Thursday, June 27, 2013

Arm chair witness to history Part II

Continuing the musings on being an arm chair witness to history.

The Democratic Convention (1968)
By 1968, my political affiliation was beginning to turn toward the Democratic Party (and it fully turned to my registering as a Democrat when Richard Nixon revealed his true nature).  So, once again, I was glued to the television watching the raucous, highly entertaining and downright scary Democratic Convention in Chicago.  All but lost in this chaotic convention was the actual nominee—Hubert Humphrey (who was defeated by Richard Nixon in the general election).  

What riveted me and the country was the rioting in the streets.  The country was gripped with full blown dissension over the war in Vietnam.  Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago, had ordered the police as well the National Guard to suppress any kind of demonstration.  Daley had bragged that no demonstrators would take over Chicago’s streets.   Predictably, the demonstrators rose to the challenge and streamed into Chicago.  The result was full scale rioting in the streets of Chicago with the demonstrators chanting “the whole world watching.”

I was watching the scenes unfold late at night, waiting for the important speeches, which by now were far past prime time coverage.  Senator Abe Ribicoff was actually nominating George McGovern—when Ribicoff deviated from prepared remarks and looked straight at Mayor Daley and blasted his handling of the demonstrators.  Daley rose to his feet, shouted back, and could clearly be seen mouthing obscenities.  The Democrats went on to lose the election.  While being a witness to the unfolding of this history was exciting, there was also something very sad about watching the unraveling of hopes of people to bring the ill-advised destructive war to a close—and to know that the demonstrations likely doomed any chance Humphrey had to win the general election.

The “Explosion” of the Challenger (1986)
Sometimes the location where we watch the video of an event unfolding is sufficiently unusual as to magnify our sense of the event.  I was attending a meeting of a governmental board, and during lunch break went to a department store to pass the time.  As I walked past the television section, I saw people standing watching some evident catastrophe. The look of their faces conveyed the gravity of what they were seeing—the space shuttle Challenger had blasted off on its mission—and had “exploded.” 

People may now recall that they watched the Challenger blow up, but in fact what we all saw was a video replay of the event.  The networks had begun live coverage of the launch, but by 1986 space shuttle launchings had become. . . routine.  Just a few short minutes into its flight, it quickly became apparent that something disastrous was unfolding, and the networks switched back to cover the disaster.  The shuttle had begun its ascent with the usual thunderous roar of engines, but less than two minutes into the launch, it began to break up resulting in two white plumes.  What had actually happened was that the “external fuel tank had collapsed, releasing all its liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants. As the chemicals mixed, they ignited to create a giant fireball thousands of feet in the air.”  (Source: National Geographic).

Of course, in addition to being horrified and riveted with the endless replay of the disaster was the fact that seven people died, including the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.


I had planned to add a final disaster most recent in our memories—that of the attacks on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, but I suspect you have your own recollection of watching those events unfold.  The September 11 attacks were to the 21st century what the attack on Pearl Harbor was to the 20th century.  Many people of my father's generation can recall exactly where they were when they heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor--of course what they experienced was hearing the news, not actually watching the event unfold.  With September 11, 2001, we heard the news and watched the news unfold, complete with each of the World Trade Center towers collapse.  What a horrific seemingly slow-motion disaster that was--as the towers began to implode, floor collapsing on floor, then watching the rolling cloud of debris engulf parts of lower Manhattan.


Television has made us arm chair witnesses to so many events.  Some events are simply not important—e.g. watching the slow police chase of O.J. Simpson—and are obviously fueled by the 24 hour 7 day television marathon that runs on a constant loop.  Other events have been defining ones—ones that we can truly say we will never forget where we were when we first watched the event of _____ unfold.  We are arm chair witnesses to history, true enough, but making sense of it all—now that’s another story all together. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Arm chair witness to history (Part I)

For all the excesses and waste of television (a subject on which I sometimes muse), there is an undeniable benefit: television gives us the opportunity to be arm chair witnesses to history.

One  of the almost trite statements is “Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that …” (you can fill in the blank).  The most recent that struck me as almost irrelevant was Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, intoning “We will remember where we were when we learned that James Gandolfini died.”  Now, I grant you Gandolfini may have been a fine actor—I was not one of the legion of viewers of “The Sopranos” so I can’t say.  And by all accounts, he was a genuinely fine man.  But, really, was his death earth-shaking? I think not.

In the course of my lifetime, thus far, there have been earth-shaking events.  And many of them were televised as they happened, so that I was an arm chair witness to history.

Here’s a sampling.

The Assassination of JFK’s killer (1963)
One of the ironies of events being televised is that even if they are not televised “live” people who see a video believe they saw the actual event.  Such is the case with the assassination of JFK.  When Zapruder came forward with his famous 8-mm film, and when that film was shown, there were thousands of people who swore they saw JFK’s assassination live.  Of course, Zapruder—who was a witness in Dallas, who happened to have his camera handy—filmed the assassination and that film was then shown after the fact.  Its constant replaying and its verisimilitude is what gave people the sense that they saw JFK’s assassination live.

What we did see live was Lee Harvey Oswald being led from jail; we watched Jack Ruby step up close, then suddenly produce a small gun and shoot Oswald in the stomach.  We saw Oswald grimace, and grab his front, and then collapse.

