Telling Tuesday – 3/27/12: “Where were you?”

Welcome to Telling Tuesday, a day reminiscent of those in school when I looked forward to seeing what everyone brought for show and tell. This weekly feature was inspired by an article on WriteToDone.com, called “How to Show (Not Tell): A Writing Lesson from John LeCarre.”

It is one of the best articles I’ve seen on the rule all writers know–show, don’t tell–because it doesn’t just tell us how not to tell, it shows us some of LeCarre’s very own examples.

” . . . descriptions can set the scene, convey the inexpressible, and turn the reader into a witness, instead of remaining a mere bystander.” — Mary Jaksch, author of the article

Each week, I’ll give a “telling” prompt, and invite you to show us, to make us a witness, not a mere bystander. Feel free to use the prompt, or the photo (if a photo is shown.) Of course, if you have a completely different “telling” prompt, you can “show” us that, too.

As always, I invite you to leave a link to your website or blog with your comments.

THIS WEEK’S PROMPT:

 There are moments in history so significant and indelible that we remember exactly where we were when it happened. “Show” us one of those moments for any event in history.

“Where were you?”

10:35 a.m., January 28, 1986.  I was between breakfast and lunch. Between reading a book to my kids and playing with blocks. A perfect time to stop in front of the television to watch the shuttle launch.

“Do you guys want to see a rocket blast off into space?” I called to four-year old Andrea and two-year old Adam from the living room.

They came running from different parts of the house. Andrea sat in front of the TV, but Adam, ever the rambunctious mischief-maker, darted in and out of the room. On a dart in, I picked him up and perched him on my hip, then returned to stand in front of the television.

The countdown had begun. “Ten, nine, eight . . . and we have lift off.”

Chills ran up my arms and I hugged Adam. “See?” I said, a lump in my throat. “Isn’t it beautiful?”

Andrea nodded. Adam squirmed.

“Did you know there’s a teacher onboard this time?” I imagined Christa McAuliffe’s students watching. What were they were thinking?

Up, up Challenger went, its orange flame bright against the clear blue sky. The calm, matter-of-fact voice of Mission Control recited flight statistics. I wondered, as I always did at lift offs, how the voice could remain so calm during such an exciting event.

Then, an explosion. Surprised, my first response was to try to recollect if I’d ever seen that before. No, I didn’t think so. The voice of Mission Control remained calm, but I began to hear rumblings in the crowd that watched. Something was not right.

As Mission Control became silent, the CNN reporter began to try to analyze what had happened. “Looks like a couple of the . . . uh. . . solid rocket boosters . . . uh . . . blew away from the side of the shuttle in an explosion . . .”

Mission Control returned, sounding only slightly shaken. “Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation.”

A thousand different thoughts flooded my mind.

Maybe they survived. Could they eject? If they are not to survive, I pray they were killed instantly so they won’t have to live through the fear of falling. Those poor little kids, watching this happen. I should turn it off. I can’t turn it off.

Tears burned my eyes. I held Adam tighter and moved closer to Andrea. Inhaling the scent of my son, I  began to rock back and forth, a reflexive motion that always came when comfort was needed.

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19 Responses to Telling Tuesday – 3/27/12: “Where were you?”

  1. davidatodd says:

    I was in traffic court that day, in Dare County, NC, the only time I’ve ever been in court (other than as a witness to the misdoings of others). The shuttle disaster happened about the same time I was telling the judge why he shouldn’t revoke my driver’s license for driving 78 in a 55 mph zone. Heard about the shuttle during lunch.

    Good post, Jan.

  2. Russell says:

    Great job retelling that terrible incident. I was in 2nd grade the day President Kennedy was killed. The classroom scene is as vivid in my minds-eye today as in 1963.

    I don’t know if I’ll be able to write about that today, as work tends to interfer with writing sometimes, but will check back later.

    • janmorrill says:

      Russell, Kennedy’s assassination was the other historical event I thought about writing. I remember I’d just lost a tooth. I was so excited to tell everyone, but nobody was interested. And I remember watching my mother cry in the kitchen. Back then, I couldn’t understand why.

      • keliwright says:

        I’m always surprised when someone that young remembers something like Kennedy’s assassination. To me at that age, I think “The President” would just have been another adult, far away, and not really part of my life. The assassination, just one more way for a person to die.

        Sadly, that attitude may have followed me into adulthood. The incident you describe, for instance, I remember vaguely through the cloud of self-interest that hangs thickly around the college student. The incident itself–sad. Christina McAuliffe’s fate–a shocking way to go. But this did not directly affect my life. The real emotion I feel at these times generally comes from the associations and impact they have on “those that remain.” My mother, for instance, was a teacher–she could have been the chosen one. That gives me pause.

        But to read the pain and shock it caused you (or you character?) brings this far-removed incident into sharper focus, makes it real. I see the event differently, and I am touched.

