November 22, 1963: Fifty Years Later

Julie in 1963

Julie in 1963

Unlike most Americans who were alive on November 22, 1963, I do not remember exactly where I was when those fateful shots rang out in Dallas because I was too young.  As a three year-old living on North Third Street, I was busy anticipating the arrival of a baby brother and working on my list for Santa.  I do have three vivid memories about the assassination: the famous John-John salute, likely because he was the same age as me; my mother seeming especially sad; and a personal concern about why the news was on rather than Captain Kangaroo in the mornings.

As the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination approaches, we will pause to reflect as a nation.  It has also forced me to pause and reflect on the decade of the 1960s, the first decade of my life.  Usually, I use this column to celebrate the idyllic childhood I had in North Baltimore, surrounded by loving family and neighbors with freedom to explore our safe little town. But, the political climate of the 1960s did create a dissonant backdrop to the Mayberry-esque daily life I was experiencing.

I was born in 1960.  Here is a chronology of national events before my tenth birthday:

  • Age three:  President Kennedy assassinated
  • Age four: Congress authorizes the use of military force in southeast Asia
  • Age eight:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated
  • Age eight:  Senator Robert Kennedy assassinated

It must have been complicated for my parents to explain these tragic events to such a young child since they happened during a period while I still thought the Daniel Boone television show was historically accurate, that Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke was a real person, and that the Disney animal “documentaries” were unstaged.  Obviously, my immature psyche wasn’t ready to comprehend wars and assassinations.

In hindsight, I think the Vietnam War was more integrated into my daily childhood life than the assassinations that grabbed the nation’s media attention for a period but then faded away. I clearly remember my elementary school classmates who had older brothers worrying about whether they would be drafted.  And I also remember Walter Cronkite starting the CBS Evening News with the daily body count throughout the war.  Without a doubt, the 1960s were complex times to be a young child.

On the other hand, the 1960s were also a time of positive social change for our country.  Here is a different chronology of events that happened before my tenth birthday:

  • Age three:  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech
  • Age four:  The Civil Rights Act was signed into law
  • Age six: The term “women’s liberation” first appeared in print

So as I reflect back on the 1960s through a lens of fifty years, those are the movements that still influence me on a daily basis: from the mundane (the peace sticker on my bumper to the protest rock playlist on my iTunes) to the topics I read about (currently I’m engrossed by the true Native American history they didn’t teach us in history class) to the career path I have chosen (nonprofit work focused on vulnerable populations).  I feel blessed that these important social movements were a backdrop to my childhood.

And even though the 1960s, the first ten years of my life, were full of political turbulence, they also gave me an important roadmap for life when Dr. King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

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Same Story, Different High School

2013witches

Lifelong friendships with our school friends are rare gifts.  They are built on a foundation of shared context and nurtured through common experiences and similar acquaintances.  Stories are so much easier to tell among school friends because there is no need to explain the cast of characters or how they are connected.   Unfortunately, the common context that makes these relationships so strong also makes them exclusive.   Rarely, do we let others enter our high school cliques later in life.

Recently, I was invited to a Halloween party in Findlay with an invitation list that predominantly consisted of ladies who graduated from Findlay High School in 1977 and 1978.  Like many groups of high school friends, these ladies have stayed quite close and have traveled through life’s entire journey together:  marriage and divorce, children and grandchildren, careers, vacations, sickness and celebrations.  I know most of the ladies as individuals but had never experienced their group dynamic.

Clad in my witch’s hat for the Halloween party, I arrived anxious to partake in good food and good cheer.  Soon after arriving, I realized that I had been given a front row seat to watch an amazing group of friends who went to a different high school but are the same age as me.   I was getting to peek behind the curtain and watch the group dynamics of a lifelong group of friends.

At first glance, the Findlay High School and North Baltimore High School classes of the late 1970s seemed to bear little resemblance to one another, especially since Findlay’s graduating classes of that era were ten times larger than NBHS:  660 for FHS and 65 for NBHS.

As the high school stories began to unfold, I realized that our experiences were quite similar as the conversation followed common themes.  There were lots of stories tied to dating and dances and proms.  There was discussion about who dated whom and in what order.  Many conversations recalled the cars we drove in high school.  It’s funny how 35 years later everyone still remembers who drove the yellow Pinto.  Many laughs surrounded high school parties and the accompanying teenage shenanigans.  They talked about extracurricular activities.  At 54 years old, we still self-identify by who was in the band, who was a cheerleader, and who was in the high school musical.

Since we were all the same age, many of the laughs focused on life in the late 1970s:  the clothes of the disco era, the gas guzzling cars, and the rock music.   I learned that it didn’t matter if one grew up in Findlay or North Baltimore; we were having fun doing the same things.   Those 1970s pictures with flipped back hairstyles might make us look silly now but we were sure having a lot of fun.

I feel extremely honored that the ladies from FHS 77/78 allowed me to laugh about their high school stories with them at the Halloween party.  The way they continue to support each other through good times and bad is a great roadmap for lifelong friendships.

On the other hand, it made me miss my NBHS ‘78 friends and our funny stories where I know the entire cast of characters.    Ladies, I think it is time to reconvene again for an evening of laughs and to nurture our precious lifelong friendships.  See you soon!

