Where were you when IT happened?

Watching the recent rescue of the Chilean miners on TV prompted The Stiletto Mom to reflect on where she’d been during other history-making events. She got me thinking, too. I’ve taken the lead from some of the events she mentioned (which are marked with a *), but added in a couple of my own.

March 1981: President Reagan was shot in the lung by John Hinckley, Jr.*: That was my junior year of high school, and I think we were on Easter break; I believe it happened on a Monday, and my sister and I were home watching daytime TV. Once the news broke, that was it for the soaps, but as I recall, there was some drama provided by the newscasters and Cabinet members – no, really, Alexander Haig was NOT in charge. 

January 1986:  Challenger disintegrates on take off:* I was in the cafeteria on the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, having lunch with friends (mostly other accounting majors), when my friend Theresa’s sister Melody burst in. “The shuttle exploded. Everyone’s dead.” Floridians were pretty invested in the space-shuttle program back then, and we were all in shock. A group of us went to the campus library to find a television to watch the news, and others tried to convince professors to cancel afternoon classes “because no one could concentrate anyway.” As I recall, it didn’t work, but I think I may have blown off an evening class to go home to my (first) husband and son (then 18 months old).

I had a feeling that the Challenger explosion might be my generation’s “JFK moment,” so I made an extra effort to remember the details.

April 1995: The Oklahoma City bombing: I was at work when the news broke, and not much work got done for a few hours. Memphis isn’t all that far from OKC, and there was some minor local panic because of that, especially since the early assumptions were that the explosion was engineered by foreign terrorists – if they’d attack a relatively low-profile place like Oklahoma, what would stop them from coming to Tennessee next? However, I don’t recall hearing of any special emergency measures enacted by the city or county right off the bat, and the day pretty much went on.

September 11, 2001:* I was just pulling into the parking lot at work – different job; I worked at the Memphis Zoo then – when Morning Edition announced that they’d just received a report about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center towers. I thought it must have been an errant small plane – unusual, and sad – until I heard a little while later that another plane had hit the second tower. Then the report came about the Pentagon. My boss called me from home; she was going to be late for an appointment we had scheduled that morning because she couldn’t tear herself away from the TV. “I bet it’s Osama bin Ladin,” she said to me. (The person we were supposed to meet with never showed up; I guess she couldn’t tear herself away from her TV either.) Several of us watched the news on the conference-room TV for awhile, and remarked about how surreal the scenes from New York City were – they looked like the movie Independence Day. Most of us stood around talking for much of the day – again, not much work got done, and the Zoo didn’t get many visitors. (Some people urged the administration to close for the day, but we didn’t.) My (first) husband and I would file for divorce a couple of months later – it had been coming for awhile, and September 11 had nothing to do with it – but that night, it was good to be back home with him and our son.

And I remember how quiet it was for the next few days. Memphis is a major distribution center, but since transportation was shut down for the next several days, there was no noise from planes or trains. But I had a ticket to fly to California on September 14, and was anxious about whether I’d be able to go; it turned out that was the day the airports were re-opened, and I became one of the first post-9/11 air passengers.

Election Day, 2008: My (second) husband and I, along with his children and our dog, had just moved into our current home a couple of days before, so he and I had both had the day off from work for unpacking, cleaning out our old apartment, and moving-related errands. I’d voted by mail already, but I went with him when he cast his vote, and that evening we were all gathered in the family room watching the returns on television. I was IM’ing with my son at the same time, discussing the results as he watched them from his home in Washington DC. We were all afraid to believe what we were seeing – because we’re usually pessimists, and this was actually, mostly, what we’d wanted to see and didn’t think we would. Tall Paul stressed to his kids the historic nature of the day, and we felt cautiously excited – and yes, hopeful. (Then again, we did have the passage of Prop 8, which we’d been strongly “no” on, to offset things.)

And I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I really didn’t follow the story of the Chilean miners very closely, although I think it’s amazing that they all survived for so long, and it’s thrilling that they’ve all been returned to the surface relatively safe and sound. I can’t help but contrast it with other mining accidents and the Gulf oil-drilling disaster this spring, and I’m very glad their story has a much happier ending.

What do you remember about where you were – and who was with you, and what you did – during times of historical significance? And what other historically-significant events are especially memorable for you?

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