Saturday, January 30, 2016

Where Were You When the Big Things Happened?

Thirty years ago this week, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded killing the seven astronauts on board. 

Where were you when the Challenger blew up?

I was a sophomore in the library at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kansas, when students came in talking about it. Soon we surrounded the big screen TV in the student center watching the replays of the tragedy.

This is the event I use to teach the research paper process to my seventh graders, so I’m always aware of its anniversary. Thinking about it this year; however, caused me to chronicle where I'd been during major events.

Here are a few. 

Where were you when Elvis died?

I was playing outside with my best friend Gail and my second cousin Jodi Glanzer.  We were near the tree we played on as a couch since its trunk lay parallel to the ground. Mom came out and told us that he’d passed. Gail and I liked his "Hound Dog" song, so we were a little sad.

But my dad likes to tell a story about what happened that night at supper. He asked Jodi, a preacher's kid, what she thought of Elvis. She replied, “He’s not my type.” We all laughed at her respectful disapproval of Elvis.

Where were you when President Ronald Reagan was shot?

I was on the east stairway of Hitchcock High School when Larry Gilbert, a student a few years older, came in from shop class yelling, “The President’s been shot.” 

Our shop teacher, Coach Mike Satter, must have had the radio on out there, for  teachers didn’t have cable TV in their classrooms back the 80s. Later that night on the news, I remember thinking how bizarre it was for John Hinkley to shoot the President to impress Jodi Foster, the actress.

Where were you when Michael Jackson died?

I was at Conklin Cars in Hutchinson, Kansas, waiting for my Alero to get tured up. On television was a documentary of the life of Farrah Fawcett who had just died that week from a battle with cancer. News reports of emergency vehicles showing up at Jackson’s mansion interrupted the program.

When I got home, my step-daughter Brittany called on the phone and said, “I’m sure sorry about Michael Jackson dying, Melodie.” She knew I was a fan of his music. I was shocked, for I hadn’t heard that he was gone.

Days later I bawled during most of his funeral when it was televised on cable. I scrubbed away cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. Mad—not necessarily because he wouldn't be producing music anymore, but because of the choices he’d made that lead to the demise of his reputation.

Where were you when the OJ verdict was read?

I stood stunned beside my social studies colleague Peter Holton when we’d gathered a bunch of jr. highers into our largest room to hear it. Shock. The entire room. Quiet. No cheers. No sighs of relief. Just mystified by the decision.

Where were you when the World Trade Center was attacked by terrorists?

I was in my classroom teaching. My middle school communication students were critiquing videotapes of their monologue projects. The Today Show would come on between me switching out the tapes, so we heard the reporting of Tower One being on fire. The kids wanted to watch it, and I’d told them no and that we had stuff to do, so we kept on with our critiques. That was the class of 2007. Tiane DeVore, Kurt Lehner, Bill Rhodes. Some of the faces in that morning group.

Not until class break did I hear from other teachers what was going on. I tried to go on with my day as normal; however, some teachers watched the coverage all day long with the students. I’m glad I hadn't stopped to watch that morning, for I wouldn’t have wanted to be responsible for young eyes seeing that second tower hit.

By mid-afternoon, teachers stood looking out the south windows of the school. Cars lined up out onto Main Street of our tiny town to get gas. I waited in line over 20 minutes that evening.

We shut off our motors and stood outside talking while waiting to pull up to the tank. I knew the man I stood by but can't remember who he was. We stood, Amercians, together. Talking, wondering, concerned. A crisis made us pause. 

The manager of the station came out twice to change the price on the sign. A few murmured at her. She was following orders from corporate. We all knew that, but it was disconcerting.

I was supposed to meet with my neighbors' brother-in-law that evening to discuss the addition of a garage to my home. We never met. Everyone hunkered down and stayed home. Then the reports of the heroics of the Pennsylvania plane came in. I sat in my house. Alone. And cried. Cried for America. Part fear. Part pride.

Did you wait in line during the 2000 presidential election between Gore and Bush?

I did. In small-town middle-America. I voted in the evening after basketball practice. I’d never seen our poling area filled with chairs and people let alone a line outside the police station, our poling place. I sat next to Jessa Albers, wife of a former student and now our school nurse. It's where we met. The turnout was incredible. Again, Americans. Together for a common purpose.

Something tells me election day will be like that again.

What details do you recall from the events I mentioned?


  1. I've been trying to get caught up on you! :) I've been out of town. I remember sitting in front of my TV as a little girl ... in elementary school ... when Elvis died. My dad was a huge fan ... imitates him, etc. So, my dad was devastated ... making that event huge in my little-girl mind. When the space shuttle exploded ... I was in high school ... watching in school, if I'm thinking correctly. So tragic. And I remember another one exploding over Texas when we lived in Wichita Falls ... I heard it from my kitchen, I believe ... and pieces were found all over Texas. That was in my 20s. And I've never been into an election like I was over Bush/Gore! Ha! Maybe it'll be that exciting this time around ... we'll see. :)

    1. I bet it took awhile for you dad to imitate Elvis then after he died. I mean, did he stop doing it for awhile. I would think one would anyway. Thanks for sharing the other details of your whereabouts.
      I agree with your comments about the election--this year will be something else! We already had it with the Iowa Caucus mess. These debates are my Superbowl--I love watching every single one of the GOP events.