And for the rest of you, find your school friends.  Reconnect!  Share some laughs!

Marching Band Memories

BROWN03

As I shivered in Ohio Stadium last Saturday watching TBDBITL doing a Michael Jackson halftime show replete with an actual moonwalk marching routine, my mind returned to my NBHS band days in the mid-1970s.  No, not because that NBHS band had stellar musical qualities or marching talents like TBDBITL, but because we had so much fun.

For me, all of the NBHS football home games were spent in the north end of the bleachers with my marching band buddies.  After we marched to the football field from the high school and proudly performed the pregame Tiger fight song and the National Anthem, we sat together in the bleachers.  I can’t remember the outcome of one game or one marching band halftime routine during that era, but I do remember lots of bleacher antics like thrown buckeyes, food in the stands, and chatting with non-band friends who stood below and yelled up into the bleachers.  Sitting and laughing together was the highlight of every school week.

At halftime, we performed one of the shows we had been practicing since band camp.  One of the funniest memories from a halftime show was one band member’s band pants falling off while marching.  Luckily, we wore shorts beneath the wool band pants.

Of course, the best quarter of every football game was the third quarter after our halftime performance.  We were dismissed to wander freely around the football field.  As hungry teenagers, our first stop was always the concession stand.  Then we could chat with our non-band friends on the sidelines before reassembling in the bleachers at the start of the fourth quarter.

Far better than a NBHS home game was an away game because bus rides were involved.  Instruments were piled on one bus with a few open seats reserved behind them for the seniors.  Underclassmen always wondered what the seniors did on the bus and I can’t answer that because I quit band after my junior year.  I’m sure there were some band romances on the bus.  In the words of Sargeant Shultz on Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing.”

I do know that the band underclassmen spent the long bus ride singing songs and telling jokes.  And many of those bus rides were very long during that era because NBHS had Danbury Lakeside High School in its conference and we also played many distant teams such as Antwerp, Hilltop, and Ayersville.  (Apparently, gas was cheaper in those days!)  The biggest highlight of any band trip was a stop at a fast food restaurant.   Even McDonald’s was exciting because we didn’t have one in North Baltimore yet.

Nearly 40 years after my first NBHS Marching Band performance, I am amazed at how many of my adult friends were my marching band friends.  Sure, we weren’t a very good band, but yes, that group consisted of many great people and those Friday night lights bonded us for a lifetime of friendship.

Chicken Pox 1969….Sorry

May 1967 Powell School

 

I loved fourth grade at Powell School.  This was the first school year when the fifth graders moved to Hammansburg School leaving us (NB ’78) the unexpected elder statesmen of the Powell School building.  We were the big kids on the playground and in the lunchroom, always an enviable position.  We were old enough to ride our bikes to school.  We also had certain school privileges such as serving as safety patrol crossing guards.  All of this was pretty heady stuff for nine-year olds.

Fourth grade was also a great year in the classroom for me.  My teacher was Emma Apple, one of my favorite teachers ever.  Somehow, she made learning more exciting.  I was especially energized by a competition to see how many pages each student could read.  Mrs. Apple had hung a paper moon near the ceiling and a path to the moon was marked in pages read.  Each student had a paper rocket ship that zoomed along the path.  Inspired by Neil Armstrong’s recent moonwalk in July, I wanted to race my rocket ship as fast I could to the moon in our classroom. 

Each fall, the school held an Open House so parents could see what students were learning and chat with the teacher.  In Mrs. Apple’s classroom, we were reading a story about a “computer” in class and we decided to make that the highlight of our Open House presentation.  To represent the computer in the story, Mr. Apple built a large box, bigger than a refrigerator and painted it turquoise like the computer in our story.  In the classroom, Mrs. Apple allowed the students to add the finishing artistic touches to the computer.

In the story, a person could ask the computer a question and receive an instantaneous answer, a novel idea in 1969 but an oddly funny idea in today’s era of Google!  At the Open House, there was a pad of paper on the outside of our classroom computer and a visitor could write a question on the paper and drop it in the slot and soon another slip with a hand-written answer would come out of the same slot.  For Open House, Mrs. Apple allowed students to sign up for the opportunity to be inside the computer box and answer questions.  I was so excited to be chosen to fill one of the 15 minute stints inside the computer!

In the days leading up to Open House, the number of absences at Powell School began to soar due to a chickenpox outbreak, but the last thing I had on my mind as I put my dress on to get ready for the Open House was chickenpox.  In hindsight, I remember noticing that I had a couple tiny red spots on my belly, but I was an active kid who always had bumps, bruises, and mosquito bites. As I eagerly brushed my hair and teeth to prepare for Open House, it never crossed my mind to tell my parents about those tiny red spots.

As expected, the computer box was a big hit with the Open House visitors and for me it was great fun trying to think of answers for the questions that were submitted to the computer.  When I returned home, still animated from the exciting event, I took my dress off and noticed that there were now a dozen tiny blisters on my belly.  By morning, I felt ill and missed the next week of school due to chicken pox.

So, if you went to Powell School in 1969 and you contracted chickenpox, it was probably my fault.  Sorry.