WHERE WERE YOU?????

I’ve had way too many of them.

Where were you when your father died?     

In bed. My mother woke me up at the usual time, sat on the foot of the bed, said “Your daddy died at 2 o’clock this morning.” Stood up, left the room and went to the kitchen to join my Aunt Pink making food for the throngs that would be visiting us.  I did what my dad would have wanted. I got dressed and went to school. He valued education more than anything.  A friend asked me how dad was; I told her, and she ratted me out to the principal — who suspended me for three days for disrespecting him. I tried to explain that this is how I showed my respect, but she wouldn’t listen. I spent the next three days sitting on my porch while my mom “held court.”

My girlfriend, Diana Ferguson, rescued me. She rallied our friends together, and we all spent the nights at her house until his funeral. I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Where were you when Kennedy died?

Sixth period chorus at Charleston High School. Miss Eldridge kept the class going. As soon as the bell rang, a bunch of us went across the street to The Coffee Shop and just talked. We didn’t want to be alone. Same think with RFK and Martin Luther King.

Our parents didn’t understand the effect it had on us. We were “just kids.” At that time, we couldn’t drive until we were 18, couldn’t vote until 21. What did we know? We knew we had each other. Together, we could talk it out and mourn.

Where were you when David Kennedy died?

David was Abbi’s best friend, big brother, and the son I never had. Abbi had moved home while waiting to move into a new apartment, came into my bedroom at sometime after midnight, and said, “David’s been shot.” I asked if he was OK. She told me, “Mom, he was shot in the head. He’s dead.” We rushed to the hospital. There was already a crowd in the ER. His mom, Cheryl, was outside his room. David looked like he was sleeping. His pregnant wife was downstairs — they were trying to keep her from going into labor.

In that emergency room were about 30+ kids. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, whites, blacks, Hispanics, it looked like a junior version of the United Nations.  The emergency room doctor walked up to Cheryl and told her that the ER was for family members only. Her answer was, “This IS his family.”

He died saving his wife, sister, her husband, and their three kids from two kids who broke open the door of his sister’s apartment with guns wanting jewelry and drugs. David, an All-State wrestler who just graduated from a junior college with a full-ride scholarship threw a double-leg take down on the assaulter, giving his family time to get out of the house. We buried him on the day he would have started his junior year in college, wrestling for Central Oklahoma. Abbi would have started her sophomore year that day.  I still think of him and miss him almost every day.

Where were you during the Oklahoma City bombing?

In my office at 63rd and Broadway Extension. My secretary was sitting at her desk, I, as usual was sitting at a random desk because Lana always joked that I never went into my office.  We were about 57 blocks from the Federal Building.

From out of nowhere, it felt like a plane hit our building. We jumped up, went to the window, and saw nothing. She turned the radio to the news channel and heard that an “currently unknown event” had hit the Federal Building. Looking south, we saw nothing but smoke. Lana’s immediate thought was that it was a gas leak fire. I told her, no, that I’d been on too many military bases. That it was a bomb. A gas leak would have created flames. This “event” yielded only billowing deep grey smoke. 

My first thought was for America’s Kids…the daycare over the front door. They were clients of ours. One of their kids had peed on their sale’s rep’s lap just the day before. I knew in my heart that very few, if any of them would survive.

Everyone in town knew someone who was in the building. One of our referring CPA’s was  giving a talk next door in the Journal Record Building. She was slammed between two filing cabinets and badly injured. As a self-employed accountant, she had no insurance.  We got the word out to all the McBee offices and the reps, managers, and our national headquarters started sending in money. We almost covered her medical bills.

The stories started coming in. Sixty blocks north of us — about 120 blocks from the bombing, a friend of mine was blown off the toilet. The Daily Oklahoma’s (newspaper) office as well as The Journal Record (business newspaper) and several other office buildings wouldn’t be able to be saved.

A national reporter went on TV to say that a mid-western town like Oklahoma City couldn’t possibly be prepared for an event like this.  She was so wrong. As soon as the word got out, the National Guard showed up. The Red Cross came with tents and supplies. Every nurse and doctor in town headed either downtown or to their hospitals. The community brought  blankets, pillows, food, water; anything they thought might be needed — even dog food for the rescue dogs. The workers wanted for nothing….without being asked, surrounding towns sent in police, fire and rescue units. The stalwart “unprepared” Okies were up and running and rescue efforts were in effect within a couple of hours. Survivors were in hospitals before the smoke cleared. The apartment building across the street, as well as the YMCA were evacuated. Before the end of the day, trailers were set up downtown so banks, by federal law, could be open. And the support continued until every single support personnel was gone. You were wrong, Connie Chung. Okies take care of their own.

Where were you on 9/11?

At home, getting ready for work. Abbi called. Told me to turn on the TV. The first tower was already a cloud of smoke. Another plane showed up on the screen. Abbi said it must have gotten off course – I told her that it intentionally heading to the other tower. We were under assault. I was trying to stay calm as we watched the events from our respective homes.

Then, the plane went into the Pentagon. Abbi’s dad was an Air Force officer. He had retired, but was working for a government contractor in the same office, with the same desk and phone number he’d had before he retired. When they said it was Sector D, Abbi lost it.

She’d been estranged from her dad for several years. But in an instant, that all disappeared and she was a 20-year old  little girl worried about her dad. 

I spent hours trying to reach him, but of course all the phone lines were down. I found him late that afternoon. He had left the building about five minutes before the plane hit, heading for a meeting twenty minutes away.

I called my staff, told them the office was closed for the day, and to stay home. I spent the day trying to reach friends in New York who lived near the Trade Center and military friends we knew were stationed in the Pentagon.

What about when the first bombs hit Afghanistan?

Abbi and I were sitting on my bed playing Trivial Pursuit, there was a fire in the bedroom fireplace, and I was waiting for my date to show up. We were going to some comedy. The TV was on in the background, for no real reason. Then, the news came on and we saw the bombs flaring through the sky and explosions from the ground. We grabbed each other. She knew that some of her friends were going to be heading overseas. All I could think of was the ones I lost in Vietnam.

Dan showed up and expected to go to the movie. “The war’s started. Nothing we can do. Let’s go.” I stayed home with Abbi. He went to the movie.

 

There are too many days in our lives we’ll never forget. So many events that were out of our control, yet altered our lives in ways that will forever haunt our memories. And there’s no way I would ever trivilize those events — either the personal ones, or the ones that made a difference in our nation and way of life.

But there’s an event coming up that we can control. The first Tuesday in November. That, too, is an event that will change our country forever.

And whatever side you’re on, it’s your responsibility to get out and make a difference. One person can. Offer to carpool your neighbors to the polling place and go out for lunch afterwards. If you run an office, give your staff time to go vote, and let the hours be excused if they show up wearing an ‘I voted’ sticker. If you’re in college, get a bunch of your friends together and head to whatever sorority/fraternity house/church is designated for your area. The Jeapordy marathon can wait. It doesn’t matter HOW they vote as long as they DO. And each of us who plans to vote anyway has an obligation to take someone along with them.

This time, we’re in charge. Not another nation, not a disillusioned gunman, not a presidential decision. This time, the decision is ours. Ours alone. Because if we don’t, we’ve surrendered and have no right to complain about the outcome. Not even half of Americans vote. We can change that this year. Let’s take our country back and let Congress know we’re watching, paying attention, and are willing to do something about it. Your one vote will make a difference. Don’t waste it.

So, until tomorrow when we can all go back to bitching and moaning and showing the world what we’re having for lunch or putting up the daily pix of our kids, be safe out there. Start doing real homework and vote like your life depends on it. Because it does.