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Weeds: An event we will long remember

I keep a monthly calendar where I write down meetings and other obligations. The second week in March, I started to scratch off events. A trickle turned into a torrent, till my calendar was nothing but slash marks. Everything was cancelled. In the past, I liked when a meeting was called off, and I had a newly freed evening. This was a bit much.

So, here we are, the world in a strange holding pattern. We’re not sure where this goes and not sure how this ends. Pam and I are among the fortunate with a home, food, even a big place to be outside. There is much to do as the weather grows friendlier, tasks I’ve always done myself. I’ve never felt so blessed to have this work.

No doubt, the Coronavirus Shutdown of 2020 will be something we remember. It’s impossible to know exactly what we’ll recall when we look back on this in twenty years. Or sixty years for those kids doing their schoolwork at the kitchen table, after all routine was upended.

I was thinking of things that we all remember, things we hold communally in mind. You can strike up a conversation with anyone about the day the World Trade Center fell, and they can tell you the precise spot they were when they heard. The current crisis is different in that it will roll out over an extended period of days, maybe months. We won’t remember an exact moment frozen in time like 9/11.

Growing up, there were two things for sure held in the collective memory vault of my parents’ generation: the Depression and Pearl Harbor. Many of those men and women have left us now, but they formed The World That I Grew Up In. Those two events colored their younger years and contributed to who they became.

The Depression was definitely not a single moment; it dragged on. When my parents and others talked about it, it was in recollections that were vivid. Things like what there was to eat: the giant crock of sauerkraut in the basement that was sustenance in winter months, lard from butchering the hog, very little bought in town, nothing wasted. Or of cold rooms marginally warmed by a corncob cookstove in the kitchen. Or clothes that were worn threadbare. Or Christmases where an orange, a pencil, and a bit of candy were all there was in the stocking.

I’m sure there were families who had more, but I got the sense in talking to my mom and dad and uncles and aunts, that everyone around them was in the same boat. They struggled to make do, hoped to get the kids and animals fed, and worried about hanging on to the farm.

The other memory for that generation was a 9/11 type in that they always remembered the exact moment they heard. Everyone knew where they were the Sunday afternoon when news of the attack on Pearl Harbor came over the radio. Being a Sunday, my parents and young children had gone to Mass, finished chores, and were probably cleaning up after dinner. It was about 1:30 when they heard. The rest of that day was spent in sort of a stupor. Sylvester and Alyce knew, as every other American, that everything was different.

They didn’t have the luxury we do today to look back on World War II and see an inevitable march to victory. They couldn’t have known that on December 7, 1941. Just a gut-wrenching foreboding that there would be great costs to bear.

Jump ahead a couple decades. I’m in second grade. I had walked to my sister JoAnn’s house for lunch for some reason. I was attending Public School then, the big old school that used to stand on Maple Street south of Main. As I walked back to school, a patrol kid with the orange flag told me the president was shot. I remember that, but doubt it made sense in my seven-year old head.

I’m 64. Everybody older than me will remember that day, and almost no one younger than me. For the next few days, I watched in black and white as Oswald was arrested, Johnson took the Oath of Office, Jackie and the kids mourned, Oswald was shot, events that play in my mind like a newsreel. We had one TV channel, KEYC from Mankato, so this all came through the words of Walter Cronkite. Cronkite may as well have been part of our family for the time he spent in our living room.

I was aware that in our household, the first Catholic president had a unique status. His sudden death jolted an entire nation and the world, especially given the thick tension between the Soviet Union and the West. But there was additional shock felt by members of our church.

A handful of years later, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King created more “I remember where I was” moments. It strikes me that all these events I’m recollecting are bad things. Perhaps good memories are more disbursed, scattered like leaves and feathers in the wind. And bad memories are like rocks, hard and unmoving.

There were other events that many of us can put ourselves in a place and time: Reagan being shot, the Challenger tragedy, the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Berlin Wall opening was something we thought we’d never see.

If you’re a sports fan, there are memories you share with other fans. When my life is flashing before me on my death bed, I’ll recall the ladder I almost fell from when Jamie Quirk homered off Ron Davis late in the 1984 pennant race after the Twins had given up a 10 to 0 lead.

This coronavirus event is global with special focus on New York City recently. A large memory we all share was set in that city. Given global communications, the collapse of the World Trade Center was likely seen by more people than any other event in world history. It was jarring on so many levels, I still feel anxious recalling it.

A report of a plane flying into one tower came over the car radio as I was putting gas in. I came in the house to tell Pam. We turned the radio on, within feet of where my parents listened on December 7, 1941. Another tower is hit, the towers collapse, the Pentagon hit, a plane goes down in Pennsylvania. For hours there is no idea whether it’s over, or more was to come. Like Pearl Harbor, war would follow, albeit with a less clear enemy.

September 11th, like the weeks we’re living right now will stick in our heads and be written in history books. I’m not sure there is comfort in that beyond we’re in this together.

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