and students and teachers alike dropped to their knees to pray as we awaited word of his condition. When he died our entire town shut down. For three days the only buildings open were the churches and people walked around in a daze. It was like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

I was a high school junior when MLK was assassinated. Riots broke out and we were under a mandatory curfew for many weeks. It was a tense and very scary time.

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon the same day I received my college acceptance letter.

I remember taking those pink sugar cubes for polio prevention.

I also remember the bomb drills in school.

I remember the first time Elvis performed on the Ed Sullivan Show (They only showed him from the waist up) and the first time the Beatles performed on the show (I fell in love with Paul).

I stood in the front yard of my home on the east coast of Florida the morning Challenger launched. I remember wondering why I hadn't yet seen the shuttle on it's ascent across the sky when my husband called me into the house. It was so sad and so shocking. I also remember the launch pad fire that killed the three Apollo 1 astronauts - Grisson, White and Chaffee - and almost killed the US space program.

I remember when handheld transistor radios were invented and microwave ovens and many other things that we take for granted today.

Great blog, Trish.

Have fun with the GR, Helen!

Louisa Cornell said...

Wow, Helen, no wonder he is staying! I'd stay too for pancakes! Remember what I said about what happens to fat chickens! For goodness sake don't take him to visit LaCampbell!

What a timely and thought-provoking post, Trish.

My brothers fully intend to make a big deal out of the fact that I will be half a century old in December. I am equally determined to thwart them!

I have a vague memory of the moon landing. For some reason I remember the Kennedy assassination better. I was in the living room of our home in Selma, Alabama. My Mom was ironing and the news came on. I remember she had one of those Coke bottles with the shaker thing on top to sprinkle water on the clothes. When Walter Cronkite came on and said Kennedy had been shot she dropped it and it broke.

We were on our way to the dentist office in Selma when we saw marchers coming down the road and a man was in a convertible in the median with a bullhorn. I asked Mom who he was and she said "That's Dr. King. He's fighting for the right to vote." She explained what was going on and why. It made a big difference in my life that my parents didn't gloss over things or think I was too young to know. She said I was watching history and not to forget it. I remember being very sad when I heard the man who was fighting for the right to vote had been killed.

I was in Germany before the wall came down and got to go through Check Point Charlie. My German professor was in Berlin the day the wall came down and he called me so I could hear it. Very cool.

I was in grad school when the Challenger blew up. Someone came running into our Music History class to tell us what happened. As with Challenger when I saw Columbia go down I hoped and prayed someone would survive.

On 9/11 I was off work and gardening in my front yard. My neighbor up the hill came down my driveway and said "Have you seen the news?" I watched all day and couldn't believe it.

And yes, I sat up and watched the election results on November 4th and thought about the man who fought for the right to vote and I smiled and thought "You did good, Dr. King. You did good."

I remember Vietnam and the Iran hostage crisis.

Janga said...

What a memorable blog! But our comments do date us.

I can say me too to PJ's list and go back a bit further. :)

I remember the first moment I ceased feeling young. I used the Kennedy assassination in class to make a point and got blank stares in return. Suddenly I realized that a defining historical moment of my generation, a day etched indelibly in my memory to the finest detail, was just a fact to my students. I felt old, although in years I was still fairly young.

I looked at the world differently after November 1963. I think my nine-year-old grand will look at the world differently after November 2008 in a more positive. She and her best friend, who is mixed race, can dream of their futures with aspirations that really are unlimited.

Caren Crane said...

Oh, Helen, you have a monopoly on that bird!

Trish, like you, I missed the Kennedy assassination, but I recall that of Dr. King. I was horrified and saddened. I felt we were losing something - someone - vital to the changing attitudes in the USA. Truthfully, since that time I haven't seen huge strides for minorities of any sort or for women. We have all continued to scrabble and scratch for any bit of "equality" we gained.

I feel proud to be an American now and so hopeful for what we might accomplish and change. I have never felt like that in my lifetime, but I imagine that is how people felt when women were allowed to vote, when blacks were allowed to vote. The closest I came to feeling that sense of history was the fall of the Berlin wall. I couldn't believe it was really happening.

I also was shocked and disbelieving when the USSR dissolved. Of course, the deciding factor was economics rather than any idealogical shifts, but it was a huge thing. No more Cold War, kids!

The attacks on 9/11 were surreal. That didn't feel like history, but it did feel profound. I imagine it was the same loss of innocence the USA experienced when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. It was impossible to ignore and it was on our doorstep. I can't comment on the actions that followed, but it was just surreal all the way around.

I also remember hearing news of the energy crisis in the '70s and my parents talking about the lines for gas. We were all poor then. So different than today!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Wonderful and thought-provoking post, Trish!

I'm right there with ya, Donna and PJ. Remember our first color TV and watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan (it was love at first sight with Paul for me too, PJ!). The assassinations and the attempts were horrifying, and seemed to be all too frequent there for awhile. :-( I remember Mark Spitz winning his Olympic gold metals because he is from this area and I'd just moved here.

