Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Memory Snapshots

Today was the 41st anniversary of the day man first walked on the moon. I remember exactly where I was -- summer camp, New York State. They halted the regular camp activities and gathered all of us in the big dining hall. Long before the days of wide-screen televisions, they'd placed a regular sized black and white set on a ladder so that we all could see that moonwalk.

Thinking about this monumental event today led to discussion of other happenings that are so significant, so major, that we retain a clear memory - captured like a photograph in our memories.

I was five when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. My mother told me the news. A few days later, my brother and some of our neighborhood friends were sitting around a plastic tablecloth in our living room, attention riveted on the small b&w tv, watching when Jack Ruby stepped forward and shot Lee Harvey Oswald. We yelled for Mom who was making us sandwiches in the kitchen. The tablecloth had gold roosters printed on it. I don't remember any other colors from that moment -- not the room, or what any of us were wearing -- just the gold roosters. Seeing someone murdered made quite an impact.

I can still see the face of the 5th grade classmate who told me that RFK had been shot. We were living in France that year and all day long we waited for news. No Internet back then so we didn't find out until Mom picked us up from the school. We pulled up to a streetside newspaper kiosk and saw the headline in bold black letters three inches high - Il Est Mort. (He is dead.)

The pictures are scattered across the years.

The day that Elvis died. The night John Lennon was murdered. I can feel and hear the crunch of snow under my boots when I walked out of an office after learning of the Challenger explosion.

A friend called to tell me that a plane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. I turned on the tv and saw the second plane hit.

In reviewing all of the snapshot memories, I realize many of them are connected to bad and sad things. It's like tragedy locks the frame with sharper, clearer images.

There are, however, many happier standouts. Where I was and who I was with when the Phillies won the World Series in 1980. The phone calls from my mother telling me my nephews had been born. The night I logged online and opened the email from a publisher offering me a contract on my first book. The meeting with my boss when she offered me this job.

In recalling all these things tonight, I also recognized an interesting difference. When I think of all the bad memories, the emotions are muted. For the happy events, I feel everything the way that I did when they first happened. The cheering. The welling of joy in my heart. The mind-blowing excitement. The excited nerves. They're all there, ready to be relived again along with the memories.

What snapshot memories do you carry in your head?

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