        Technically speaking, I think the holding of your son and the rocking communicated most powerfully the emotion you are trying to convey. (I think the burning tears actually detract from the intensity here.) The emotional distance you build up prior to this through the reporter and mission control, and your own objective analysis of what you were seeing, brings the feeling of closeness at the end into sharper focus.

  3. That’s an amazing and beautiful piece, Jan, you remembered so much and told it so well! I saw this happen on a little TV screen at work after we had moved to AL. The shuttle was like an old friend, from living on the coast of FL and standing in the parking lot at work with everyone else, heart melting in pride and awe, watching it disappear into the vastness of sky at each launch. All I can remember, though, is the horror crawling into my brain and pain collapsing my chest. And drips of tears I tried to hold back. The numbness as though a family member had just died in a car crash, taking the lives of others with it. Did you just ruin my morning, Jan?! This is something I should write down, too.

  4. Linda Joyce says:

    Jan, the image brought tears to my eyes. Here’s my story:

    10:35 a.m., January 28, 1986 I sat at my desk fielding phone calls to earn my pay as a University of Florida college student assistant. Alone in the office, everyone else had ventured out to see the shuttle launch, I managed six phone lines, including one for the chairman of the department.

    With Gainesville only a long stones throw away from Cape Canaveral and given the flatness of the state, Floridians were accustomed to plums of white smoke trailing behind a bolting rocket streaking across a bright blue sky. I never tired of visual and reveled in the aviation link I had with the astronauts. Before I started college, I had taken flying lessons. I connected with the exhilaration of pulling back on controls, gaining lift, and then leaving land behind for the vast open sky.

    A somber crowd returned to the office. It took a moment for their news to sink in; what they said sounded unreal. Without a television or radio, I wasn’t able to see the news until I went to lunch at Bennegan’s with an associate professor. CNN played on every TV at the restaurant, more a morgue that day than an Irish eatery.

    I began to cry, unembarrassed by my tears. My heart was broken, shattered even. I ached for the families who’d lost a loved one to such a public death. The CNN newscaster continued his job and I wanted to scream for him to stop the constant regurgitation of speculation. Wanted him to wait for the facts. Wanted peace and privacy for the families who’d just suffered a shock.

    I also cried for my brother, who ten months before had died in a plane crash. CNN showed the footage of the crash and carried the news worldwide. And, that day, the newscaster had said my brother’s name on the air, said there was no known next of kin. Their story was more important than the facts.

    They broke my mother’s heart.

    • Beth Carter says:

      So sorry about your brother, Linda, and about the fact that the newscasters got ahead of themselves trying to get the scoop.

    • janmorrill says:

      Linda, I can imagine how difficult that day must have been for you, having just lost your brother in a plane crash. You tell your story from a unique point of view. Thank you for sharing those memories.

  5. mgmillerbooks says:

    What a great new–and engaging–feature. You are so good at this stuff. And a poignant memory to boot. I remember it well. Sophomore at U of A, about to head to class, had time to catch a little of the broadcast on TV. Wow. I was late getting to campus.

    • janmorrill says:

      Actually, Mike “discovering” this might have been accidental. I had intended for people to share memories of various historical events, but I may go ahead and make this a feature now, since most people are sharing their memories of this one event. See, I’m not so good after all. 🙂

      Thanks for taking us back to where you were that day.

  6. Madison Woods says:

    Wow. It’s going to take me a little while to clear that memory before I can think of a different on. I was watching on that day too. Great showing Jan.

  7. Beth Carter says:

    Can’t believe how well you recaptured this. I remember it well. We were traveling and eating breakfast at a Holiday Inn Express. Everyone was having a leisurely breakfast, chatting and occasionally looking up to watch the launch on the hotel television.

    Then, the bright lights and plumb of smoke caught everyone’s attention. The room fell silent. We all knew something was horribly wrong but couldn’t quite comprehend it. I remember hurting so badly for the teacher, her family and students who must have been watching, like you said.

    What a tragedy. Beautiful telling by you, Jan. You should submit that somewhere.

    • janmorrill says:

      Thanks, Beth! That must have been something, to watch that event in a room full of strangers. I’m guessing you all felt a strange closeness that day.

      I remember traveling across country after 9/11. Andrea had to get back to college in California, and because of 9/11, her flight was cancelled, so we drove. I still remember the feeling of unity all across the country. We knew no strangers, we were all family.

  8. Madison Woods says:

    Haha, yes, I think you’ve hit on a good combination for a blog feature Jan. You ‘show’ us a historical event you remember and then we all tell you what we remember from that day too 🙂 I think your showing was so powerful it’s the only event we can think of now!

  9. I was working at a bank in Galeveston, Texas which is only about 25 or 30 miles from NASA in Houston. After getting out of a meeting, I asked someone what was going on. She said, “the space shuttle blew up.”
    “Yeah, right, ” was my smart-ass reply. Then I found out it was true. The bottom fell out of my stomach. Everyone was speechless and walked around in a daze. I think being that close to NASA and knowing people who worked there, made it much worse than watching it on TV three or four states away.

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