As it happened, that event occurred on a Sunday.  I was a college sophomore, and was touring with our choral group. We had just sung in a church service, and then went to various homes of members of that congregation for a Sunday dinner.  It was in such a home, where the television was turned on, that I saw this snip of history unfold.

The Republican Convention (1964)
…or the short-lived effort to have someone other than Barry Goldwater become the party standard bearer.

During the summers, while I attended college, I was employed as a maid and/or cook in the homes of wealthy U.S. citizens who had summer homes along Lake Erie, on the Canadian side.   So, that meant I was live-in at these homes, with specific work tasks but a fair amount of free time.  

During the summer of 1964, the Republican Party held its convention to nominate its candidate to run against President Lyndon Johnson.  That was in the days when party conventions really meant something, and actual ballots were taken that would result in a candidate that was not a foregone conclusion.  While I was too young to vote, I was intensely interested in politics. Plus I hailed from Pennsylvania, whose then Governor William Scranton was an honorable and decent man.  

Since the groundswell clearly favored Senator Barry Goldwater, who I thought had disastrous policies on Vietnam, I was thrilled to watch as a sudden flurry of activity on the convention floor made it appear as though Scranton actually had a chance.  And all of this activity was occurring right before my eyes as I sat glued to the television.  As it turned out, he didn't—he wasn't nominated, Goldwater was, and in the fall election, Goldwater was soundly defeated.   

The Assassination of Bobby Kennedy (1968)
It was the first day of summer vacation for me, in my first year of teaching college English.  So, I slept in.  When I awakened, I turned on the television, expecting to watch a few minutes at the end of the Today Show.  Instead, I turned in to the late-breaking news that, immediately following his victory in winning the California primary, Senator Robert Kennedy had been shot and had died.  

Of course, like so many people during the turbulent 1960s, I had mourned the untimely deaths of political leaders—of course, JFK was the “first” followed by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., and now Robert Kennedy.  The song, recorded by Dion, “Abraham, Martin and John” captured the deep sadness these assassinations evoked in many people.  And, of course, the final stanza captured the horror of one more assassination including Bobby.

I don’t recall what I did the rest of that day—all I can recall is sitting for a long long time trying to absorb and make sense of yet another senseless death.

To be continued

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Bookends of Life

Between the bookends of life--birth and death--life gets lived.

Now, this assertion is hardly startling, but since my blog is entitled KGMom's MUSINGS--I am given to musing. And recent events have set my mind spinning on this somewhat trivial musing...that life gets lived between the time of our birth and the time of our death.

The recent birth of our granddaughter has been such a joyous occasion. Just days after she was born, my husband and I traversed the ocean between our home and our daughter and son-in-law's home to meet our granddaughter. Within days after our leaving them, more anxious-to-meet-the-granddaughter parents arrived. Then within days of their departure, an uncle and aunt arrived. And then there were friends who visited. In short, this sweet little girl was welcomed into the world with great fanfare of family and friends cheering her on.

In the in-between times of getting to see our granddaughter, we make do with Skype calls or Google Chat. Of course, it's not the same as an in the flesh visit, but it helps. We can see her smiling, and watch as she tries to master crawling. We can watch her parents interacting with her and doing a SPLENDID job of giving her the best possible start in this world.

As any parent knows, the life course of a child is not written in advance. But a good beginning certainly helps.


At the other end of the spectrum of life--the other bookend--is death.

We recently saw, with shock, the obituary announcement of a former neighbor. When an obituary notice begins with these word: "W.G., 46, of Middletown, entered into rest suddenly on June 12, 2013 at his home"-- you just know that all was not well. A sudden death at 46.

This neighbor was indeed strange. In fact, since his first name began with W, I confess that I took to calling him "weird W." He lived in the house on the corner for 20 years. During that time, he had two live-in girlfriends, each of whom left under less than happy circumstances. He did minimal--and I mean minimal--work around the yard. He reluctantly mowed, but only when the "grass" had reached a foot in height. He had wood delivered for his wood stove, with which the house was heated, but the load of wood was simply dumped in the back yard, never stacked. The end cap on his roof broke, and he never had it repaired. External paint began to peel, and stayed that way.

All the while, W. would sit in his back yard, under the shade of a large pin oak tree, smoking a cigar and sipping on bottles of beer. He never put forth an effort to do... anything.

So it came as no surprise when about two months ago, I noticed he was moving things out of the house. I stopped to ask, out of plain nosiness, where he was going, and he indicated he was leaving the house. His most recent former live-in girlfriend was helping him, and she told me that he had been foreclosed on, and was losing the house. Apparently he moved in with his mother.

And then, two days ago, I saw his death notice. 46 years old. Dying suddenly at home. Not sick--just died suddenly. And no memorial service was to be held--as per his instructions. He seems to have failed at everything--at relationships, at holding a steady job, at keeping a house he had bought, and--presumably--at life itself. He seems to have succeeded at only one thing--he had a good dog named DJ.

How sad--a life lived between the bookends. I can't help but wonder--did W. have a good beginning? Was he loved? Was he happy? Did W. get to live the entirety of his life?

Musings--that's all I have here. Just musings.