Saturday, July 18, 2009

Moments Frozen in Time

Doug: A few weeks ago I was discussing the passing of Michael Jackson with the incoming freshmen I was teaching in my summer school world history class. I told them that at the age of 14, it was an event they might later mark their lives by -- where they were and what they were doing when they heard the word of the King of Pop's untimely passing.

Folks a little bit older than me often remark that they can recall exactly where they were on the day they heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas. While that was a few years before my time, there are several events (some a bit more serious than others) from which I can mark time in my life. I'd like to discuss a few from my childhood, and I'd invite you to leave a comment for those moments in your life that remain vivid in your memory.

As a kid, my sister and I spent a few summers with our aunt and uncle and family in the Chicago suburbs. My aunt was a stay-at-home mom, so she had the time (and resources) to take us and my cousin on excursions. What I also found to be very cool was the 7-11 that was a block down the street from their house -- a store to which I was able to walk by myself at the ripe old age of 9. I recall my aunt giving me money that I used to purchase Amazing Spider-Man #150 at that store in August of 1975, but the next comic she bought me was even cooler! Not too far from their home in St. Charles was an indoor amusement park that had just opened in Bolingbrook. The park was known as Old Chicago -- you can read more about it at
She took the three of us there one day and we just had a blast! I'd been to several carnivals before, but had never been on a rollercoaster.
After, we went outside the amusement area to the old-fashioned shopping center to enjoy some ice cream. As there was a store with a comic spinner rack visible through the window, she shelled out another quarter so I could buy Daredevil #127! Funny how I can envision that like it was yesterday!

You may recall the days before there were such things as comic shops and Internet sales -- that's right, chasing all over God's creation for that elusive new release. In April 1977, Avengers #161 was such a book for me. I went to two Osco Drug Stores, a couple of other pharmacies that I knew sold comics -- everywhere I could think of. I got desperate, so I opened up the Yellow Pages to see if there were any hobby shops or other places I might have overlooked. I came across a book store named "Mickey's Books and Novelties". Now as far as my youthful mind knew, a "novelty" was another way of saying "that cheap crap you get in a goodie bag at some other kid's birthday party". So I asked my mom to drive me across town, because when I had called, Mickey told me that he indeed sold comics.

When we got there, mom dropped me off in front and pulled around to the side. I faced down the sign on the front door that said "No one under 18 admitted" and went on in. This was serious business and I was not to be denied. Sure enough, through the thick smoke and incense, I spied the awesome George Perez cover you see above and snatched it from the spinner rack. Took it to the counter and paid for it and left without incident. Now, and the store is still in the same location, were I to re-enter today with a bit more of a "worldly mind/awareness", I'm sure I would have noticed that there was certainly a reason no chubby-cheeked 11-year old with a paunch and bushy hair was supposed to be in that store. But I honestly didn't notice anything other than the new treasure I left with.
The first really significant death I recall happened on August 16, 1977 when the King of Rock 'n' Roll died at his Graceland mansion. I had been certainly aware of Elvis' music and even at the age of 12 I appreciated him as a pop culture icon. I vividly remember being in the side room on the main floor of my aunt's house when the news came across the small black and white television I'd been watching. I was stunned, as I'm sure most were when they got word.

The last several events take me to high school and beyond, and are certainly, like the passing of Elvis Presley, a little more serious than the day I got this-or-that comic book.

As a high school freshman, I'd become very interested in popular music -- all kinds. From the just-fading disco movement to soft rock like the Carpenters to hard rock to what was probably just then becoming known as "classic rock" -- I liked it all. So it was with outright shock that, as I readied myself for bed at approximately 9:45 pm on a Monday night (December 8, 1980), Howard Cosell gave the following news flash just before halftime of a game between the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins -- you can see and hear it here: John Lennon's death was a shock, and a moment I will never forget.

Later that spring of my freshman year, on March 30, 1981 actually, I had just arrived home from morning track practice (it was spring break) when I flipped on the television to see ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds give the following report, available here: As I said, the Kennedy assassination was before my time. This was very real, and very frightening to me. I wasn't much into politics at this time, so to me Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States of America -- and you don't mess with the United States. I watched the coverage the remainder of the day.

I was a sophomore in college on January 28, 1986 when a friend told me in the student union of Burgess Hall shortly after my 8:00 am class was over that the space shuttle Challenger had blown up after take-off earlier that morning. This was as shocking to me as the Reagan shooting had been those years earlier. The image seems as fresh today as it did 23 years ago. Each time there is discussion of problems with the shuttle, delayed launches, etc., my mind goes back to that day all those years ago.

I think the last event I'll comment on is burned in the minds of almost all Americans who are older than about the age of 12. It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was teaching my 1st hour class when I walked over to my computer to enter the attendance. There was an e-mail that had just popped up from a friend of mine who taught science in the room below me. It simply said, "Turn on the tv!!" I walked the few steps and did so. The news of the plane hitting the first tower of the World Trade Center was all over. As we watched, transfixed, we saw the second plane hit live. Words cannot express the feeling I had in my gut. Words also cannot express my reaction when some of my students made light of the situation -- to a few, this was like a video game. I assured them in no uncertain terms that it was not. America was under attack. We were instructed over the PA by our principal to leave the televisions on the rest of the morning so that we could be informed; as we live relatively close to Chicago, there was concern that this plague of violence could spread to our part of the country. Of course it did not, but there was alarm then nonetheless. I will never forget that day.


Chris PV said...

I was home sick from high school on September 11, and spent most of the morning laying in bed half consciously listening to the morning news show on CBS. I didn't have my glasses, so I couldn't see a blessed thing happening. But at one point I heard Bryant Gumbel say that a plane had hit the first tower. I sat up and stared at the screen from that moment on, my mother half prepared for work sitting on the bed beside me. Seeing the second plane hit is one of the seared into my brain memories, but the one that's even more embedded is the sight of that first tower collapsing. I remember Dan Rather saying "partial collapse" over and over again, and staring into the clouds of debris praying to see something left of the structure only to find nothing. Eventually I just couldn't take it anymore, and flipped away from the news. I spent a good chunk of that evening watching Blue Falcon and Dynomutt on Cartoon Network. I've never been quite so grateful for a silly Hanna Barbara cartoon in my life.

The next day, I went back to school, and there was this tree in the front lawn of the school. I'm from Kansas, and fall really does start in September, and I'd been surprised that this tree had not lost hardly a leaf. That morning, walking past it, it was just weeping leaves onto the ground. Of all of the images I associate with that time, a simple tree letting torrents of leaves fall to the ground is one of the most evocative.

On a brighter note, back to comics!

I wish I could remember something about a good comic. But the truth is, I honestly don't remember a time before I knew who Spidey, the FF, Batman and Superman were. I don't have a starting point for my nasty little comics habit, it's like it's always been there.

Karen said...

Nice post, Doug. I also remember quite vividly when the shuttle exploded. I was also in college and that particular day I didn't have class until 10. I went to the student union for breakfast and saw a huge group of people. Many were crying, and holding each other. I had no idea what happened until I looked up at a tv and saw the pictures of the accident. I grew up with the space race, the Apollo program and then the shuttle. I thought we were masters of space, but this showed just how dangerous space travel really was.

This reminds me, tomorrow will be the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I think it should be a national holiday.

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