Thursday, January 29, 2015

Where Were You?


A somber anniversary occurred yesterday, I didn't remember the date, but the event is forever with me - and all Americans. Social media sites were abuzz with memorial posts and a question: where were you? Much like the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy or Dr. King , the Challenger tragedy unites us in sorrow and loss. 

It's not hard for me to remember the details of that day. Working on a nursing unit, I had just parked the medicine cart after making the 11:00 a.m. rounds. A lounge for patients was located across from the station and we'd take patients who needed help with feeding there. That way, we had everyone together and there was less chance that a meal would be cold or a patient might be rushed. 

The television sat high in the corner of the room and the newscast was on. All eyes were on the Challenger as we awaited lift off. The cameras panned the crowd and identified some of the attendees. Christa McAuliffe's parents looked on excitedly; her students were nearby. Christa was a teacher from Concord, New Hampshire - not an astronaut. Or perhaps I should say she wasn't before she was chosen for this flight. She was upbeat and inspiring; the media loved her. I remember thinking that her mom probably dressed up - she was wearing a light colored coat with a fur collar and her excitement showed. Her dad wore a newsboy cap, I believe. Funny how you remember details.

In addition to Christa, the crew included Commander Dick Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialists (and Akron's own!) Judith A. Reznik, Ronald E. McNair, and Ellison S. Onizuka. Payload specialist Gregory B. Jarvis completed the crew. The knowledge base and training contained in that ship was impressive; these were pilots, scientists, researchers...the best of the best and one lucky teacher that seemed well suited for the role of astro-hitchhiker.

Finally, the Challenger fired up her engines and we had a lift off. My eyes were on the rocket and trails of white vapor, but I held my breath from sheer excitement. As I fed the patients on either side of me, I gave them a play by play of what was happening. They were elderly and some had difficulty grasping the concept that we were watching a live event. The other nurse working with me, Sandy, kept saying, "Just look at that, sis. Oh, that makes me proud to be an American." Sandy called everyone "sis."

And then, it happened. All our hopes and daydreams exploded in the sky. 

Sandy whispered, "What just happened, sis? What is going on?" In our gut, we knew exactly what was going on. I froze and kept watching the screen waiting for someone from NASA to break in and say there was nothing to worry about; all that smoke was normal. But that never happened. 

Oh, no. They can't make it. Their poor families; their children. This can't be happening. We're helpless; there is nothing we can do.

A little, tiny lady named Mildred grabbed my hand and in a tiny, weak voice said "Hey, I want to eat that." She smiled and pointed to the spoon of food in my hand. That bit of normal snapped me back into reality. Sandy began to cry.

On the television screen, the camera watched the parents of Christa McAuliffe once again. Watching her mother's face, you could tell that she knew that the worst possible outcome of this journey had just happened; her father seemed to be grappling with it. Maybe he, like us, was still in the what-just-is-going-on phase. Her students were all looking skyward but you could tell that the loss didn't register with them at all. In the background, the voices became more animated; the moan of raw grief began and you could hear crying family members. 

Standing there, it seemed like everything should stop, but the activity of patients carried on as if nothing had happened. Everyone in the room with Sandy and I was confused to some degree or another; that was a sweet mercy for them. 

I'll never forget where I was or what I was doing. I can even tell you what food was on the spoon as I fed Mildred.


Just look at the picture of the crew one more time. Look at their faces; so happy and excited for the adventure that lay ahead.

How could anyone forget them?


19 comments:

  1. Hi, dear Cherdo! Thank you for reminding us of the tragic event that took place January 28, 1986. I once owned a reel-to-reel tape deck and used it to make music mix tapes for parties. I learned that the peaks of loudest sound volume, particularly the ones recorded "in the red" at distortion levels, tend to "print through" and can be heard echoing on adjacent layers of tape on the reel. So it is with our brains. When a shocking event like the Challenger disaster occurs it prints through and we are able to recall years later an unusual number of details about what we were doing immediately before and afterward. It was the same for me the day of the JFK assassination and on 9-11.

    I didn't have to watch the Challenger lift-off on television. The MTV style television station where I worked had just moved into our new facility in Lakeland four weeks earlier. Our studios were located in the geographic center of the Florida peninsula, allowing us to watch space launches from the nearby Cape with the naked eye. We were having a department head meeting that morning while at the same time following coverage of the shuttle launch on TV. As the countdown neared zero we all went outside the building and looked to the eastern sky to watch the rocket ascend. It was an awesome sight. The rocket seemed so close, as if it had been launched from a block away. We were all excitedly commenting about what we were observing when suddenly the explosion took place and streams of white smoke branched out in all directions. I remember being the first to say "This doesn't look right." An eerie silence fell over the group. We continued to watch, desperately hoping that this was all part of the act and that the rocket with the crew on board would soon emerge through the cloud and continue on its way into orbit. One by one we filtered back into the building to watch the grim news accounts that followed. It surely was one of the saddest days in our country's history.

