Excerpt from “Paradise”, Chapter 4 of Just Keep Swimming (a nonfiction narrative/collected biography of Gen X women overcoming adversities following their shared beginnings in corrosive 1980s rural communities):
For many Generation X folks, the thought of the Challenger disaster brings forth an image of Ronald Reagan, We saw President Reagan’s face a lot in the 1980s. He was there telling us about the Cold War, Chernobyl, and addressed the nation following the explosion. We were in middle and high school these years. These events shaped us, and not necessarily in a good way. I find those memories interesting when I recall my former husband standing duty at Reagan’s funeral procession while I was locked in traffic on George Washington Parkway in Washington, D.C. years later.
Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. President in 1980. In international affairs, Reagan pursued a hard-line policy towards preventing the spread of communism, initiating a considerable buildup of U.S. military power to challenge the Soviet Union. He further directly challenged the Iron Curtain by demanding that the Soviet Union dismantle the Berlin Wall.
I’ll never forget hearing Reagan’s proclamation to Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” We watched this during class as it happened, and I remember being a smart ass and asking the teacher “does this mean we no longer have to do nuclear drills?”
I never understood those drills. I did understand if a nuclear bomb were to be dropped, I didn’t want to end up looking like those people in that dastardly 1983 made-for-television movie “The Day After” about what would happen in America in a nuclear fallout. Me and my friends, siblings, family, classmates and church people talked, and prayed about this incessantly for so long after this. I had nightmares about losing my hair to radiation sickness. I didn’t want to go down that way. I was much too vain for that. About the time we stopped talking about nuclear fallout or the KGB spies around us, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, a large-scale nuclear meltdown in the Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, spread a large amount of radioactive material across Europe, killing 47 people, dooming countless others to future radiation-related cancer, and causing the displacement of 300,000 people.
Nope, I figured it was best if almighty Jesus came for us right in the blast zone.
On January 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch, killing all of the crew on board, including the female teacher. This was the first disaster involving the destruction of a NASA space shuttle. A faulty O-Ring was the cause of the accident. We were watching it in the classroom of our female teacher on a T.V. that was fastened to the top of one of those old metal T.V. carts with the boards beneath that could hold the VCR units. The windows of the classroom were closed that day so the sound of the T.V. rattled on the panes. Much of the school year the windows were kept “cracked open just a little bit”. Big casement windows, in deep window frames, that would swing out left or right on a hinge. They never had screens, and our school was a three story structure. A person could have walked out one of those windows, but to my knowledge no one, not a student or teacher, ever did so.
There was an incident in 5th grade where I hid out behind the shades of one of those giant windows from the teacher. But that’s another story.
I can’t say I was totally engrossed in the watching of the lift-off of the Challenger, but it got my attention real quick when the explosion occurred, and the vibe in the room changed so drastically that it was chilling. This was the first time any of us had seen anything like this happen live, albeit on T.V.
Many years later, the 9/11 response triggered this same feeling in a room full of people, on a college campus. It was a very sad occurrence, and people in Paradise talked for months about it. Eons it seemed. Nobody seemed to like the government too much back then, and NASA was seen as an arm of the government who was involved in the Cold War, raising taxes higher than they have ever been in the U.S., and they had one job to do and they failed, spectacularly.
As we question the ascending generations’ perception of government, liberty, civil steward, and law, let’s discuss how these 1980s events affected our own generation.
So, how did these events affect other Gen Xer’s?
How about Generation Y, and Millennials? – What did you learn from your parents about these events? Let’s talk!