I was taught that what happens around you when you are ten years old is what sets your personality. Interesting concept. I don’t think it is at that precise age, but what it is getting at is during the years in which you are becoming aware of things, maybe 8 – 12 or something like that. Not that we are really aware of the world at those ages – it is more background music of our lives, much like movie music.
In my case, a mid-baby boomer born in 1956, that would be 1964 to 1968, and what a period that was. If I extend the boundaries just a little bit to November 22, 1963 and July 21, 1969, my shaping period began with the Kennedy assassination and ended with moon landing’s “One giant step.” In the meantime, there was the heart of the ‘60’s. Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., the attempt on George Wallace. Civil Rights, the Beatles, Hippies, Vietnam and the related protest. Johnson and Nixon.
Some of the absolute lows a society can have without complete and total civil war and some of the highest highs. It’s no wonder my generation is so diverse.
The first event, the assassination of Kennedy, is something almost everyone can remember if they were sentient at all.
I was living in Hawaii near the top of a mountain in an area then known as Aiea Heights. It was a cool place to live. There were patches of quasi-jungle where we became great explorers. Coasting down the road to the bottom of the mountain on our bicycles was more fun than could be imagined. Getting back to the top wasn’t too easy though. And while I was pretty young, there are still flashes of memory about the place and the people.
My brother and I attended Aiea Elementary School. He was first grade, I was second. Sometime that fall, the second grade building had caught fire and all us second graders had to hoof it down the road to a small church to attend classes. It you walked on the street, it was a fairly quick and uneventful walk. But, there was another way, which involved following a stream and crossing it by balancing your way on a pipe. At the time, this seemed dangerous, as the drop to the creek was incredible. When I went back as an adult, I saw it was only about a three-foot drop.
Lots of stuff happened on this daily walk, limited only by the imagination and a courage of those of us doing it. It was on one of these walks I got talked and harassed into kissing a girl named Noel, only to have one of the other boys share the deed during “Show and Tell,” which led to one of the craziest things I can recall a teacher telling me. She was a young and even I knew then, attractive Hawaiian woman and she kept Noel and I in from recess to tell us about how unsanitary kissing was and that we shouldn’t be doing it. I often wonder how she kept a straight face.
On the walks back to get on the bus, I kept to the street for two reasons. The first was that the older Hawaiian boys were always looking for a Haole to harass and there was a lady who sold what she called “bon-bons” out of a wicker basket covered with a white napkin. I loved these things. They were essentially a ball of rice covered in seaweed filled with what I learned later was raw fish. She sold them for a nickel apiece and I would scavenge the sofa cushions, under the furniture, the sidewalks and everywhere else I could think of to come up with the nickel.
I remember being herded to the front of the church and the bus was there, which was really unusual. The teacher told us that President Kennedy had been killed and school was cancelled until further notice. So we got on the bus and went home. The island was put on alert because – so I was told later – that until LBJ was sworn in, there was no Commander-in-Chief and the military, which more or less ran that side of the island anyway, was concerned that Hawaii in particular was vulnerable to attack in the interim. The Pearl Harbor attack was still relatively fresh in their minds and they were taking no chances.
I do not remember how many days school was out and the next thing I really remember was John-John saluting as his father’s casket went by.
For me, the death of the President did not shake my world – I was too young, but it was one of the earliest memories I have and the event probably galvanized the setting in my mind, essentially creating a portal through which I remember the sights and sounds of that time. While I can remember my first grade school in Waipahu, my third and half of fourth grade was spent living in base housing at Hickham and I have absolutely no recollection of that school.
Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and the shooting of George Wallace affected me more personally, and while I remember being shook-up and the conversations around me about just where the country was heading, I actually have to look up the dates to see where I was living at the time.