    Thank you for remembering those brave crew members, dear friend Cherdo!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I was wrote this post, I thought I'd add the video and so I went to YouTube and started searching. There was that video with the parents of McAuliffe and it was twice as sad as I remembered. They weren't the only family who experienced a loss that day, but her parents happened to be the ones they had on camera. It was - and is - heartbreaking.

      Since I lived near Akron, we were all rooting for Judith Reznik and would playfully add (with our television announcer voices, ha ha) "Akron's own - Judith Reznik!!" in the days leading up to the flight. Afterwards, we would just whisper, "That's our Judy."

      Delete
  2. I didn't watch but I remember where I was: in the cafeteria of Cape Cod Community College. That was awful. Those poor families watching. Those brave astronauts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a tragedy that's hard to wrap your head around. Still is.

      Delete
  3. I was in math class in junior high when another teacher came in the room and said something to the math teacher, who announced it to the class. At first I thought he was joking, then he led us to the library where many classes had gathered to watch it on the TV. We were there for the remainder of the afternoon. It was a tragedy, but to this day I think it's unfair that McAuliffe got most of the media attention, just because she was a teacher and an average citizen. There were six other people who died that day; trained astronauts. Thank you for acknowledging them as well as McAuliffe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing your memory, Pam. I remember the days when big news would shut down class all day (whether it was good or bad). I can only imagine how younger kids processed it.

      (When Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, we were so excited about it and then they rolled a television into our classroom and it almost made our heads pop off with geek excitement.)

      Delete
  4. Cherdo, thank you for this reminder of a tragic event. When 911 was happening, my father was in the hospital in really bad shape. I switched off the television in his room and didn't know until later what had actually been the outcome. I thought it would be too much for him. It was too much for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When 9/11 happened, I was watching right after the first plane hit - my husband had called home and told me to turn on the television because something was happening in NYC. As I watched, I called my mother and we were on the phone when the second plane hit the other tower. My mom kept saying, "Is this real? Are you sure this is real?"

      It was way real-er than I ever wanted to see.

      Delete
  5. I remember, and have spent the last hour trying to organize my thoughts and feelings about it and just can't.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I had watched the video before I wrote the post, I would have been undone.

      Delete
  6. I was in high school, off on a snow day when it happened. My mom called me out of bed (yes, I was a typical sleep to 1:00 pm teen) to watch. It was heart breaking.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was in my early twenties and working; I wonder what really young children were thinking.

      (Did you get my email from my personal, real person account? Ha ha)

      Delete
  7. You know--I never saw it happen until last year when I looked it up on YouTube. I was home from school (snow day) and the TV was on with the volume down. I didn't care about the launch--I was 15 (1986) and listening to my records with my headphones on. I did wonder why they kept showing the launch over and over. Finally my mom called and asked, "Didn't you know what happened?" Only when I watched it a year ago did I see the true heartbreak...the poor parents and spouses who had to sit in the bleachers and watch it happen. That was the hardest part of all to watch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That part - watching the parents - is almost physically painful to endure.

      Delete
  8. My God, remembering this makes me cry!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I was at work on the UCLA campus, at Parking Department kiosk #7, below the Medical Center.

    Hard to understand how this could have happened when we'd already been to the Moon and back successfully and so many times. This seemed so simple by comparison.

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

    ReplyDelete
  10. I was living in a house with 3 guys during University days. I was in the kitchen talking to one of them(who is still one of my dearest friends), when the owner of the house, 2 years older than me, came up the stairs and said that the shuttle just blew up. We didn't believe him until he turned the TV on upstairs. I remember Christie's mom looking up and not registering what actually happened. I wanted the cameraman to turn away as this was so private the parents should not have been filmed. It has devastated the space industry to this day. It was like the Titanic-this could never happen...but it did.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I remember her mother's face. Favorite Young Man was in kindergarten. I was pregnant with The Hurricane. I watched the take off live. When FYM came home from school, I told him something sad had happened. He already knew. The kindergarten teacher told them. The explosion and the reactions played on the news over and over and over. X came home from work that night and turned on the news and watched the explosion and the reactions over and over and over. FYM became frightened because we were about to fly to California for a vacation. I had to beg X to turn off the TV. He was angry, but he finally did it. I thought of a parallel with 9/11. I emailed The Hurricane to tell her, and she already knew. It was her first day of school her sophomore year. She was in chemistry class when the students were told to go to the chapel. The Head of School announced what had happened. They canceled classes for the rest of the day and set up big-screen TVs all over campus. Some students had parents who worked in New York or Washington, D.C. The flight that crashed in Pennsylvania was especially frightening because the school was in Pennsylvania and we were so close to Camp David and not far from D.C.

    Love,
    Janie

    ReplyDelete
  12. I'll never forget the shock I felt since I had heard about space accidents but they never felt real. That was the day when I realized the incredible sacrifices these men and women make.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for your personal yada, yada, yada,
Love, Cherdo