Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Our Most Momentous Memories

“No, you’re lying.” I didn’t believe what my six-year old friend told me at school that day in 1963. We had been playmates before we were schoolmates. I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.
“No, really. Somebody shot the president. He died.”
For Baby Boomers, the assassination of President Kennedy is one of those “Where were you when you heard the news?” moments. It begins a string of common memories, our parents being so very quiet and sad, staying home from school to watch a funeral on television. Tiny John-John saluting as the casket rolled by.
There have been times during my life that formed collections of memories. I can tell you many details about my wedding day, the days each of my children were born. I probably recall everything so well because my emotions were at a peak. I knew that this would be an important event, to be remembered for a lifetime.
There are some moments, though, that stand out even more. When retelling these, we actually go back in time, we relive the whole thing. We smell the same smells, hear the same sounds.
One such memory was related to me at my “day job”. The mere mention of a date on the calendar prompted my friend to tell about what happened to her twenty-five years earlier. She was in labor, about to deliver a daughter. Her husband was in the bathroom at the hospital, putting on a protective gown over his clothes. “Hurry up,” the doctor admonished, “You’re about to miss the whole thing.”
The daddy’s voice came into the delivery room, “I can’t figure out what to do with these ties.” The obvious next request was “Honey, can you come help me?” Luckily, he didn’t say it. She was, after all, a little busy.
Some moments are remembered because of the irony of the whole situation. Another friend told of a very sad occasion, when the family was assembled at church for a funeral. As she and her sister prepared to go in for the service, a dog somehow slipped in to the sanctuary. As quietly as they could, the two tried to move the intruder outside. When the sister employed her foot, the dog yelped loudly, prompting smothered laughter from both ladies. But-it gets better. Years later, the sister passed away, and you guessed it-a dog attended her funeral. Of course, my friend was again consumed with the giggles.
One very vivid vision is stuck in my head, and I’m not really sure why. I’m sitting on the wood floor next to my parents’ bed, which is covered with a white chenille bedspread trimmed with pink flowers. The sun streams in from the window as I move the tiny plastic furniture around in my new metal dollhouse. My Daddy’s arm hangs over the side of the bed, and he responds to my “Look Daddy” with a non-committal “Mmmpph”. I’m not upset about his lack of concern, just content to sit near him and play while he sleeps. From pictures I’ve seen, I think this may have occurred on my third birthday, but even without the pictures, I’m there, reliving what may be my earliest memory.
Walking down the hallway after a first-thing in the morning meeting at work, someone says a plane has hit the World Trade Center in New York. I picture a small craft, maybe a daredevil who ventured too close while trying to “buzz” the skyscrapers. Someone has turned on a television in one of the cubicles, and we alternate between being transfixed and turning away as the unbelievable horror unfolds. We try in vain to continue our day to day routine, and gradually drift out, wanting only to find our family members and hold them close.
It’s almost time for the ten o’clock news on the Sunday after Easter. My daughter calls, telling us to tune into Fox, where they are reporting that Osama bin Laden has been killed. Soon, all of the networks are in the same holding pattern, waiting for the President to confirm what has already been leaked. Commentators try to turn speculation into verification, and we are finally relieved to hear the news from the commander-in-chief himself.
Our memories are part of us, whether shared with the world, or alive only in our own minds. Flashes of intense emotion can re-emerge without warning. They define who we are, give us something in common, make us human. Troubling recollections should be shared so that they don’t burden us. Happy ones should be treasured, and saved for a time when we may need to smile again.

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