As the 1960s came roaring in, I was tumbling into my teenage years. I turned thirteen on the 5th of June in 1960, and the hormonal changes within me seemed to coincide with the impending turbulence of those years. Life was full of optimism and hope for one entering her teens. How would I turn out? What would I become? Would I ever find true love? Would I marry that true love and have children? It was a time full of magic, hope and wonderment for me.
Always a huge reader and even at that young age a complete “news junkie,” I was avidly interested in the Presidential election of 1960. My family had been solid FDR Democrats who had quickly become Eisenhower Republicans in the 1950s. My first memories of any Presidential election are of the “I Like Ike” slogan. Quite naturally, in the 1960 campaign my family was eager to see his successor, Richard Nixon, elected President.
Although I kept it quiet from my family, I really liked Jack Kennedy. He was handsome and distinguished, but more importantly, I loved Jackie. Jack and Jackie - what a pair! She was a classic beauty, always impeccable in her appearance - and she was so very young. I adored her, in much the same way that I did some of the movie stars of the day. I mean, after all, what was more important to me at that time than how I looked? And she always looked great. The most critical aspects of my life were twofold: were the clothes I was wearing the appropriate “in” thing, and would my hair ever do what I wanted it to?
When the Kennedys were elected (and yes, I still think of them as a pair), it’s an understatement to say that many people in the South were upset. But in a democracy, most people understood that a new election would always be just down the road and the opportunity for change would always be inevitable. Life went on as usual, and my focus became more intense - I mean on how I looked and what I wore. Naturally.
Suddenly I found myself in high school and was hearing about something called the Bay of Pigs. It was a frightening time, and people were upset with the failure to overthrow Fidel Castro in Cuba. Would Communism really take over the world? It seemed that President Kennedy had let us down. But he would soon redeem himself when the Russians sent those missiles to Cuba.
Talk about frightening. I remember sitting in class, looking around at all the students who seemed to be going on with life as if we were not in danger of imminent attack. How could they act so normal? I was scared to death. After all, hadn’t we been told that Memphis would definitely be a target of one of those missiles? Of course, I tried not to act frightened when I was around other people. I let myself appear normal, too, so maybe many of them felt the same way I did.
When the crisis ended, the relief was enormous and the President’s popularity rose. I remember being tremendously sad when Jackie lost her baby. Patrick Kennedy. I even remember what they named him because I knew (even then) that Patrick was an Irish name and would have fit well within the Kennedy family.
Friday, November 22, 1963, began as a normal school day. Thanksgiving would be the next week and a holiday was a welcome thought for everyone. By the end of the day, our lives and the lives of the entire nation had changed forever. A “magic bullet” had ended a magic decade before it had even gotten very far along.
For days, the three channels that we had on our television (NBC, ABC, and CBS) were devoted entirely to the assassination. There were no other programs shown – only reporting and coverage of every single detail of the event and the people involved. This was the first time that would ever happen, but unfortunately not the last.
“News junkie” that I was, I was glued, as they say, to the television every waking minute. And so it was that I actually saw Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald. It was unreal - but it was real - and I will never forget that moment and how it made me feel.
Once again, life did go on - but nothing was ever the same. The Civil Rights Movement, which had already begun before JFK’s assassination, had a huge impact on the area where I lived. By the time I graduated from high school in 1965 (with my hair still doing its own thing), there was turmoil and unrest everywhere around us.
All of that paled, though, in comparison to the turmoil and unrest in my love life. My high school sweetheart broke up with me at the end of our freshman year in college, and I was pretty sure that life was over. I signed up to join the Peace Corps because I just knew that would be the cure for my woes. However, I backed out before going too far with the application because I was a complete “Mama’s Girl.” I knew I couldn’t be that far away from her for such a long period of time. (Oh, how I’ve wondered over the years how different my life would have been had I not been such a faint-hearted little girl!)
And life, indeed, wasn’t over for me. By 1968, I was a 21-year-old married lady looking forward to that life full of children, true love and yes, magic.
As wonderful as my own life was going, 1968 has ended up being the worst year in my memory, even though it should have been the best. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in April of that year in my very own city. The National Guard was sent to Memphis, a curfew was imposed, and I clearly remember seeing military jeeps and even tanks roll down the streets of my hometown. It was like seeing a bad B-rated movie, but it was all seen out of the window of my midtown apartment. Once again, I was sure that life as we knew it was over.
But again, it wasn’t. There was worse to come. Robert Francis Kennedy chose to run for President that year, and his assassination was a shock coming on the heels of Martin Luther King’s death. It seemed as though assassination would become a way of life for anyone who didn’t like what someone else believed. Was this what we had to look forward to in our future? What was happening to us as a nation?
Many of the Baby Boomers were already rebelling in their own way. The “counter-culture” had exploded and Hippies, the Vietnam War (with the resulting often-violent protests) and the Kent State killings would take us into the next decade where groups such as the Black Panthers and the Symbionese Liberation Army would constantly be in the news. As bad as the Watergate Affair was, it somehow didn’t seem quite so abnormal in comparison to everything else that had happened before. Unrest and upheaval had become the norm.
By 1970, I was the mother of a young child dealing with my own problems, and the magic and wonderment that I felt at the beginning of the tumultuous 60s had ebbed enormously. Nevertheless, I’ve always been a complete cockeyed optimist and still had hopeful anticipation for the future.
My life was most certainly affected and even, to some extent, formed by the incredible events of the 1960s. But the birth of my first child and the landing on the moon in 1969 managed to bring back just a tiny bit of that longed-for magic that I had dreamed of in 1960.
Hope and wonderment do not fade away easily.
@2013 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland