It's hard to believe that I can remember something from 20 years ago. That just sounds like a long time. It's easier to imagine something that happened when I was 10 or something that happened in 1986 because, really, who doesn't remember 1986?
When the Challenger disaster happened I was in fifth grade and our class went to the library to watch the space shuttle take off on television. We had been talking about it for weeks - a teacher was going to space! It was so exciting that I got a front row seat. Moments later the tv was off and we were being led back to our classroom. I don't think we understood what was going on. I don't think most adults watching grasped the sudden drama unfolding. I wish I remember more about afterwards. I wish I remember how the teachers handled it or what I thought. I wasn't thinking in terms of how I would see backwards from the distance of twenty years. I was thinking how sad it was the teacher wouldn't get to go to space after all. Probably.
On a related but different subject, Sunday was my dad's 60th birthday. When I was there, he pulled out the "decade" pictures. The first picture was taken in good old 1986 (which we all remember, right?) It is a picture of my dad showing a rectangular cake with "Happy 40th" written in m&m's. They didn't have blue m&m's then by the way. I know because the next decade picture, taken in 1996, showed a cake with "Happy 50th" in m&m's, including blue. I remember when there weren't any blue m&m's, but I don't remember how I felt when the Challenger disaster took place.
Anyway, in the 1986 picture the three of us kids are gathered around my dad, gazing at the cake. The cool thing is, we purposely posed the same way for the 1996 picture. So in the 1986 picture you see my dad on his 40th birthday (how old that must've seemed to me at the time and how young it seems now!) holding the cake. On his right is my brother looking quite young, and on his left is a high chair where my little sister was sitting looking every bit a baby, and between my dad and my sister with an arm around each, is me. I had my head turned down toward the cake and really you can mostly just see my hair. But you can see the smallness of my hand draped over my dad's shoulder.
In 1996 my dad is holding his cake and on his right is my brother in the height of adolescence, with shaggy hair and looking so different from 10 years earlier. Perhaps the most different is my sister, now sitting in a chair on my dad's left, smiling with teeth missing and looking as sweet and cute as any kid from a sitcom. Between them I stand looking, as my mom pointed out, basically just the same as I do now. It was startling to realize why - I was already 20 when the picture was taken, already sort of an adult - and it hit me that I haven't been a kid in a long time. Especially when I compared the size of my hand draped over my dad's shoulder in 1986.
We haven't taken a decade picture this year yet because my brother's in California. But when he visits this summer we will stage a "60th birthday" for my dad, complete with an m&m cake. I look forward to continuing to compare our pictures for decades to come.