My recent column about surviving our childhoods of the 1950s and 1960s prompted several letters and comments from people who said they could surely relate to the sentiment!
One thing that struck me while talking to a friend about this is that we were so lucky to have lived at a time when we felt no fear, no boundaries and there were no impossible dreams.
One little book that somehow managed to survive my childhood, several moves and even a house fire is a red spiral-bound booklet called School Days. Though battered and beaten up, missing the cover, it is still intact.
Many of you might have had a similar little booklet, in which you were to write your first-grade teacher, your first-grade friends and things you mastered during that grade.
The book contained enough pages to go through the eighth grade. I pasted a picture of my dear first-grade teacher, Mrs. Kittle, but that is where the picture collecting ended. I did, however, continue to write in the book up to the sixth grade.
What jumps out at me is how my plans for my future were endless, as I put check marks on widely changing choices as the years went by. Just like every other kid, I didn’t expect to hold back and end up as a sales clerk.
In first grade, I expected to be: a nurse, a fireman and a teacher. By the second and third grades, I continued to check those, but added “doctor” and “astronaut” to the high-flying list of plans I held for myself.
I was absolutely certain I would be the first farm girl in orbit! We grew up with the space age, obviously. But, somehow, I felt an amazing hotline connection to the world of space travel that none of my friends could boast.
My mother’s only brother worked at Cape Canaveral, soon to be renamed Cape Kennedy, and when he came home for family visits, filled with fun stories and a wonderful sense of adventure, we grilled him to no end about the astronauts he had seen. We wanted to know everything!
He promised us it would only be a brief matter of time before man actually landed on the moon. He spoke with such certainty that I pictured whole families enjoying picnics and volleyball games on the moon before long.
We figured with Uncle Chuck’s connections, we just might be holding our family reunions up there, looking back at Earth like we presently looked up at the moon on beautiful summer evenings around a campfire.
Our ornery and fun-loving uncle did nothing to stop our wild dreams as we toasted marshmallows and talked of this amazing future. He had the most wonderful job in the world, and we all felt so lucky to sit in his presence on his visits home.
Our fun continued as he took us for drives in his fancy new convertible, making us feel sort of like we were traveling in our own little miraculous open-air rocket with the greatest uncle who ever lived.
When Uncle Chuck died of malignant melanoma at 36 in 1967, the heartbreak of this loss was nearly suffocating. It was the first bad thing that had ever happened in our lovely world.
I remember being unable to sleep out of some unexplainable fear and grief and loss after having seen Uncle Chuck so fun and full of life one day and then so still and empty of his amazing spirit, lying in the first casket I had ever seen.
I could not accept this terrible turn that our lives had taken and I wanted to turn back the clock and the calendar when nothing bad ever happened to anybody.
We continued to watch the reports of NASA’s amazing accomplishments and the kid in me could pretend that Uncle Chuck was still in Florida, too busy to come home for those summer visits. I felt certain he was the one leading those astronauts to their spaceship, opening the door for them, making sure they were secure and comfortable and ready for an incredible space flight.
Ah, the power of a youthful imagination! It was a gift, just like all the other gifts of the day and time of our childhood. We were blessed in so many ways and didn’t even know it.
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