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Just One Thing To Do This Week: Make Memories

on November 18, 2017 - 7:21am

Los Alamos

Prior to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, my first childhood memories are random bits and pieces—snippets, really.

Mostly, of me being stranded in a tree. I am guessing this has something to do with my brother who is seven years older than me. When I went outside to play with him my mother would securely strap a football helmet on to my little toddler head. Good call on her part. I remember being stuck in a dark green citrus tree, trying to pluck an orange. I remember being wedged in a leafless tree with skinny little branches that I was sure would break.

But my first real memory is the news report of the assassination of JFK when I was just four years old. I remember standing in front of the television. My mother was watching her soap opera while she ironed clothes, and the program suddenly changed. A newsman came on in a serious voice, and I knew something important had happened.

I turned to look at my mom and she was gone. I found her in the yard hanging clothes on the line. I called her to come in, and I took her hand and led her to the television. When she saw the reporter she put her hand to her face, began to cry, and just repeated, “oh no, oh no, oh no…” over and over again. I remember feeling very confused and very vulnerable.

My mother was a Republican. She was very active in the Republican Women’s Club. But my mother was born the same year as Jackie Kennedy. They were both 5’7”, they both had dark lively eyes, a stylish brunette bouffant hairstyle, and they both had young children.

Even though my mother was living in a run-down two bedroom rental on the fringe of a dilapidated chicken farm, I think she deeply identified with Jackie Kennedy. On that day, and for days to come, her heart ached for Jackie and her children.

The day President Kennedy was killed is a flashbulb memory for many older Americans. According to the American Psychological Association, a flashbulb memory, is a memory laid down in great detail during a highly personally significant event, often a shocking event of national or international importance. Flashbulb memories often have a photographic quality, which is helped along by extensive television coverage. For example, a great many people can remember where they were when they heard about the planes hitting World Trade Center on 9/11.

Hearing about the death of Princess Diana is a flashbulb memory for me. As are the massacres at Sandy Hook, Columbine, Las Vegas, The Pulse Night Club, and now the Baptist Church in Sunderland Springs, Texas. And yes, there are sadly, many, many more.

It seems lately flashbulb memories are filling my brain, flashbulb memories created and forced upon me by irrational, crazy strangers, leaving little room for other, happier memories of my own making. Holiday memories, vacation memories, funny-story memories, family memories, even the what was I was going to stop and buy at the store? memories. Instead I consistently feel slightly off-kilter, confused and vulnerable, longing for the time flashbulb memories came once a decade or so, instead of on a near-weekly basis.

I vow to continue to do my part to advocate for an end to the tragic violence that regularly accosts all of us. And, as we approach the annual holiday memory-making season, I will embrace it. I will create new and powerful memories, packed with love, compassion and kindness.