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Where were you when you heard about...

I was born near the end of my generation. That was clear subjectively for a long time. I was incredulous the first time I heard a number put to it, however. 1980 was the start of the following generation? My brother was born in 1980. He's only three years younger than I am. How could we be of different generations? Since then, I've seen different definitions that put the next generation anywhere from 1978 to 1982.

One of the less arbitrary ways to divide generations that I've seen is the memory of a defining moment. That is, most or all of a generation will be able to answer in great detail the question "Where were you when you heard about Event X?" For my grandmother's generation, Event X was the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For my mother's generation, it was when JFK was shot. For mine, it was the Challenger explosion.

I remember it vividly. We'd all been told about it in great detail, because a New Hampshire school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was aboard. I don't know if it was being taught and watched in schools all over the country, or just in New England because she was local. I do know there were a lot of schoolchildren watching live. I guess the launch must have been scheduled during the first and second grade lunch period, because they were in the cafeteria with the big TV on. I was eight years old, in the third grade. I was taking a note down to the kindergarten wing. When I walked past the cafeteria, it was quiet. Too quiet. That's a phrase used so often it's cliche, but that was the first time I'd ever had the experience, and it's that uncanny hush that I think of when someone says it. I can't remember now whether I actually went in to find out what happened, which is what I think I did, or whether I just finished the errand and heard about it a little later.

I really can't imagine anyone my age forgetting it. For many of us, it was only our second contact with death (the first being when Mr. Hooper died on Sesame Street – don't laugh if you don't remember that, read about it). And it was the end of most of us having any thought of growing up to be an astronaut. It wasn't so much that we were scarred, as that the space program just stopped existing for the rest of our childhood. And yet, when I had this conversation with my family, I discovered that my brother didn't remember. He was five, a year too young to have been in that cafeteria watching. He remembers hearing stories, but he doesn't have any personal recollection. It turns out that somewhere around the beginning of 1980 really is the generation break based on that event.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
erinmuse
Jan. 28th, 2011 11:32 pm (UTC)
I was still living in Levittown, PA. I hadn't yet started kindergarten, so I was home with my mom. We'd gone on vacation to Florida the previous summer and visited Kennedy Space Center. I saw Challenger on the vehicle used to transport it to the launch pad. Since that was the coolest thing 4-year-old me had ever seen, I bought a metal toy space shuttle and put the Challenger decal on it (they had stickers for all of the names in the box). I was also wearing the astronaut uniform sweatsuit I'd gotten as a souvenir. It had a NASA patch (a real patch, not a screen print!) on it. I watched the launch on TV in the living room. I didn't understand what had happened, but my mom says I still reacted in a way that showed I knew something very bad was going on.
turtle_morn
Jan. 29th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
How were you in third grade if I remember being in second grade? I could be wrong though, because I wasn't in school that day so I don't have a classroom memory of that day. I was at lunch with my aunts because we had a half day for parent conferences. The waitress told us, and my aunt Dorrie shook her head and said "I never held with people leaving the ground, and this just proves it." I remember being just old enough to have a sense that that wasn't the right answer, but I didn't know how to explain it. That night I saw it on television.
collacentaur
Jan. 29th, 2011 05:30 am (UTC)
And I used to remember it as fourth grade. But it was definitely 1986, when we were eight, so it had to be third grade.
(no subject) - oidhche - Feb. 2nd, 2011 05:13 am (UTC) - Expand
calloocallay
Jan. 29th, 2011 03:55 am (UTC)
I was born in 1980. What is my generation supposed to remember?
collacentaur
Jan. 29th, 2011 05:29 am (UTC)
Dunno. It's one of the problems I've had with the theory.

Before 2001, I'd heard some people say it was Princess Diana's accident. To me that doesn't sound significant enough. Since, I think 9/11/2001 must be the leading candidate. It rivals the impact for me.
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swimpaddlz
Jan. 29th, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)
i actually emailed an elementary school classmate yesterday to ask if she remembers watching the challenger live. i remember lessons leading up to it, and i remember that we were going to do all sorts of cool lessons about space once she was up there, but whether we actually were watching...it's like an abrupt end to my memory, like a black hole. obviously i've seen the explosion in replays a million times, and i know from mom and from the fact that it showed up in my diary and on the back of an art project that it really upset me, but i feel like i've wiped the actual trauma of the event from my memory. like i know having knee surgery with no anesthesia as an 8 year old was a trauma but i don't remember the sensation, i know my car accident in my first car when i rolled over was bad but i don't remember that exactly...and i don't remember the moment the challenger exploded, even tho i know i was in school, in 4th grade, with a teacher who had been teaching lessons connected to the launch.
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( 12 comments — Leave a comment )