Thursday, March 24, 2011
Where Were You?
Where were you when you first learned of the death of Elizabeth Taylor? I was at my computer yesterday just finishing up my daily blog posting when I happened to glance to the left of my blog posting and I saw a thumbnail picture of Elizabeth Taylor on my Blog Roll. "Oh no!" was my first response. I knew Elizabeth was sick and near death, but it is always a shock when someone bigger than life dies. It's like part of me died with her.
Now I will always remember where I was when I first learned of her death. Elizabeth joins five other people (other than my family) whose date of death will forever be permanently etched in my mind until the day I die. I don't know why these five particular people stay in my mind but for some reason their departure from this earthly existence signified something of a bookmark or a passage in my life.
Below I will recount and recollect the six personages whose passing is in my permanent Memory Bank:
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and all the other musicians aboard the small plane that was carrying them to a gig on a snowy February day. I remember also that the Big Bopper and Richie Valens died but I especially remember Buddy Holly, which is unusual because I wasn't all that big a fan of Buddy. However, I think what his death and the others signified to me, even though I didn't consciously realize it at that time, was that it was the 'day rock and roll died' as sung by Don McLean in his song 'American Pie.'
I was on a bus with five of my fellow Downingtown High School band members to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. We were chosen as representatives of our high school. I remember that it was a cold February day with the threat of snow. Someone had one of those cheap, Fifties transistor radios that was the big tech thing of the day and they heard it over the radio. I remember how unbelieving I was. Surly they ALL couldn't be dead? But they were.
I first heard of the death of Marilyn when I was home on weekend pass from my Army station at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. I often came home on the weekends, frequently bringing a friend (fellow soldier) with me. We were both in my bed in my bedroom on a too warm, August Sunday morning when I heard the news of her death on my transistor radio. Again, I couldn't believe it. Then my first thought was "Such a waste." I was very saddened. Even though the day was sunny, and I was with my good (and hunky) friend Dessie, the day seemed to have a pall over it. With the death of Marilyn, I felt like some of the Golden went out in my life.
John F. Kennedy
Who doesn't remember where they were when John F. Kennedy died? I remember that it was a Friday afternoon and I was working at my job as an accounts payable clerk in the office of Lipsett Steel Products (a scrap yard) in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. I was waiting for a call from my friend Ron Hampton who work at Girard Bank in Philadelphia, PA. I was anxiously looking forward to another weekend at the Westbury Bar in Philadelphia, looking for my Prince Charming. I had come out as a gay man a few months before and I was lived for the weekends when I could take the train down to Philly and be with my friends Ron and Ed while I cruised and was cruised at the gay bar.
My boss, Charlie Ash, came out of his office and told me that "Kennedy's been shot!" He had a portable radio (still all the rage back in those pre-computer days) in his office and he often had it on while he was balancing the books. My first reaction again was that I couldn't believe it. I tried to call my Mother to confirm it but the lines were busy. I didn't understand. It wasn't until later that I found out that so many people were on the telephone lines that they got jammed.
Then I thought something which I'm ashamed to admit now, "I hope this won't affect my weekend in Philly." Ah, Selfish Youth. Well, it did affect my weekend. The trains weren't running to Philly and I had to cancel my plans to meet my friend Ron. I stayed home that weekend and was able to witness Lee Harvey Oswald get shot Sunday morning while I was ironing shirts. Another 'where was I' moment.
Martin Luther King
I was working late at the bank (Girard Bank in Philadelphia). I walked down through the main lobby to sign out at the guard station (as we had to do when we worked past hours at the bank) and I heard hushed talking among the guards. They had a portable radio and one of them told me that "Martin Luther King had been shot in Nashville." He warned me to be careful when I went out into the street (Broad and Chestnut Streets in the direct center of Philadelphia right next to City Hall). There was fear of a race riot out in the streets that night. It never did develop but I remember the tension when I went out into the street. I was afraid.
Robert F. Kennedy
I first saw Robert F. Kennedy in person in 1968 when his car cavalcade proceeded down Chestnut Street in center city Philadelphia. At the time I worked on the third floor of Girard Bank which overlooked Chestnut Street. My fellow workers and I would often open the windows on our floor and watch the different car processions wind their way down Chestnut Street during election years. I had seen Richard and Pat Nixon, Hubert Humphrey and numerous other political procession/rallies but I had never seen anything like this. It was mayhem outside! I had to go down to the street and experience this for myself.
I took the elevator down to the first floor of the bank and tried to get out on Chestnut Street but it was so crowded and loud that I almost gave up. But I persisted and I'm glad I did. Once I got out into the street I was engulfed in the screams of the many women and the undulating crowds. Then Kennedy's car came. He wasn't but fifteen feet from me, standing on top of this car, bending down and reaching out to shake hands with the many screaming fans. I remember so clearly the men holding his legs to steady him on his car while he reached out to shake hands. Looking at Kennedy, I was struck by how other wordily he seemed. He didn't seem of this world. He seemed like a God. I was impressed like I had never been before in my life. Talk about charisma...this man had it.
After that even I volunteered to work for his presidential campaign. The night I heard of his death I was working the phone banks for his campaign, urging Democratic voters to get out and vote for Kennedy in the primary election that was a few days away. They came an announcement from someone at the headquarters. They announcement was that "Kennedy has been shot!" Again, I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT! Everything stopped. We were stunned into silence. All the shuffling, phones, talking, nosie...it all stopped.
I was with my friend Alice. No one knew what to do now. A few minutes later we were all dismissed and told to go home. When I got home I found out that RFK was dead. I felt like something had been ripped out of me. His was the first political campaign I worked for and the last.
It was a Sunday morning and I turned on the Sunday Show on CBS. They had coverage on the automobile accident that Princess Diana was in the night before (Saturday night) in Paris. " What was she doing in Paris" I thought? Later I found out she was hanging around with Dodi Fayed, Brook Shield's former boyfriend. I could never figure out what Princess Diana would find Brook Shield's former boyfriend, and gadabout interesting. She had such class and he was so beneath her.
I assumed she was just injured in the accident and I remember hoping that her face wasn't scared. I followed the news and when it was confirmed that she was indeed dead, I again couldn't believe it. Yet another larger than life figure cut out of my life. I felt empty. I used to so enjoy her style, seeing what clothes she wore and her latest adventures. I felt bad for her that she couldn't find true love with an individual but I remember hoping she knew how many people loved her from afar. I identified with her somehow.
And I think that is the clue as to why I remember where I was on these particular deaths and why I don't remember where I was during other life changing deaths like Harvey Milk. As a gay man you would think I would remember where I was when Harvey Milk's life was taken from him and he became a martyr to the Gay Cause. But I don't remember and I cannot explain why.
I'm a big movie fan but I don't remember where I was when Bette Davis died. No do I remember where I was when Joan Crawford died. I loved both of these women, despite the clothes hangers.
I can't explain why my mind locks in amber where I was when the aforementioned people died. All I can say is that now Elizabeth Taylor has been added to my Permanent File.
I wonder who is next?