Today I was listening to the radio and heard a song from the original cast of Oklahoma. Alfred Drake and Joan Roberts were singing “People Will Say We’re in Love.” Boy, I wish I had been there to see that opening performance, I thought. Oklahoma was the first “Book Musical” and opened on Broadway on March 31, 1943. It was the first collaboration of that wonderful team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. How thrilling it must have been to hear this music and see the story it supported unfolding before our eyes. I am in awe of live theater anyway, even amateur productions, so this must have been incredible. These two men had many more shows together until their last – Sound of Music. And to see that on opening night, November 16, 1959, would have been even more thrilling, knowing it was their last. Imagine, being there in the audience. Mmm.
Missed moments. My musings took me down another path. Other moments I have missed. The first that comes to mind is the Gettysburg Address, spoken on November 19, 1863 at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg… “the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” What eloquent words. What powerful words. And it has been reported that the people there hearing President Lincoln speak did not immediately respond to his message. Yet his words live on.
Since we have so recently celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday my thoughts naturally went to his “I have a dream speech,” given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Some say he had not intended to include his “dream speech” in the remarks he planned to give after the Civil Rights march in Washington. He often included that “dream” in his sermons, though, and someone in the crowd who had heard it urged him to share it again. It lingers. It is incredibly powerful.
I like history. Never in classes. The teachers/instructors/professors were just too dull and boring. But afterward, as I progressed to this point in my life, it became clear that history is about people, not dates and events. Still, there are a few events I would like to have witnessed firsthand. Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendering his troops at Appomatoxx, which basically ended our Civil War; the high Japanese officials signing their surrender on board the USS Missouri on September 2, 1945; and yes, even Pres. George W. Bush claiming “Mission Accomplished” on the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. That last item was a bit (years) premature, yet was a moment I would like to have been present to witness.
As I think about it, there are moments in nearly every field of endeavor I would like to have seen. And that goes ‘way, ‘way back!
Here’s an example, I would like to have heard firsthand Winston Churchill when he vowed, “We shall never surrender!” This was spoken as Hitler’s troops were hours away from invading France on May 10, 1940. “We shall fight them on the beaches…we shall fight them on the seas and ocean…we shall fight them in France,” he promised. His words carried a nation.
Another example: presidential speeches. When FDR was inaugurated the first time, he told us that “the only thing we have to fear was fear itself.” Now, not many inauguration speeches stand out in my memory, but another that does was when the young, seemingly vigorous Pres. John F. Kennedy told us, “ask not what your country can do for you…” Ahh. To have been in the crowd. I will say that these days, with television so much a part of events, it’s almost possible to imagine one is present.
Which brings to mind something I actually did witness. When President Kennedy was assassinated four days of non-stop television coverage followed, and this was before 24/7 tv. On the fourth day, after watching every moment of it I had to do something. We were living in New Jersey at the time and so we bundled up our daughter and started off for Washington, D.C. We wanted to be a part of it somehow, to be a part of the history that was unfolding there in that shocked and depressed city. We dressed as though going to a funeral, as did many, many others in the crowds that swelled on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue. It was the day that the president’s body was to be moved from the White House to the Capitol. People were standing many deep along the avenue to see the procession, the coffin being moved and the riderless horse that followed. Just thinking about the boots reversed in the stirrups makes my eyes tear up. It was solemn, the crowd was hushed. Suddenly, someone who was carrying a portable television set cried out, “Oh, no! They shot him!” Those of us around the man rushed to get closer to see what he was seeing. We all thought it was Robert Kennedy who had been shot. But no, it was Lee Harvey Oswald. Some of us knew this meant we might never know the whole story of the president’s assassination. And we do not, even to this day.
Wanting to be there, to have been there in the past, can now only be satisfied by reading books and articles about what happened. And, there are so many books out there for me to read…. Why, you know what this means, don’t you… I’m trying, but I’m barely keeping up!