Monday, November 9, 2009

The 60s, and other memories of the way it used to be

(They were radicals, but they were correct.)

Another year, another birthday.  What the heck?  I'm now 63 years old, but I don't feel a day over 62 1/2.  I attribute this amazing youthfulness to eating properly and exercise.  And, of course, a scotch and a cigar a day probably contribute as well.  I will go so far as to say that if you smoked one cigar a day and drank one scotch per day, you would also not feel a day over 62 1/2, even if you are 30 years old.  That combination of alcohol and nicotine has amazing restorative properties, and I am living proof of that.

Having lived this long, I have witnessed some interesting changes in practices and attitudes in many aspects of American life.  For example, I started school at age 5 in the first grade.  We lived in a somewhat rural area about a mile from the school.  To get to school, we walked.  But to do so, we walked along a country road, crossed a busy highway, and a set of railroad tracks.  Years later, the fathers of two of my friends were killed driving across those same tracks, so it was no joke.  After a couple of weeks of my mother walking with me, I was free to make the walk alone both to and from school.  There were some other kids making the same walk, but can you imagine parents letting any kid even twice that age do this today? 

I loved baseball when I was 9-12 years old, so I wanted to play on the local Little League team.  I tried out for 3 years and was cut from the team each year.  It was done like this.  The day finally came to announce who made the team.  The coach read the list and those of us who did not make the team, turned our backs and walked home while the coach started passing out the team shirts and caps to those who made it.  I distinctly remember the cheers of joy from those guys who had made the team, as they tried on their new gear.  I was devastated each time.  Our parents were not there.  We always faced these events on our own.  However, after the third turn down, one man started an additional team with those of us who did not make the Apaches team.  Our Sioux team then actually beat the Apaches during the regular season, which was one of the sweetest days of my life.  In those days, we always knew that success was not guaranteed, and that you had to prepare extremely well in a competitive world.

When I was in junior high school, I got paddled by the teacher in front of the class at least once each year for some infraction of some rule.  Usually this involved talking in class when we were not supposed to be doing that.  I was not alone.  Today, that kind of corporal punishment would be definite grounds for a law suit.

Then, there was the decade of the 60s, which was amazing in so many ways.  When we were first married, my wife worked full-time as a nurse and I was a student.  She could not get a credit card issued in her name in those days; it had to be issued in the husband's name.  Crazy, since she was making the money and I wasn't. Of course, now, we don't open the mailbox without there being an offer for her to accept a new card.

I mostly remember worrying about the military draft during the 60s.  It was all any male thought about.  Would I be called?  Could I escape it somehow?  If we stayed in university, we were safe until we graduated.  Maybe the Vietnam War would be over by then.  I remember a couple of guys when I was attending Ohio State whose grade point average (gpa) was right on the cusp of flunking out of school.  (In those days, universities actually flunked students out and they went home.  Seems much less common today.)  I distinctly remember these particular guys taking an exam in a course we had together.  If they got a D on the exam, their gpa would dip below the minimum needed and they would flunk out.  In the mid to late 1960s, that would almost certainly mean you would be drafted into the army within months, probably sent to Vietnam, and possibly killed or injured.  Talk about pressure when taking a math or biology final exam.

I was lucky.  I graduated Ohio State, got drafted, and ended up in Korea.  All in all, that was a valuable and interesting experience, and not dangerous.  In Korea, I was in military intelligence and lived undercover as a civilian, but I mostly spent my time playing ping pong, bridge, and third base on the softball team.  I had been sent to language school for a solid year before deploying to Korea, so I was nearly fluent in the language at that time.  My wife and young daughter joined me there, we lived with a Korean family in the village, and we learned a lot.  The army did not want my wife to come, but there was no law against a U.S. citizen going to Korea, and my wife would not take "no" for an answer.  This was pretty much SOP for my wife during our military years.

So times have changed for the better in some ways, and probably not for the better in other ways.  I often wonder, and even predict, if the last half of the 20th century may have been as good as it ever was in human history and perhaps as good as it will ever be, all things considered.  In time, I will build this argument and present it for your critical analysis.  But several centuries will have to pass before this idea can be tested fully, so you will have to let me know how it comes out.  Just send me a text message.