During lunch a couple of weeks ago we were talking about non-family events so memorable that we remembered exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard about them. I came up with five. Here they are, in chronological order.
Tuesday, May 8, 1945
I was six years old, playing in our back yard in Morell, PEI, when a neighbour came by yelling, “The war is over! The war is over! The war is over!”
My first thought was that my two oldest brothers, Ronnie and Art, would be coming home. I was not quite a year old when they joined the army the day after war was declared in 1939. They hadn’t been home since, and although I’d seen pictures of them, taken both prior to their joining up and in uniform, I didn’t remember ever seeing them in person.
That night there was a huge celebration in the village square (which for some unknown reason was called “the prairie”), the highlight of which was the burning of Hitler in effigy.
Wednesday, February 4, 1959
I was sharing an apartment in Toronto with three colleagues from work. Pete Scheirich was sitting at our kitchen table having breakfast when I set down my orange juice and cereal and joined him.
“Buddy Holly was killed in a plane crash in Iowa last night,” he said, “just heard it on the news.”
Like most twenty-year-olds who liked rock ‘n roll, I was a huge Buddy Holly fan and had all his records. (He’s still second only to Johnny Cash on my iPod; and then only because he didn’t have as many recordings as Cash.)
I was devastated.
Even though his recording career spanned less than two years, I think Buddy was the most influential rock ‘n roller ever; a view shared by the likes of The Rolling Stones and the Beatles. (The Beatles actually chose their name as a tribute to Buddy, whose band was called The Crickets.) Rolling Stone magazine has listed him as number 13 on their list of the 100 greatest entertainers of all time.
Two other rock stars, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, also died in the crash. Richie’s real name was Richard Valenzuela, and the Big Bopper’s was J.P. Richardson.
J. P. stood for Jiles Perry.
Friday, November 22, 1963
This is one that almost everyone sixty years of age or older remembers: the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
I was an accounting student at H. R. Doane and Co. in Charlottetown, PEI. About 2:30 in the afternoon I was working at my desk in the open area called the bullpen when the office secretary, Blanche Walsh, called me to the telephone.
The caller was one of the people taking the Dale Carnegie Course, which had held a session the night before. I was one of the instructors. “Has the CIA or FBI called you yet?” he asked.
“Why would they?” I inquired.
“President Kennedy was shot this afternoon,” he informed me.
Knowing exactly what he was referring to, I probably said something like, “Oh my God!”
The night before, while making a point about the importance of preparation, I had said, “What hasn’t happened in the last twenty years can happen in the next twenty seconds.”
“Like what,” someone asked.
“Well,” I had answered, “the president of the United States might be shot.”
I never did hear from the FBI or CIA.
Thursday, September 28, 1972
I think it was again about 2:30 in the afternoon when Paul Henderson scored his famous series-winning goal against the Russians in the memorable Summit Series.
Along with a few hundred marketing executives, I was in the ballroom of the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa watching the game on one of half a dozen or so TVs that had been set up for the occasion. I was the closing speaker at their conference and had been scheduled to speak right after lunch.
Earlier in the week, when I realized the hockey game would be on at the time I was scheduled to speak, I called the conference organizer from my Toronto office and suggested that he delay my speech until the game was over, and to bring in TVs to prevent losing all our audience as soon as lunch was over.
“Yes,” he agreed, “I guess we better do that or else you and I will be the only ones there.”
“No,” I told him, “you’ll be the only one there.”
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
The famous 911 is as memorable to people twenty years of age or older as JFK’s assassination was to my generation.
We were at our summer home in PEI. It was a lovely day and my wife Anne had gone biking while our guests from Toronto, Connie and Jean Mandala and their delightful son, Mikey, were walking on the beach.
It was about 11:00 am ADT. I had just finished some work I had to do and planned to walk the beach right after making a dinner reservation for that evening at the Inn at St. Peter’s.
I made the call and asked the receptionist to book our time.
“If we’re still here,” she ominously said.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“Turn on CNN,” she said, “the Russians are attacking the US.”
“Well, book our dinner anyway,” I suggested. “They’ll probably not get here before then.”
I turned on the TV just in time to see the second plane smash into the World Trade Center.
Shaken though we all were, we managed to enjoy our dinner at the Inn that night.