The first history making event I clearly remember was President Kennedy's inaguration. I was in 3rd grade and my teacher took the whole class to her house to watch it on her TV. Beforehand she told us to pay careful attention to the old man who was going to read a poem. She said, "His name is Robert Frost, and he won't live much longer." And to this day, I remember that white haired man and how the wind blew his paper away but he kept reciting his poem.

So all you who woke the kiddies up to see the election results, or plan to have them watch the inaguration, THEY WILL REMEMBER!

P.S. WTG on keeping the chook for yet another day, Helen!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

What a GREAT STORY about the Coke bottle with the water sprinkler head. My mom had one of those too! And remember how you rolled the sprinkled clothes up and put them in a plastic bag before you ironed them?

And HOW VERY COOL that you SAW the marchers in Selma!

We really need to preserve these personal stories of history making events!


Trish Milburn said...

Hey, everyone, sorry to just be getting to the blog. I've been out at my RWA chapter meeting today.

Helen, congrats on nabbing the GR. He certainly likes it down there with you gals.

That's neat about being able to see the moon landing live. That would have been awesome, just a year before my time.

Trish Milburn said...

Jo, how scary for your mom and her friend! I'm glad they bumped into that American colonel.

Trish Milburn said...

Donna, didn't mean to depress anyone, but those big, historic events seem to be on the extremes -- extremely positive or extremely negative.

Cool that you saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. That's a huge pop culture moment. Since I work for a magazine that's connected to the electric industry, I've come into contact with lots of people who remember when they first got electricity. That had to be life-altering.

You're right about the technology generation gap. Seriously, it doesn't seem like all that long ago that I graduated high school (though it'll be -- gulp -- 20 years next year), but cell phones, laptops, texting, iPods, the Internet, etc., weren't even in our realm of possibility then. And as we said at lunch today, what did we ever do without Google?

Trish Milburn said...

Dianna, the polio vaccine would have been huge to experience. Such a wonderful advancement. I wish they could come up with a vaccine for cancer. It's so incredibly prevalent now.

That's so interesting what you said about what kids are learning in school when.

Trish Milburn said...

Mary, I know that speechless feeling. When things like the shuttle losses and 9/11 happen, it's surreal in a very bad way. You just can't wrap your mind around it.

Trish Milburn said...

Joan, I don't remember that scene from the hostages' return home. I only have a vague recollection that they were released after Carter left office. I do, however, have another vague memory of the Achille Lauro hijacking.

Trish Milburn said...

PJ, I've heard that that 1960 debate helped Kennedy beat Nixon based on stage presence.

That's such a neat memory to have received your college acceptance letter on the moon walk day.

Trish Milburn said...

Marie, it certainly was a historic election because of how far we've come in 40 years. I didn't live through segregation, but when I see the footage of the dogs being sent after the African-American people -- by police, no less -- I just can't understand that kind of racial hatred. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

Trish Milburn said...

Louisa, wow on having lived in Selma during that historic time and actually seeing the marchers and Dr. King. Talk about being an eyewitness to history.

That's cool about hearing the Berlin Wall come down.

Trish Milburn said...

Janga, isn't it odd when you realize someone you're talking to doesn't remember something you do because they weren't alive then! I love those humor things that get sent around the Internet about "You might be a child of the '80s if," etc. Things like you remember when MTV played videos, you remember who shot J.R., you ever practiced getting into and out of your car through the windows, your first Walkman was the size of a brick and weighed 10 pounds, you wore leg warmers and parachute pants. :)

Trish Milburn said...

Caren, I can't believe I neglected to mention the dissolving of the Soviet Union. It's interesting to think back that I remember when Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia existed as countries.

Trish Milburn said...

Cindy, that's neat that you remember Robert Frost at Kennedy's inauguration.

Virginia said...

For some reason the one that sticks in my head it the day the John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I will never forget it I was in the third grade and we spent the day watching the TV. Also we will all remember 911. It is strange that we never forget the bad things that happen to the world.

Kate Carlisle said...

Sorry to be joining in so late but I wanted to let you know what a wonderful, thought-provoking (and tear-provoking) post this was, Trish. Like everyone else, I can remember where I was when so many of these events happened, right down to what I was wearing, in some cases!

So many of them truly shaped my life on a personal level, and I'll add one to the list -- the shootings at Kent State. I was in college when it happened and I took those attacks very personally. My life changed in many ways that day.

Helen, hope you had fun with the GR! I think you two have a very special bond! :-)

Trish Milburn said...

Virginia, it does seem though these big moments we remember are associated with bad things, and that we all remember watching lots of coverage on TV. It makes you wonder how much different it must have been when big events happened in the past, before TV, how it might have been days or weeks before people heard that the Civil War ended or President Lincoln had been assassinated.

Trish Milburn said...

Kate, I'm sure the Kent State shooting was very traumatic, particularly for college students at the time.