In our Small Town, middle school wasn’t called Middle School when I was in the middle. I went to Junior High, Grades 7 and 8. I learned science in 7th Grade and diagramming sentences and writing in 8th Grade.
In 7th Grade I went out for basketball and in 8th Grade football. I discovered athletic prowess was not my forte, although I was pretty good at dodge ball.
In 8th Grade I was assigned the last seat in the last row in the corner, adjacent to an enormous old sash window on the building’s second floor. In those days we still opened windows. No AC, no screens, no lock-down-safety standards put in place by bureaucrats afraid a kid didn’t have enough sense not to jump out a window. Throughout the fall and spring I hung halfway out that window watching the street action, and during the winter I reveled in my special status as keeper –of-the-window-on-the-world.
Our 8th Grade teacher was the epitome of cool. His name was the wonderfully alliterate Chuck Chippi. Mr. Chippi, what a great name. He was an excellent and popular teacher who later capped his career as the district’s superintendent. He let me enjoy the back corner seat and hang out that window because, frankly, I was a good student.
Mr. Chippi could diagram any sentence ever written and apparently took great joy in this. So we all learned more grammar and syntax than we thought necessary for the pursuit of happiness Jefferson had said was our inalienable right.
Around this time I remember the first time my family went to Burger Chef, a new kind of restaurant where the service was quick, the prices low, and the food pretty good. Burgers and fries, what could be more American than this? It was the beginning of along relationship.
We didn’t know it then, but 8th Grade in 1965-66 teetered at the edge of a cultural innocence soon to be gone forever. Losing JFK was a terrible shock, but what stood before us in the next decade would be even worse than the violent loss of a popular president.
An interminable war in southeast Asia that caused us to turn on our own homecoming troops, more political assassinations, social unrest and riots in Watts and many other neighborhoods, a counter-cultural revolution that exalted love and peace over war but left us with hallucinogenic drugs, STDs, and moral relativism, college students gunned down at Kent State by National Guard troops, and eventually, a president resigning in disgrace. It was a “long national nightmare” as President Gerald Ford later described the Watergate scandal.
I was oblivious to this in the fall of 1965. But by the next fall when I entered high school things had changed enough I’d begun to notice. Each night when I came home from school I heard Vietnam War (“the living room war”) body counts on our black and white Philco TV and I watched “Star Trek.” This jarring juxtaposition continued throughout most of my high school years, and later a few boys from our town didn’t come home. An older high school friend who survived a tour in Vietnam was forced to shoot a child approaching a group of American soldiers with grenades strapped to his chest.
There’s so much more to the sixties we’re only beginning to understand the ripple effects. Small Town seemed insulated for a while, but it couldn’t last. Transistor radios came to our town and The British Invasion came to "The Ed Sullivan Show."
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010
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