Yeah, we even dressed up back then
It’s easy to look around at what’s happening in our world right now, especially in the United States, and it almost seems like a really bad Twilight Zone episode. All the strangeness of that TV series, but minus a clever twist at the end.
Strange times. Or, is it just the strange times for this generation that, decades from now, they’ll recall and find it hard to believe they were alive when all this happened?
It’s how I feel about my childhood.
We had another one of those history reminders this past week when we we’re told it’s been 50 years since the assassination of Robert Kennedy. At the time, I was 12-years-old and as I grew up in the 1960s, I just assumed the things that happened were simply the world operated. Every couple of years, leaders would be shot down. It had happened with President Kennedy back in 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot down in 1968 and then, just a couple of months later, Robert Kennedy was gunned down after winning the California primary.
We were also a nation at war. Viet Nam was in the news daily, as well as the war protests. There were race riots. Some of the moms in the neighborhood dared to get jobs outside the home. Society was evolving. Guys moved from crew cuts to shoulder-length hair. Music was taking a leap from orchestras with lead singers to rock bands. The Beatles happened. There was so much social and political unrest and all-around evolution going on.
But through the eyes of a 12-year-old kid growing up in Torrance, California, all that Big World stuff only occasionally caught my attention.
I remember JFK’s assassination vaguely because I was only 8 at the time. I remember the shock expressed on TV, adults crying, the funeral being covered on the tube with Jackie and the kids. The entire country went into mourning and of all things, I remembered that our monthly Cub Scout Pack Meeting was canceled because of the assassination. Flags were flown at half-mast for 30-days, which I had never seen before.
These are not the headlines of my childhood, only events that occurred. My life on 226th Street was composed of hanging out with friends, playing baseball with a tennis ball, swapping baseball cards, riding bikes and being outside until we heard Kelly Toman’s famous two-fingered whistle. That meant Kelly had to go in for dinner and so the rest of us would take it as a cue that it was probably time to head home.
There were family vacations, either to South Dakota to visit relatives or camping with my family. I went to a church school for my elementary years, a very small school. One classroom took care of the 1st-4th grade students, the other, 5th-8th grade. I made good friends there as well.
By June of 1968, I was in 7th grade and paying a little more attention to the outside world, but not that much, especially politics. What I remember about Robert Kennedy’s assassination is that, by then, there were more TV cameras around. Plus, being the California primary, all the Los Angeles TV stations were all over the campaigns. I remember my neighborhood buddy Glen Rico telling me that his brother Oscar was up watching RFK saying, “And now it’s on to Chicago” only to see him gunned down moments later. On live TV.
Now, I sit here a half-century later, looking back and realizing that the decade I grew up in shares quite a bit with our current times. Back then, we had occasional assassinations and couldn’t figure out how we got there. Today, the assassinations have been replaced with school shootings. In 1968, we were a country divided about the war. Today, we’re split along party lines and convinced the other one is despicable and completely wrong. We had the Cuban Missile Crisis with Fidel Castrol while today’s version includes North Korea and Kim Jung un. Back then, there were those who burned American flags to protest the on-going war. Today, there are two sides on what you can and cannot do during the national anthem.
For one of our future generations, this 20-teens decade is their version of the 60’s that they’ll look back on one day and find it hard to believe things were ever that way.
Then again, gun violence, racial tensions, uncertainty in the world. When you think about it, 1968 and 2018 really aren’t that much different, are they? It’s the same world, only different.