I’m fascinated how history-changing events are imprinted on our everyday lives. The same synapse that confirms JFK was shot in Dallas or the Challenger disintegrated in early flight contains a personal where/when/who/what that is ours, alone. And so it is with today’s Writer’s Almanac telling me that on this date in 1961, the East Germans began building the Berlin Wall.
For me, that dateline directly connects with the huge cedar tree in front of our farmhouse. It provided a shady spot on a hot, humid August day for me to help my brother wash his first car–a 1955 green and white Oldsmobile purchased for $250 from fellow farmer Amos Stone. Gary had earned the money bucking bales in summer and trapping muskrats in winter, and Amos thought that hard work should be rewarded with a good price. I think I was being paid a quarter to scrub the white-wall tires.
As we worked, we listened to KIOA on the car radio, where the Top 40 was regularly interrupted by bulletins about The Wall. While it was clear the Cold War had just escalated exponentially, all else was conjecture. Within a few weeks, though, we would know. Germans who had been leaving the eastern sector for the west at the rate of a thousand a day were now blocked. Checkpoint Charlie was born. Escape attempts were met with bullets, chronicled in movies and mourned by freedom lovers far beyond Berlin.
What the East German authorities called the “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” would be raised 10 feet over the next nine years.
Twenty-eight years later–while my daughter was in Kindergarten and I was writing vision copy for a Boulder Turnpike site that would be named Interlocken–Berliners on both sides of the wall began tearing it down. They cheered. I cried.
And I remembered the cedar tree.