Monday, February 27, 2006

TV In My Life

It was with great sadness on Saturday that I learned of the death of the actor Don Knotts. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of my brother Brian and I, glued in front of the TV on weekday afternoons, watching reruns of the Andy Griffith show. We were particularly fond of Knott’s character, Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife. Whether it was trying to impress his girlfriends, Thelma Lou or Juanita at the Blue Jay Diner, or just fumbling in his breast pocket for the single bullet Andy allowed him to carry, you could always count on Barney to be a fool.

Other television memories emblazoned in my brain:

Watching Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral when I was six years old. They played “Glory-Glory Hallelujah.” I remember thinking that this was a strange choice. Why would they sing hallelujah if he was dead.

In 1969 I remember my family and I watching as Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the moon. As the spacecraft touched the lunar surface, my brother Jimmy jumped out of his chair and danced around the room singing, “We beat the Russians…We beat the Russians!” When this same brother got married in August of 1974, my mother held a wedding rehearsal party at our house. The party was interrupted when everybody herded into the den to watch Richard Nixon resign the presidency.

In August of 1977, I was watching television when a special report came on. Elvis Presley had been found dead. I was never much of an Elvis fan but I knew my sister-in-law Monique idolized him. I ran to the phone to gave her the hot news, not even thinking how badly it would devastate her. When I told her, she burst into tears. I felt a little callous for not considering her feelings.

In December of 1980, I was a college student at Eastern Connecticut State University. My roommates and I were watching Monday Night Football when Polish Bob, our neighbor from across the hall came in. He said he had just heard on the radio that John Lennon had been shot in the leg while walking through Central Park. We thought this a little odd but didn’t think a leg wound would be that serious. About 15 minutes later Howard Cosell interrupted the broadcast saying, “An unspeakable tragedy…John Lennon outside his apartment building on the West Side of Manhattan…Shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital…dead on arrival.

Most of the late night TV newscasts that night ended their programs with a black and white still photo of Lennon from his early Beatle days as the Lennon/McCartney song “In My Life” played in the background.

There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I loved them all…

I finally knew how Monique felt that day in 1977.

In January of 1986, I was fresh out of college and delivering my resume to different companies. I was in my car when the DJ on the local radio station interrupted a song to say that the Space Shuttle Challenger had just exploded. When I got home I turned on the TV, and I watched as the broadcast looped the explosion footage over and over again. It was heartbreaking to watch the parents of astronaut Christa McAuliffe look skyward as they realized what had just happened.

I had gotten up early to put my daughters on the school bus on a crisp, clear September morning in 2001. I had worked late the night before on one of the last trains out of Grand Central. When I got home I went back to bed. Just as I was about to fall asleep the phone rang. It was my sister Kathy.

“Oh good, you’re home,” she said.

“Why, what’s up?” I asked.

“Two planes just crashed into The World Trade Centers.”

“Terrorism?” I asked.

“Looks that way!” She said.

I went downstairs and turned on the TV. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had expected the planes to be of the small single engine variety and I was shocked to learn that they were commercial airliners. I had a pit in my stomach as I watch the days events unfold.

Just as the second tower fell, my phone rang. It was the railroad. It was my day off but they needed someone to cover a quick round trip to New York. I very rarely turn down overtime but my wife asked that I stay home that day. I was working a train to Danbury on the day of the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing. Many of my passengers boarded the train in Grand Central with their business suits covered in ash and their faces smeared with soot. It was quite disturbing. I turned down the overtime.

And though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more


Anonymous said...

Wow! What a memory.

MotherOf3Guys said...

I too am saddened about Don dad used to love watching his character and wouldn't miss Andy Griffith. Dad related to that show because he was also in law enforcement and because Don Knotts was born in WV, his home state. It is amazing how much those celebrities and musicians affect our lives.
The other big events burn into your brain and it only takes a mention for the memories to come flooding back. JFK's death brings to mind seeing my 3rd grade teacher and other teachers crying. I was watching the live takeoff of the Challenger and couldn't believe what I was seeing. The 9-11 tragedy was surreal to me on that day because I was having a busy work day and we had no TV or radio in the office. It was only as events proceeded that the enormity of what was happening filtered in. Being in the capitol area, this area was under emergency orders. Working over an hour from home, it was total traffic lock when they first issued the go home orders. I was unable to leave right away. When things cleared out enough to go home, it was totally eery to be on the freeways with only a few cars.

beautiful wife said...

9-11 A day I will NEVER forget!

After all the chaos and uncertainty the day had brought, we finally decided we needed some sleep. It was VERY late, and I remember lying in bed that night...the only noises we could hear were the crickets chirping loudly and other nightime nature sounds coming from the woods. You could literally hear a pin drop...something I thought I would welcome on any other day...but, on that night...NO planes, NO traffic, NO "normal" was EXTREMELY EERIE!!! In all of that silence, sleep would not come.

Much later, in the middle of that night, we heard a fighter jet fly overhead (NOT a normal sound in our neck of the woods)...shaking the entire house, and then S I L E N C E!!!

Needless to say, neither of us slept that night.