There are few events where people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing across decades. Some are personal and some are communal.
9/11, certainly. I was listening to Imus in the morning, for God's sake, though I loathed his politics I found him amusing. And he started talking about a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. I wandered upstairs and started brushing my teeth until I remembered both my children were in New York City and went into the TV room just in time to watch the second plane crash live. My mouth was full of toothpaste and my toothbrush was in my hand as I stared, not knowing what to think, when I heard Bern's truck careen into the driveway with screeching of tires. Then, after a moment, she was beside me, staring at the TV. "Josh and Mimi" is all she said, "where are they?"
And when my father called early on a Wednesday morning in April of 1973 and told me my mother had gone into a coma and I should come, come now. Bern was in New York City acting in an off-off Broadway play and I was in our apartment in Morgantown, about ready to go to work for the West Virginia Department of Welfare as a Child Protection Specialist. Instead I drove unsteadily to Trinity Church after calling Snork Roberts, the Episcopal Chaplain of West Virginia University to tell him I had to talk to him before I drove 5 1/2 hours (yes, Virginia, it takes that long to drive from a county in West Virgina bordering on Pennsylvania to the southern most county in West Virgina bordering on South western Virginia). Snork came and dressed in full Eucharistic Vestments to give me communion and anoint me in the tiny chapel of Trinity Church. It was one of the oddest experiences of my life and, I am convinced, gave me the ability to drive 5 and 1/2 hours to my mother's hospital bed without killing myself and others.
The Bay of Pigs standoff is etched into my brain because Woodrow Wilson (I kid you not!) our bus driver to Gary High School from Anawalt, pulled off the road at a marker for some Indian battle in the middle of, I guarantee you, nowhere, and started reading to us the evacuation bus schedule if the missiles started flying from Cuba and the US and Gwen Brooks started to freak out and ran to the front of the bus and pushed past Mr. Wilson and tried to get out of the bus, which she couldn't, but she could scream and wail endlessly until Woodrow took her in his arms and she passed out from fear. How could that not be etched in my mind?
Then there is tomorrow. On November 22, 1963, I was a junior in high school and at about 2:45, the assistant principal came over the intercom to tell us that the President had been assassinated. It was last period, school ended at 3, and I was in English class with Miss Stacks, the strictest teacher at Gary High School. But she dissolved into tears, astonishing me since I'd assumed she was a Republican, and all the girls in the class fell apart as well. I was feeling misty myself about that dashing young President and his perfect wife but all the girls were needing hugs and support and most of them had never given me a glance, but now I could hold them and say soothing words while feeling bodies I would never have felt otherwise.
The 18 miles from Gary High to Anawalt were ridden for the first and last time in total silence on Woodrow Wilson's school bus. We were too young to opinions that would matter about JFK being killed and too old to not know we were in a moment of history that we would remember forever.
And tomorrow that will be 50 years ago. Half-a-century. And, like the other moments I will never forget and tell you exactly where I was and what I was thinking (my wedding day, my mother's death, my father's death, both my children's birth, my ordination, my retirement Sunday, a few others you'd most likely not understand) the day Jack died is imprinted on my soul, indelible, frozen in amber.
I won't even trouble you with my ponderings of what would have happened if that hadn't happened, though I have some--although I think LBJ got lots done JFK might not have--but tomorrow will be a day when, about 2:45 pm, I'll take a deep breath and ponder my life.
I'd recommend that for anyone. Even if you weren't alive in 1963.
I talked to one of the guys in the package store who's two years older than me about the story I'd just heard on NPR about the Boston Symphony Orchestra which was in an afternoon concert on 11/22/1963 when the news came. They took a break, made the announcement and played the "Funeral March" from Beethoven's 5th Symphony from the sheet music without a rehearsal. Then they took and break and argued about whether or not to preform the second half of the program. Finally the President of the Board of the Symphony came on stage and told the audience that he had gone to a concert the day his father died and found great solace in the music. And assured the audience that the second portion of the concert would provide them solace as well.
The applause after that announcement was deafening....
John in the Package Store was involved in the Weathermen Underground for a while until they were planning to blow up the George Washington Bridge. That passed a limit he told me and he walked out of the meeting and spent a month in the woods of Maine.
Had that plan--to blow up the GW bridge--happened, it would be a moment when I remembered where I was.
John and I grew up in interesting times....
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