I Was There

I like witnessing and being a part of history. I remember my Mom making us kids watch President Nixon’s resignation speech years ago. She made us watch it because “it is history.” I was too young at the time to appreciate it, but now I can say that I watched his speech at the time it aired. I remember when the first man walked on the moon. I remember the first color TV I saw and what I watched that day. I remember the shock when President Reagan was shot. I was watching TV as the space shuttle Challenger exploded. I remember where I was and what I was doing when New York’s twin towers fell on 9-11. I made a point of watching Prince William and Kate’s wedding on TV because “it is history.” Although I live too far north to have seen the recent eclipse, I watched it on-line and listened to friends’ firsthand descriptions because “it is history.”

As JJ was growing up, I also sometimes would tell him to remember this or that event because “it is history.” What happens today is tomorrow’s history–whether in the world or in our own lives. I think teachers make a mistake when they teach history as a bunch of dates and events, wars and laws that students are expected to regurgitate.  This view of history makes it boring. History is actually the personal stories of people–how events affected them, how they dealt with it, how one thing caused another. Maybe teaching JJ about what history really is about is why he loves history so much. (JJ walked in while I was reading this paragraph to EJ and he agreed, passionately listing the reasons he loved history. We ended up having a family conversation about our love of history.)

Big events are history, but so are small ones that seem not worth noticing. I often think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories. At the time she lived them, they were common little events and tasks that everyone knew about and knew how to do and which weren’t worth writing about. However, she preserved those boring little things and they became fascinating glimpses of past life to future generations.

I like hearing older people talk about their early lives. We once visited an older couple from our church. We sat on the large porch of their old farmhouse sipping lemonade on a summer afternoon and the husband told us stories of what it was like in the early days of automobiles. Whenever they drove the short distance into town in their Model A, he said, their tires kept blowing out and they had to keep stopping every few miles to patch them up. It was during the Depression and no one had money to buy new tires so they had to make do with what they had.

EJ talks now and then about the Beecher Tornado in Flint, Michigan. It was an F5 tornado which occurred on Monday, June 8, 1953. It remained on the ground for 27 miles. Wikipedia says that “It  ranks as one of the top ten single deadliest tornadoes in United States history. The tornado was one of eight tornadoes that touched down the same day in eastern lower Michigan and northwest Ohio.” There were 116 fatalities, 844 injuries, and almost 350 houses destroyed. EJ’s grandmother was one of the injured; she spent six weeks in the hospital recovering from her injuries. His mother was babysitting some children at their (the children’s) house. They all survived but the house next door was blown away as if it had never existed. The whole family was killed. EJ’s father was coming home from work when he saw a flock of strange birds flapping their wings as they circled in the sky–only to realize with horror that they weren’t birds at all, but the roofs of houses picked up by the tornado. The Beecher Tornado is not only part of EJ’s family history, it is also part of the city’s history, as well as part of Michigan’s history. A few years ago people started recording the stories of Beecher Tornado survivors because they were getting old and many had died. One survivor was 17 at the time the tornado hit. Sixty years later and the memories are still fresh.  “I remember it as if it was yesterday. It’s like it was burned into my memory,” she said. “A tragedy of a tornado, you never forget. I’m 77 and I never forget.”

Even though it happened years before EJ was born, the Beecher Tornado has affected him through his parents and grandmother. He loves watching weather as much as I do, but he is very careful about preparing for serious storms. Through EJ, the Beecher Tornado has become part of my history, and it has been passed down to JJ as well.

I write my blog about common events in my life because of people like Laura Ingalls Wilder, the old man we attended church with, and EJ’s family. Someday maybe the boring events of my life might give glimpses into the past to future generations. In fact, I have a friend who lives in a large city who already finds my way of life interesting because it is so different from hers. If nothing else, I can remind myself of the events of my life when I am older.

For me, Hurricane Harvey falls into the same category: a historical event, a personal history that I witnessed and (in a secondhand way) became involved in. I can say, “I remember where I was, and what was happening, and what I did, and what I felt at the time of Hurricane Harvey.  It affected me because my friends were there.”

So I spent the morning writing about my friends’ experience with Harvey–and through them, my own experience. I started out intending to write it for this blog. I think it’s a historical story, an exciting story, and an inspiring story of danger and courage that others would find interesting. I wanted to write it down while the details were fresh because memories tend to quickly fade.

Halfway through, I found myself actually writing for my own benefit and for the benefit of my  friends–so we and they could add it to our personal histories that we could pass down to our children and grandchildren, who might someday find it as fascinating as I do EJ’s family history of the Beecher Tornado. I added personal details in my friend’s own words before they were deleted or forgotten…because it’s history.

I finished and, tired and not thinking, I clicked “published.”

And then I gasped and removed the post from public view as quickly as I could. I had asked my friend if I could share her photos (she said yes), but I hadn’t yet asked if I could share other things. I had meant to let her read it first. I didn’t want to risk sharing anything that would make her feel uncomfortable, even though I think her texts during Harvey were powerful, interesting, courageous, inspiring, and filled with humor and faith. If she gives me permission, I will share our Harvey story. If she doesn’t, I will keep it a private post so only we, they, and those we personally decide to share it with can access it.


2 Comments on “I Was There

  1. That is a very sensitive thing to do, to ask permission first. It sure would be nice if more people did that on social media. Nice post.


    • It is her story more than mine. I’m horrified that I clicked “publish” before I wanted to.


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