I was ten years old when the second historic event happened. We were sitting in my parents’ bedroom when the news came on at they announced that John F Kennedy had been assassinated. My mother’s hand shot up to her mouth and the blood drained from her face. My parents had never mentioned JFK but mum’s reaction was so startling it impressed on me that he must be a really close relative and someone important to our family, I remember wondering why I’d never met him. 22nd November 1963 – mum put a big red circle around the date on her calendar and kept that calendar for years in the top drawer of her dressing table.
It was before South Africa had television so we pulled up our chairs with our ears glued to the radio and listened to the replays of the shooting. Later we gathered around the radio and listened to every minute of the funeral service. We had to get our own tea that night because mum wouldn’t leave the room to do anything. When she did have to leave for a few second to go to the bathroom, we had to turn the volume up really loud so she could hear.
It was horrible because I didn’t understand what had happened and wondered why my mother was so affected by it. After the funeral broadcast finished my father poured them both a ‘stiff whiskey’. I’d never heard of anyone being shot dead and I had nightmares for months afterwards.
The historic event I have the most vivid memory of is the death of Elvis Presley. I was soaking up the bubbles in a bath. The news gongs sounded on the radio and instead of the up tempo news theme, slow dark music radiated. “Elvis Presley is dead.” I sat bolt upright up, splashing half the water onto the floor. Maybe I heard wrong; it couldn’t be true. The volume up just confirmed his death.
How could such a legend could die. It was something that hadn’t occurred to me until that very moment – Elvis had been a part of my life since I could remember. In my head he was part of the family. We all enjoyed his rocked out beats and gyrating body antics.
I slumped back down in the bath and listened to the radio play song after Elvis song. Love me tender, Heartbreak Hotel, Don’t be cruel, Suspicion, I just can’t help believing, I can’t help falling in love and on and on they played without an ad break. An hour had passed before I realised the water was cold and I was shivering. Since my mother’s death in 1968 it was the only sense of loss I had experienced.
What will the world be like without him, who would fill magazine pages? The rest of the day melted into a stunned disoriented dazed state. An anchor had been pulled up and I seemed to be adrift. Elvis and the bubble bath live forever in my memory.
The third event is the Twin Tower travesty. On Tuesday, September 11, the two tallest buildings in New York — 110 stories each, a major tourist attraction, and crowded with men and women working for financial powerhouses, government agencies, restaurants, and shops — were destroyed. (I’m returning to this to try and document the impact the event had on me.)