Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Where Were You . . .

An old unfinished meme I found in my files, and remarkably suitable for a year-end look into personal and public history.

1. When John F. Kennedy was shot (11/22/1963)

Sitting about 18 inches in front of the TV. I was 4, and I had a serious crush on him. I remember it vividly.

2. When Mt. St. Helens blew (5/18/1980)

Living in a commune in Bryn Mawr, PA, and working doing market surveys over the telephone. We couldn't get a line west of the Mississippi for days -- the ash cloud knocked out all the satellite signals. Five years to the day later, I was getting married to the scientist who calculated what percentage of the mountain blew up.

3. Reagan's shooting (3/1981)

Working the 6AM to noon shift in a Dunkin' Donuts in Bryn Mawr, PA. The consensus among the customers was that Reagan's shooting was a normal political hazard, whereas the assassination of John Lennon was deeply unfair and wrong. It was pouring down rain, I remember that.

4. When the space shuttle Challenger exploded (1/28/1986)

Working as a production editor in Westport, CT. I was in total shock. I grew up watching the space program, and I always loved it. I also remember where I was when the first Apollo space capsule burned on the ground -- it was my older sister's ninth birthday.

5. When the 7.1 earthquake hit San Francisco (10/7/1989)

Watching the World Series pregame show on TV. (I'm a baseball fan.) My husband and I were living outside Philadelphia. He had to fly out to Silicon Valley the next week, and he brought me back an earthquake survivor T-shirt.

6. When the Gulf War began (1/15/1991)

Married, in grad school, and living outside Philadelphia—about 3 miles as the crow flies from the Navy Yard. My husband was doing something mysterious that took him to Washington, DC, for three days a week. He warned me that if he ever called and asked if I'd seen my mother lately, that I should grab the silverware and the cats and flee to her place in the mountains, because it was a warning that Iraq was nuking us. Now in those days, we didn't have call waiting. That evening I was on the phone with my friend Gillian, whose birthday it was, when I realized that Jeopardy wasn't on the TV. Instead I watched the tracery of Cruise missiles. The war had started. I got off the phone and saw the whole sky turn white. Then there was a series of brilliant flashes, and then vast booming.

"That's it," I thought. "They're dropping the bomb." So I went out on the front porch to watch the world end.

Unfortunately, at least for my dignity, it was an unseasonal thunderstorm, not the apocalypse. When I told Billy about it, his reaction was amazement at my stupidity. Why hadn't I fled to the basement? I could have taken shelter there and survived. It hadn't even occurred to me.

This is one of the most typical stories about me.

7. When OJ Simpson was chased in his White Bronco (6/17/1994)

Still living outside Philly in that grand old brick house. We'd gone to a twilight matinee of Speed, which was opening that weekend, and when we came out we heard the low-speed chase on KYW, the local news radio station. Kafkaesque.

8. When the Branch Davidian compound burned in Waco (4/19/1993)

Out shopping at the Strawbridge and Clothier in Springfield, Delaware County, PA. I happened to be next to the electronics section, looked up, and saw the blaze on fifty or sixty TV screens at once.

9. When the building in Oklahoma City was bombed (4/19/1995)

Still outside Philly. Specifically, I was working in my office in the western front corner of the house, second floor, listening to the radio as I worked.

10. When Princess Di was killed (8/31/1997)

By then we'd moved upstate, back to the county where I grew up. I first heard about it when I stopped for gas and practically tripped over a stack of Sunday newspapers. Again, an eerie moment of horror: "Diana Killed in Accident" looked so much like a headline about my niece's death not 7 months before.

11. When Bush was first announced President (?)

I can't remember when, exactly, it was announced, but by then I had left my husband, was living in Binghamton, NY, and working at a job I loved.

12. When the 6.8 earthquake hit Nisqually, WA (2/28/2001)

Still in beautiful Binghamton. In the next month, it snowed five feet there. Beautiful snowy Binghamton.

13. When terrorists knocked over the World Trade Center (9/11/2001)

Back in Binghamton. I'd moved out here to California, but I needed to return to wrap things up. The story is here.

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