Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Things You Remember

One of my co-workers asked an interesting question the other day: "What's the earliest historical event you remember?"

I thought it was an interesting question on two fronts: first, because I think it's useful to think about the time in which you've lived; second, because it makes one feel really ancient, if the ancient one is yours truly. It's also the sort of question Jean-Luc Picard tends to ask in his "The Weekend Question" feature at Captain Picard's Journal (feel free to use it, Jean-Luc, if you haven't already).


The responses of my various co-workers included:

The assassination of Martin Luther King (in 1968);

The first manned landing on the moon (in 1969); and,

The release of the original Star Wars movie in 1977;

My own first historical memory was of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962 - at which time I was a month shy of being 11 years old. The whole thing was a bit beyond my level of geopolitical understanding, but I remember my parents being nervously riveted to our old black-and-white TV, my father trying to explain what was going on, and - most of all - the school exercises in which we had to crouch under our desks with our hands clasped on our heads, which would certainly have ensured our survival in case of thermonuclear war.

As a history buff, I have long thought about my place in the endless train of events that connect Genesis with the age of Hugo Chavez, Britney Spears, and the Taliban. I've always found it fascinating that I was born less than 100 years (86, to be exact) after the end of the American Civil War and six years after the end of World War II (a "baby boomer"). I've lived through the first manned space flight (Yuri Gagarin, in 1961) and the first man to walk on the moon (Neil Armstrong, in 1969 - only eight years later). I was one of the last military folks of the Vietnam generation (I was commissioned in 1973, and was one of the few who didn't end up in Southeast Asia), was involved in the mass evacuation of Americans from Iran after the Islamic revolution in 1979; and observed the first Gulf War from my desk in the bowels of the Pentagon.

I oughta write a book: something with a catchy title, like Present on the Fringes: A Not-So-Innocent Bystander to History. But, at least for now, I'm too lazy.

So what are YOUR earliest memories of historical events? I'm waiting to see the comments, particularly those from those of you outside the United States - it'll be interesting to see what constitutes a "historical event" from your perspectives, and how it may differ from an American perspective.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Purple Flowers said...

The funeral of John F. Kennedy November 1963.

KKTSews said...

First moon landing. We had recently gotten a color TV and I remember wondering why we weren't getting a color broadcast of the famous "small step for man, giant leap for mankind" moment. I also remember regularly watching every lift off probably both before and after Apollo 11. I was born in 1962, so I was 7 for the first landing.

Amanda said...

Mine was when Iraq invaded Kuwait. My family was on holidays, "roughing it", in China but my father had a short wave radio with him. At that time, central and western China was still a lot less developed and there was not a lot of foreign news at all.

Melissa B. said...

Hurricane Donna. Does a hurricane count as "historic," especially since it took out a big swath of the East Coast? I remember because it was the first day of first grade, and school was closed. Please make sure to come over & Share the Caption Love for Sx3 today!

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

July 1969, 1st moon landings, I was almost 5. We watched it on a large TV on a large steel frame-like trolley in my Infants School, sitting crossed-legged with about 50 other kids in one of the senior upstairs classrooms.

I was always amazed talking with my parents and their friends, who easily remembered details of where they where and what they heard and saw when the Japanese midget submarines torpedoed and killed sailors in Sydney Harbour in 1942.

Plus some people who could tell me when and where they were when they heard JFK was shot, but obviously before my time.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Reagan's being shot but if you want the thing I most remember it was the Challenger going down.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I do like the question and may well use it in the future. So many things seemed to happen when I was young...I remember the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Mike said...

Sputnik. But far more important, our first TV.

Wv: scoti - beam me up.

John A Hill said...

I remember the first lunar orbit, that was at the end of '68 and I was 8 yrs old.

Although it was a year and a half later (May 12, 1970) a more vivid memory is Ernie Banks 500th career home run. I was home sick from school that day and I remember laying on a lounge chair on the back (screened-in) porch listening to the game on a transistor radio.

Mal Kiely [Lancelots Pram] said...

This has been a brilliant post and some really fantastic responses - thanks everyone, from a fellow Bilbo-fan :)

harper & beatrix said...

fantastic question.

my first domestic memory is the presidential election of george bush (the elder) over michael dukakis.

my first international memory is of the berlin wall coming down.

for comparison, i was born in 1982.


Leslie David said...

Hmm, I would have thought you would have said Kennedy's assassination--you were what, 11? Definitely the moon landing, I was 13. Star Wars, OK, it showed at only one theater in Phoenix and I stood in line for 2 and a half hours to see it. I'd say the Berlin Wall coming down, marking the end of the Cold War.

Went to the free dance at Strictly Ballroom--the place was empty! I can't believe their people didn't go to a free dance. Met a guy there who knows Mr. B, he said, "Isn't the owner a rather flamboyant gentleman? Now is that PC or what? Picked up the dress for Agnes--the blue is really pretty.

fiona said...

The Ibrox Disaster 1971.,,5~460,00.html
My cousin Mason Philip died along with four of his friends, he was 15. I was 8. My dad had to drive to Glasgow that night to identify the body. Sad first memory...

Mrs. Geezerette said...

My first memories of an historical event were of WWII. I was just a tot when the U.S. became involved in the war. So I do no recall the very beginning of it. I remember how things were rationed back then though. You could not get nice toys for children during wartime. The factories were busy making stuff related to war.

I remember that my father barely missed being drafted toward the end of war. His heart would not pass the test. Oddly enough he lived to be 80 years old and died of something else unrelated to his heart which was not in bad shape at all.

Since my first recollections as a child were of wartime, I thought war was a perpetual thing, always going on and never stopping. It was not until I was older that I came to understand otherwise.

Anonymous said...


Death of Babe Ruth. I was 5 at the time and we were at the Jersey Shore. My parents were big baseball fans and my mother considered the event important enough to formally announce it to me.

Anonymous baseball fan whom you know far too well.

Hale McKay said...

Thank goodness for SusieQ's response. Otherwise I would've come across as the oldest commenter.

My earliest historical memory - was the news of the plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper.

....the day the music died.