Growing up, I remember everyone telling me that when a major national/worldwide tragedy occurs, you always remember where you were. They all cited D-Day, the Kennedy assassination, etc. Adults at the time would tell me precisely where they were and what they were doing.
My impactful memory as a child happened on a snow day living in a suburb of Atlanta, Georgia.
I was in sixth grade (my first year of “middle school”) and we had gotten a blanket of mere inches of the white stuff. The morning radio station (Z-93?) announced school closures, and mine was on the list. In those days, the slightest amount of snow was enough to cripple the entire city and surrounding towns. Southerners just can’t comprehend white stuff on their roads, and it confuses the hell out of them.
My snow day was being spent the way it is supposed to be when you’re in sixth grade: outside in the thick of it. The road in front of my house was an extreme hill. During non-snow days, I would skateboard down it and scare years off of my parent’s lives. That day? We were taking the sled down the slush and ice.
During one of my attempts down the hill, I heard my mom calling out from the top of the road from our front door. Bundled up, I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I could tell, though, that she wanted my little sister and I to come home immediately – so I pulled the sled and, sister in tow, made it my way home. When I got there, my mom look frazzled.
“You father called,” she said. “He said we should turn on the T.V.”
We went downstairs, still in our snow clothes, and clicked on the T.V. Every channel was running the same thing.
The Space Shuttle Challenger had just exploded.
I was a twelve year old in the mid-eighties, so my mind went through a myriad of seemingly logical answers. The Russians? Aliens? Some sort of attack? In my mind, this couldn’t be an “accident”. I had just been to Huntsville in the past year, and as a fledgling computer nerd science was running though my veins. This was NASA. These things don’t happen with modern technology.
This couldn’t be a mistake. It must have been an attack. It was the cold war era – and that was the only thing that made sense.
There was no Internet back then (at least, none to speak of) so when something like this happened, everyone stayed in front of a television. The rest of the snow day was spent indoors watching the explosion play over and over with news analysts asking the same thing we all were.
As time went on that day, I learned it was not Russians. It wasn’t aliens. No one attacked.
And this was the worst kind of it.
That was thirty years ago today, and I – like millions of others on the Internet – remember it clearly.