When I was a kid, the indelible memory of the adults was Pearl Harbor. My parents were teenagers in 1941. They recalled exactly where they were when they heard the news of the raid by the Japanese.
The next one was President Kennedy. Everyone older than me can quickly tell you where they were, and usually exactly what they were doing, when they heard the awful news of his assassination.
I was only six. I don’t have a memory of hearing of President Kennedy’s death, but one of the earliest memories of my life remains, sitting in front of our living room’s black and white Zenith console television as I watched the caisson carrying his casket in the funeral march.
This fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, everyone who is from my generation and older is recalling where they were when they watched this amazing event. I was twelve when it happened. My memory is indelibly stamped.
We Eilers were in our living room. I was standing in front of that same Zenith television. Was I standing because there were no seats left, my folks and other five siblings occupying the available space? Or was it because I was so excited?
I suspect it was the latter. I could hardly stand myself for the nervous energy that was coursing through me, a twelve-year-old boy who would look at the moon in awe that these men were there.
I don’t have much else to say about that day, so this got me thinking about other events and the indelible memory stamped in answer to the where were you question.
Chronologically, the next one that comes to mind is the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. This shuttle liftoff was special, with Christa McAuliffe on board as the first teacher going into space. In those days, working at MasterTag only five minutes away and having an hour for lunch, I went home at midday. On January 28, 1986, I took off a half hour early so that I wouldn’t miss the liftoff.
If I had come home at noon, I would have missed everything.
Liftoff came at 11:38. Once again, I was in the living room in front of the TV. This time, I was with my first wife Kim and the house was our place on the south side of Montague. The television was another Zenith console, but now in color.
Seventy-three quick seconds after liftoff came the explosion. With the rest of the country, we sat in horror, especially as the cameras continued to show the bewildered faces of Christa’s parents.
The final noteworthy event, which all adult Americans surely have indelibly stamped in memory where they were when they heard or saw the news: 9/11. In those days when I was a pastor I didn’t listen to the news when in my office. At 9:00, I got into my car to head across Michigan’s Thumb for our second-Tuesday-of-the-month pastor’s meeting.
I turned on WJR Detroit as I was passing the Port Hope Community School and heading out of the village. The second jet had just hit the twin towers. The announcers still had no idea what was going on at that time. I, with the rest of the country, remained riveted to the news for days.
I have one other indelible memory that’s noteworthy, this of a personal nature. I recall where I was the first time I realized I was mortal. I was in my mid teens. In our garage, I was standing on our back porch, leaning under the track for the garage door. Too quickly, I stood up straight.
Or tried to. I smacked my head, catching a sharp edge. I thought I was going to bleed to death.
I muttered, “This is how these things happen. People can die, at any given time, in freaky ways. I could have killed myself just now.”
Memories indelibly stamped. We all have them. Where we were. What we were doing.
Where were you when . . . ?