What were you doing when you heard that Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo? When armistice was declared ending World War I? When Lindbergh landed in Paris?
In spite of what people might think, I was not around for any of those momentous events. But the span of my memory is growing increasingly long, together with my teeth, so that I can say that I do remember the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- I was a small child, but I remember it.
Roosevelt's death in 1945 is the first of many moments in my lifetime when people paused, checked their pulse and absorbed the startling news in their own ways. For days, the event replaces the weather as the automatic topic of conversation with passers by on the street.
The next big one in my lifetime was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. I remember precisely what I was doing -- sleeping. My slumber was interrupted by a phone call telling me the president had been shot. I was in my white terry-cloth bathrobe with a yachting insignia on the chest.
I was in my white '61 Chevy convertible impatiently waiting for a red light to change at Mesaba Avenue and First Street in Duluth when the car radio blared that Robert Kennedy had been shot and killed. I was late for work again and probably wearing a tie. People wore ties to work in 1968.
Jumping ahead before we jump back again, most of us remember what we were doing when reports of 9/11 spread across the country, and, of course, just more than two weeks ago when we heard the shocking news of the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
And on Thursday, when media reports reminded that it marked the 30th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, I immediately recalled what I was doing when I heard about it. A co-worker stuck his head into my office at this newspaper and told me the news had just come in on the wire. It was 1977 and I was probably wearing a shirt with too large a collar, and pants with flared cuffs (not plaid; never plaid). Sounds like an Elvis outfit, but that was the '70s.
Elvis' death is not in the same category as those of presidents, or tragic events causing great loss of life, but to people of my generation it was a stark reminder that we were no longer young and that a huge part of our youth had just disappeared.
We were teenagers when 21-year-old Elvis showed up on the radio. We were THE teenagers who went wild over him and turned him into what they used to call "a sensation." We were the kids who embraced rock 'n' roll at its inception.
It's astonishing that30 years after his death Elvis Presley is a bigger presence in our daily lives — you can't escape him — than Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy and many others — even more recent leaders such as Ronald Reagan. Elvis is bigger today in people's consciousness than Wellington and Napoleon and Charles Lindbergh. If you don't know who Charles Lindbergh was, Google him. People won't have to Google Elvis Presley for a long, long time.
E-mail Jim Heffernan at firstname.lastname@example.org. For previous columns go to duluth newstribune.com.