history is happening as we speak
My dad was born in 1939. He grew up in wartime and remembers. I grew up listening to his stories about two brothers sharing a broken “chocolate frog” on a plate, and my dad’s first meeting with a banana and the attempt he made to eat it without peeling it first.
My mum was born in 1944 and remembers the post-war years. Her story is not of a banana but of the first meeting with the weird thing the grownups called “an orange”. As you might have guessed, she did not know what to do with it.
My grandparents before them experienced not one, but two wars – and the Great Depression in between. My grandfather had a one way ticket to America, a ticket to go look for fortune and happiness far away from home, but the trip was cancelled at the last minute.
My great-grandparents voted on whether or not to sell the Virgin Islands in 1917. My great-grandmother couldn’t see the use of those islands far away and voted “yes” to selling. This prompted my great-grandfather to shake his head and declare it an example of why women shouldn’t be allowed to vote (something they gained the right to in 1915).
As a child I grew up thinking my life was boring, thinking that no history would ever be written in my lifetime. I used to think that my children would grow up thinking that history was made in their grandparents’ time (or even before) and not in mine.
In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. I was 10 years old. I remember watching the news. I remember seeing the pictures and not really comprehending the differences between East and West. This is the first historic moment I remember. Despite not grasping the situation, I knew this was important – that history was in the making. In the years to come I visited Eastern Germany with my parents. We saw the border and poor towns, and what I had not grasped earlier about East and West I began getting a clearer idea of.
In 1993 at Gatwick Airport I was questioned on whether or not I had packed my suitcase myself, and whether it had been left unattended after I packed it. I was 14 years old and away from home and completely on my own for the first time. I answered the best I could, nervous, and remember being taken into a room where my suitcase was x-rayed. Five years later in 1998 the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
In 1997 I woke up on a Sunday morning to learn that Princess Diana had died. I remember her picture being everywhere and the comparisons which were made to Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa died just five days later – the day before Princess Diana’s funeral – and it was as if the press couldn’t cope another funeral. The difference in the media coverage was huge.
On a day in September 2001 I arrived at work happy and smiling. As I cheerfully entered the room, I was met by people who looked at me and asked “haven’t you heard?” I remember watching the news over and over again, and I remember the days, months, years that followed.
Upon arriving at work today I learned that Castro had stepped down. When my colleague told me, I didn’t really get it. I was sort of “whatever”, and it was only after I realised that Castro had stepped down!
I have grown to learn that in the years to come – for the rest of my life – I will witness history being written. Par example I know that in a not so distant future, I will experience America electing either their first female president (and the first former first lady to get that far) or their first black – or the rejection of both.
Surely I have forgotten things. Things I consider landmarks others consider small events; things I consider small events others consider landmarks. They may tell us the world’s getting smaller, but history is strongly linked to where you’re situated. But either way it’s history.
One day when my children complain, I will tell them the exact same thing my dad told me many, many years ago. “History is happening as we speak. You’ll have plenty to tell your children. Just you wait and see.