California Forum

What’s in the attic?

Gregory Favre
Gregory Favre

The mission seemed simple: Start going through some of the boxes of remembrances stored in the attic. But after weeks of the constant presence of a disarranged room, realization set in; it wasn’t such a modest assignment after all.

It takes multiple boxes and scrapbooks and folders to contain almost 60 years of letters and notes, historic newspapers and magazines, photos and cartoons.

The temptation is to stop and read every story, every letter, every card. Each has a memory attached to it.

As you go through the newspapers, the headlines scream at you: Look at me! And they ask the inevitable question: Where were you?

Where were you in 1962 when John Glenn landed safely after being the first American to orbit the Earth? I was at the Atlanta Journal correcting errors in a box score between editions. The absurdity of those contrasting images told me that it was time to get out of sports.

Where were you on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas? I was next door to the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News listening to the wonderful columnist Erma Bombeck speaking at a luncheon. Then came hours of breaking news, including Jack Ruby gunning down Lee Harvey Oswald, and days of national mourning.

Where were you in 1989 when the massive quake hit the Bay Area, killing hundreds, pausing the Giants-A’s World Series, and leaving a contagious sense of fear of what might be coming next? I was driving from the Sacramento airport and the car started rocking back and forth, and people were running from buildings along Q Street.

How about the day in 1977 when Elvis died at age 42? A special edition of the Chicago Daily News where I was working sold 225,000 extra copies.

Or look at some of the major stories of 1981: President Ronald Reagan was shot, as was Pope John Paul II; the 52 Iranian hostages returned home, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was slain.

Or 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were both killed, and there were riots in about 100 cities following King’s death, as well as violent protests surrounding the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

Or 1969, when two astronauts walked on the moon, taking one step for mankind; 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president; 1970, when Kent State students were killed by National Guard troops; Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorism came to America; 1963, when four young African American girls were killed in a bombing of a Birmingham church; 1967, when three astronauts died in a launch pad accident.

Sadly, there also were the final editions of some terrific newspapers: the Chicago Daily News, the Washington Star, the Rocky Mountain News, the Minneapolis Star, the Philadelphia Bulletin.

And memorable editions of once-great magazines: the Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look and Newsweek examining President Kennedy’s life and death; Time honoring our nation’s 200th birthday; and Life showing us in magnificent pictures what it was like on the moon.

And so much more.

The Internet and social media have changed how memorable stories are shared today. Our granddaughters’ generation won’t have attics filled with boxes of old paper memories.

If they are lucky they may have a few handwritten love letters, or sentimental notes on birthday or anniversary cards, or maybe even a penned note or two of a “well done” from their boss.

Storing family pictures on phones and on computers is an enormous advancement, but holding that album in your hands while sitting next to a daughter or a son and recalling the circumstances is extra special.

At least, it is for someone who is old enough to collect six decades of memories.

What’s in your attic?

Gregory Favre is the former executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and retired vice president of news for the McClatchy Co.