The Day the Music Died

John Clark remembering what happened seventeen years ago. Each of us has moments we never forget. Sadly, many of them stem from tragic events that were so unexpected they froze us in place while our minds tried to process the unimaginable. Three stand out in my personal history. Fortunately, one was a positive event. I’ll share them in chronological order.

I was in high school when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. For reasons I cannot explain to this day, I was sitting in the small school library at Union High when I decided to turn on the cranky black and white TV sitting on a cart near the back of the room. I spent most study halls in the library, but had never thought about turning on the TV. What appeared on the screen grabbed everyone’s attention and word spread through the school like wildfire. Our president was wounded and panic was afoot. Fifty-five years ago, getting the facts separated from rumor was a much slower process than it is today. For the next several days, the whole country watched and waited to learn that JFK was dead, his assassin had been captured and then killed in turn by a man whose own motives and history were very murky.

Even today, there are aspects of the killing and those involved, that provide fodder for conspiracy theorists. In all honesty, we may never know everything about who, what and why of this tragedy. It sent a chill through America, leaving many with shattered illusions about how safe we were.

July 20, 1969. I was in the summer of ultimate despair. Nothing seemed to be going right, I felt alone and alienated from everyone and everything. I remember listening to my car radio as I returned to Sennebec Hill Farm from a night class I was taking at University of Maine-Augusta. In addition to driving from the farm to Bath five days a week to paint the old Carleton Bridge, I would grab supper four nights a week, gobble it down and drive to class in Augusta. It was a burnout schedule, done in an effort to save money during the first semester of my senior year at Arizona State. By taking six credit hours, I could qualify for a much lower part time rate in the fall.

There was a full moon that evening and, as it rose in the sky, the news broke that our astronauts were walking on the moon’s surface… On the bright orb hanging above me. That was powerful enough to allow me to get out of my own head for a few hours, something desperately needed right then.

September 11, 2001. To say that I was blissfully unaware of what was happening while driving to the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library that day would be an understatement. I tended to listen to a couple of my new age music tapes instead of the radio on my way to work, so I was speechless when I got to the library and found my staff and several patrons, looking as pale as ghosts, while they watched the planes slam into the towers over and over in between frenzied updates from national network anchors. Many of us knew people in New York City, so it was personal from the git-go. That worry increased as the day progressed, spurred by concern that one of our patrons who lived on Southport Island and was a United Airlines pilot, had been at the controls of one of the jets. We found out early the next day that he wasn’t, but just the possibility he might be dead had everyone feeling numb. It’s pretty safe to say little or no work got done that day and there was an increasing sense of doom and foreboding as more was revealed about the terrorists passage through Portland, the complete cessation of flights across the country and the unspoken worry that this was just the beginning of dark times.

Seventeen years later, some of that foreboding still lingers, fed intermittently by terrorist attacks and mass shootings. It’s safe to say, that for me at least, some of the music of life died that day.

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6 Responses to The Day the Music Died

  1. Gram says:

    I went home for lunch one day so I could watch the launch of The Challenger…I will never forget the look on Christa McAuliffe’s Mom’s face..

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  2. bangorgirl says:

    As a member of the same generation, I too remember these all but another event that I recall so clearly was my father waking me up on June 6, 1968 to tell me that Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated. He was my candidate for the very first Presidential election in which I could vote…19 years old and all that excitement and hope that Bobby had instilled in so many young people like me were lost…replaced with feelings of devastation, loss of hope for our country….

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  3. Gram says:

    Earlier in 1963 – April..we suffered for a few days wondering if the submarine Thresher out of Portsmouth, would ever surface again.

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  4. bethc2015 says:

    I also remember the Oklahoma City Bombing because one of my students had in-laws who both worked for the federal government in Oklahoma City. It was a long day waiting with her until she heard they were safe.

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