“We set the date for the wedding,” he said. “September 11.”
As he said it, my immediate thought was of another September 11. I thought silently that was an odd date to choose; yet what is that date but just another Sunday in early autumn. I will hope for a beautiful warm day for the tented outdoor wedding. This memory will push its way to the top for that date. It was other memories of the date that gave it meaning. Perhaps that is what I need—momentous happy memories to take their place at the top, not to forget, but to share a place.
I was at work on September 11, 2001 when I heard the news of terrorist attacks. I immediately tried to call my husband on the phone lines that rang busy busy. Finally I got through. He was home recovering from surgery as he heard the news. I wanted to leave work to pick up my children at school. It seemed imperative to be with loved ones on this day. The days after were replete with replays of crashing planes and buildings falling, as if they were simply scaled models. There was the news of a plane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania, a place I visited only two years ago on that anniversary weekend.
“This is a date you will always remember,” I told my children. Their young memories would be of where they were as they heard the news and the time we spent watching the television accounts of the events. I think they will remember our sadness as the faces of missing persons slid across our television screen in a slow-motion tragic movie of hope that they would be found and fear that they would not.
The Assassination of JFK
I told them about my first memory of an event in our national history. It was November 22, 1963. It was only the first assassination in a string of assassinations of public figures in the 1960’s. These years are often labeled ‘turbulent’ for the demonstrations opposing the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and killings. It certainly feels as if ‘history repeats itself’ is an accurate statement.
l was sitting in my classroom that afternoon when, without announcement, the voice of a reporter came into the room, stifling the voice of our teacher. He said ‘the President had been shot in Dallas’. At first we thought this was some game the school was playing with us.
This memory is jumbled up with Thanksgiving and my maternal grandmother’s visit for the holiday. My grandmother, mother and I sat watching the public funeral procession in Washington DC. Now I wonder if that memory is right because my grandmother usually came on the day before Thanksgiving, and the holiday was several days away. Was she even in the room with us sitting in front of the television?
I remember the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man in custody for the shooting. As he was being transferred by law enforcement, a man walked up and killed him in front of a national audience. That killing fueled years of conspiracy theories; my college friend, a journalism major, could talk for hours on the subject.
My memories are vivid with the sense of a historic event but mixed up with my own personal memories of family and the holiday. I can only put order into it by lining up the dates: the President’s assassination on November 22nd, the assassination of Oswald on the 24th, the funeral on the 25th and then Thanksgiving on the 28th. The events made a place for itself in my 12-year-old brain.
The calendar is full of dates that hold meaning, some shared with many, some with just a few, and some very personal. The birthdays of my children and grandchildren hold their special places. I remember the dates of their births but often forget my children’s ages now. I find myself calculating their ages when someone asks, using my daughter’s easy 1990 date to figure it out. There were a few years when I even forgot my own age and would consider the answer for a moment when someone asked. I think I was in my 40’s then. I never forget my age now, but there may come a time when I forget it again. I visited my 90-year-old aunt in her retirement apartment as her dementia took hold of her memories. She recounted stories about train trips to Indiana and stories of her parents as if they were still living. She seemed to be living in that moment.
I asked her, “How old are you? “40,” she replied.
She was 50 years in the past. And why not? Those years held so many more important memories for her than age 90 did.
There are new vivid memories that mark my calendar now. There is the date my son was arrested and the date he was convicted. These are the dates to remember from his brief marriage and years of the relationship with his ex-wife. The date of his wedding ceremony, despite divorce, that should mark the calendar, has been usurped by another’s story of that day. That story holds the top spot now for that date.
More dates will mark my calendar, taking a new place or replacing memories. They will not all be happy, but the dates to remember keep coming.