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Flashpoints

What is a flashpoint? In history it's a sudden happening after which everything is irrevocably changed because of it. "Where were you when..." people ask. We vividly remember where we were during flashpoints in our lifetime. Where we were when we learned President John F. Kennedy had been shot (in my car headed to my son's daycare center), or when we learned about 9-11 (watching Good Morning America on television).

I know where I was during another presumed flashpoint, but I don't know for sure WHAT it was. Mother and I were walking west on the 100 block of West Evans Street, a little closer to Irby Street than Dargan Street. It was a warm, sunny day and the shops along the way had their doors propped open, radio music spilling out to the sidewalk. With no central air conditioning many downtown stores kept front and back doors open, large floor fans set in strategic spots to circulate the air.

I was holding tight to Mama's hand, my little arm extended straight up in the air and shoulder muscles straining as I "dawdled." Wrinkling up my face and squinting, I tended to peer into each store window as we passed. We had passed the Fashion Center and were close to J&J Drugs when suddenly the radio music stopped and a news bulletin blared out it seemed to be bad news, whatever it was. Mother stopped in her tracks, tightened her grip on my hand and turned back into the Fashion Center to listen. Everyone in the store was very silent and grim faced.

What's the matter with everybody, I wondered? I couldn't grasp the import of the radio news and still have no definite knowledge of what it was. Considering my age, the time of day and time of year it was, it may have been the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Warm Springs, Georgia. I've learned since then that it was broadcast nationwide by radio and the entire country seemed to stop at the news. America was in the midst of WWII. What were we going to do?

Another flashpoint came soon afterward: Nagasaki-Hiroshima. My McKenzie School history teacher explained about the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, ending WWII in the Pacific. She pointed out that President Truman had authorized them but she wasn't sure FDR would have.

Doing personal history work I've found a lot of us mark the past by remembering flashpoints. Pearl Harbor. Nagasaki. JFK. Challenger, 9-11, Katrina. The name brings the event back into sharp focus and fresh pain. This month it's Virginia Tech.

Some flashpoints are good memories, of course. The cure for polio, vaccine by sugar cube in my case. Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, broadcast on live TV, in my children's case (though some folks still don't believe that ever really happened).

Kids joke about having to learn history "There's so much more of it than when you were my age!" George Santayana wrote "Those that cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it." I I'm ready for a few more of the good kind after this past week.


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