I recently heard someone make the interesting observation that she was writing out the arc of her life on a big sheet of paper. When I was in residence with the Center for Land Use Interpretation I did the same. In fact I blogged this many years ago when it was in process. Finished, it was published in my memoir GEOGRAPHIC from Casa de Snapdragon Press.
Looking at it today, I realize these are experiences that meant I would never feel the United States of America was a benign liberal place designed for my happiness and security.
April 27, 1954
I am born, by natural childbirth, in Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. My mother delivers me a little after 3 p.m., after the nurse’s shift changes. They are loath to go because they have never seen natural childbirth before.
I am born into a world marked forever by Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Strange how innocent place names can come to speak of universal horror. I am born in upper Manhattan. For my entire life, my dreams will have NY City street signs in them. I will always know the cardinal directions in my dreams.
Manhattan Project, 1942-1946
Robert Oppenheimer and other physicists develop the atom bomb in a remote location in New Mexico–Los Alamos. It is tested in southern New Mexico, in the Jornado del Muerto. As an adult, I visit the Trinity Test Site on one of the two days of the year it is open and buy myself a lavender T-shirt with a blue mushroom cloud on it.
I wear it out.
Cuban Missile Crisis. October, 1962
Our third grade teacher, Mrs. Harvey, is no-nonsense and British. We know she survived the London blitz. She pulls down a map of the world from the blackboard at the front of the class and shows us that Russia practically touches Alaska. They have always been right next door and able to bomb us. For some reason, this banishes my fear.
August 6, 1945
The atom bomb “Little Boy” is dropped on Hiroshima by the U.S. On August 9, “Fat Man” is detonated over Nagasaki.
November 22, 1963
President John F. Kennedy is assassinated. I am in the fourth grade and miss Mrs. Harvey with her great accent.
This may be the first time I realize my family is different than others. The next school day many kids say they saw their fathers cry. My father did not cry, but he did drink a beer in the daytime while watching television–very unusual behavior.
Years later I learned that Fidel Castro remarked–who is this man Johnson and can he handle the CIA?
My father seemed to be asking some sort of similar question.
Autumn, 1905, Russia
A general strike is called throughout the Tsarist Russia–a revolution, really. My grandfather Avrum, who is a short skinny teenager, is lifted up by other men so he can pull the whistle which signals the start of the local protest.
April 4, 1968. Martin Luther King Assassination
The house next to us, which is abandoned, burns. It is a vast house with turrets and follies–we call it the pink castle. My parents are away, and my grandfather Avrum and I sit up all night together watching the firemen and keeping an eye so that the strand of copper beeches between us and the conflagration don’t catch fire.
November 7, 1867
Madame Sklodowska Curie, discoverer of radium, is born. I read her biography, along with those of Harriet Tub-man and Joan of Arc. I will never do what any of them do, but as a girl in the 1950s I take my heroines where I can find them.
I move to Santa Fe, New Mexico a few days after Ronald Reagan wins the election and am amazed to see the lights of Los Alamos twinkling in the northwest. It is as if I did not know it was a real place.
Tisha B’Av, 1492. Jews expelled from Spain
This date, the 9th day of the month of Av, is the least auspicious one on the Hebrew calendar.
The Jews are expelled from Spain, leaving my family with a taste for flamenco and me with the desire to just keep driving south into Mexico.
August 19-21, 1991. Fall of Soviet Union
The coup against Michael Gorbachev fails. During the two days of the attempt, my parents are huddled in the basement of their beach house because a hurricane is devastating the island of Martha’s Vineyard.
Periodically my father braves the wind and threat of broken glass to run up the stairs to the kitchen where he can get good radio reception to find out what is happening in Russia.
9th of Av, 70 A.C.E.
The destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is commemorated by the Romans on a triumphal arch, still
in Rome. The arch of Titus shows the plundered menorah carried off by soldiers. The start of the Jewish diaspora.
November, 2010. Wendover, Utah
Desert dawn, azure sky. Venus hangs over the guard tower. The lights of the casinos blink reflected in the windows of the Enola Gay hangar. I drink a cup of coffee by myself.