Friday, 24 September 2021

The Four World Events I Remember

Well, I actually remember many world events but these are the only ones in my life that I can remember where I was, who I was with, and what I was doing when I heard.

JFK's Assassination (22 November 1963)

I was 16 years old and a junior in high school when JFK was shot. When I heard the news, I was on lunch break and I was in the back hall of Topeka High School flirting with a girl named Paulette Cobler. I was stridently anti-Kennedy, and much to my later shame, my immediate reaction to hearing that the President had been shot was 'No such luck'.

When we returned to class after lunch an announcement was made on the school public announcement system of what most of us had already heard. As I recall at a remove of almost 60 years we were then dismissed for the rest of the day.

The rest of the day and the following weekend were sombre. The TV was full of reminiscences and funereal music and life, in general, seemed subdued. 

The Loss of USSS Challenger (28 January 1986)

I was employed as a storekeeper in Robinson Gymnasium at the University of Kansas the day the Challenger exploded. My job entailed handing out towels, racquets, basketballs, etc. at a counter. I always had a radio playing, usually tuned to KANU our university public radio station.

The station was carrying the launch audio live. When, 73 seconds into the flight, the craft disintegrated killing all those on board, I must have been visibly stunned because people were stopping to ask me what was the matter. All I could say was that we had just lost the Challenger with all hands.

Within minutes, the area in front of my counter was crossed with people listening to the continuing coverage of the disaster.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989)

I was working as the front desk receptionist is for a large asbestos abatement engineering firm the day the wall came down.

We had only recently gotten cable TV to remedy the fact that we could only receive two over the air channels and my wife was watching something when the programming was interrupted by a news bulletin from Berlin.

As soon as she realised what was going on, she called me and told me to listen as she held the phone up to the TV so I could hear the audio. 

I am old enough that I well remember 13 August 1961 when the Reds started building the Wall. I remember the Berliners waiting for the US, Britain, and France to react to this blatant violation of the four-power agreement on Berlin and for the tanks to roll destroying the nascent wall. I remember reading of their dismay at their betrayal by the Western Allies.

To me, and I think to most people, the Wall had become a fact of life that would be there forever. How wrong we were as it turned out! As I listened to the TV audio, I began to weep with joy. People stopped to ask what was going on. I would tell them 'The Berlin Wall is coming down'. Almost immediately people gathered around my desk as I relayed what I was hearing.

9/11 (11 September 2001)

I was a manager in a retail drug chain. I had just been transferred to a new store. When I walked in to report for work on my first day, the entire staff was gathered around the counter watching the display TV. I'd never seen a display TV plugged in in any store I'd worked in so I asked what was going on. My boss, the general manager, told me to shut up. I looked up at the TV just as the plane hit the second tower.

My wife and I were having serious problems at the time. We'd barely spoken for days. She worked in a thrift shop directly across the street from my new store. She came across the street and told me, 'I need a hug'. Assuming war was inevitable and the likelihood of the draft being reintroduced, she was doubly concerned because our two oldest boys were the right (wrong?) age for the draft.

Later, I walked out the backdoor of the store to have a smoke. I looked across the street at a convenience store/gas station. The price of gas had been around $1.50/gal as I recall. I looked at the price signs and thought to myself that we'd see two dollar gas before the day was out.

I was wrong. By the end of the day, there were local stations charging $5.00 or more per gallon. Of course, when things calmed down, their owners paid some rather hefty fines for price-gouging.

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