1964 – Memories of a Summer’s Day

img_9412 copyMidsummer, 1964

In the summer of 1964, I lived in Trenton, Tennessee. West Tennessee was hot in July. How hot was it? Like my favorite aunt used to say, it’s “sitting on the front porch sipping iced-cold lemonade hot.”

I love to sit on a limb halfway up the willow tree. It’s a great place to read my library books. My long legs dangling, I watch my older brother play baseball with his friends.

Next door, a teenaged boy works on his car while the Beach Boys sing “I Get Around,” on the radio. Pilots from a nearby airfield fly test flights overhead, often breaking the sound barrier. Though initially quite shocking, we’ve grown used to the interruption.

Below me, my little brother and his best buddy sail a handmade boat in a drainage ditch. Using sticks, they push and prod the little vessel till it breaks free and begins a solo journey through the runoff toward a semi-stagnant pool at the bottom of the hill.

After a few minutes’ chatter on the neighbor’s radio, and a plug for Crest toothpaste, Jan & Dean launch into “Surf City.”

My mother appears on the other side of the screen door. “I could use some help in here.”

I drop down from my perch among the willow limbs and skip across the lawn to the front porch. Inside the house, an electric fan drones, cooling Dad’s face as he watches the news. Walter Cronkite reports that Republican Barry Goldwater has won the nomination to run for president. Race riots continue throughout the nation.


The Beatles*

As I walk through the small room, Dad doesn’t look up, just stays glued to the black-and-white television screen. Mom has a sink full of dirty dishes for me to wash while she finishes preparations for dinner.

Dad turns off the television when they start talking about The Beatles. He can’t stand the ridiculous music—the long-hair—the screaming girls. What is the world coming to?

In many ways, the early sixties were glorious. The United States was recovering from the bad years. The Depression, the Dust Bowl, World War II, the Korean War. There had been a thing called the “baby boom,” when so many children were born, following the wars. We’d entered a time of peace, but not for long. The escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam loomed large in our future.

Closer at hand, race riots burgeoned. It was time for equality in America. As a soon-to-be sixth grader in the South, segregation was still a fact of my life. I didn’t understand the need for it. I’d attended first and second grade in Southern California. My first grade class in San Diego included several races.

In July of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. I wasn’t sure what all that meant, but I knew it was important. Soon, the schools, even in the South, would be desegregated. Integrated, we’d all attend the same schools. There was bound to be trouble.

I was more interested in the rockets being launched to take close-up pictures of the moon. I’d stand in the front yard after dark and gaze up at the small white orb, imagining the Ranger circling it and snapping photos. Living on the outskirts of a town of little more than five hundred residents, and few streetlights, there were stars aplenty.

It’s been fifty years since that golden summer spent in small-town America. It seemed such an innocent time. But was it really? When I think of all that was happening—the violence, the war—I wonder. We’d so recently suffered the loss of a beloved president to assassination. The race riots, as African Americans fought for equality. And Vietnam. Memories of that long and deadly war still haunt many Americans.

Owens GKs-1964Looking back, we can see the patterns of life beginning to shift. The changes came fast—a transitional phase—as America grew up. I smile as my sons speak warmly of the golden eighties, the days of their childhood, when life was simpler. Their children laugh as they dart across the lawn, playing kickball, enjoying the golden days of their youth.

And so it begins again, fifty years after 1964.



Betty Thomason Owens

*”Paul, George & John” by Omroepvereniging VARABeeld en Geluidwiki – Gallery: The Beatles. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl via Wikimedia Commons.

What Happened in 1964?

Tammy It has been 50 years since 1964, and this month we’ll be looking at  then and now.  I get the honor of kicking off the topic by reminding some of you, and educating others about the happenings of that time period. Being only two years old in 1964 I had to Google historical events. I found that 1964 was a very busy, and profound year in many ways. Please allow me to take you on a walk through time.

Historically, there were many pivotal, and unforgettable moments. One of them most important was that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Acts Rights into law. Dr. Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize. Cassius Clay won a different sort of prize when he became the Boxing World Heavyweight Championship, and the World’s Fair took place in New York.

On the entertainment front; My Fair Lady won an Academy award for Best Picture, Julie Andrews won Best Actress for Mary Poppins, and Sidney Portier won for Best Actor for Lilies of the Field. Also some of our most beloved television programs made their debut on our screens, do you remember Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, The Munster’s?  American Bandstand was also a standard favorite; with the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Supremes and Chubbie Checker rocking out sound waves on the radio. Other notable historical events were, the capture of Albert De Salvo, also known as the Boston Strangler. The United States Surgeon General reported that smoking may lead to lung cancer. Oh, and lets not forget that the first Mustang rolled out of the factory of Ford Motor Company in 1964 too.

 I don’t know about you, but every time I leave the grocery store anymore I am shaking my head. In 1964 the average income per year was a whole $6,000.00.

Cost of a new home: 13,050.00

Gas per gallon: .30 cents.

Loaf of bread:  .21 cents

Postage stamp: .5 cents

Average monthly rent: $115.00

Cost of a new car: $3,500.00

Those were the days, right? But we have gained so much in technology. Visual effects in entertainment on the big screen, better medical treatments, more variety in food, clothing, household goods, and transportation. Air conditioning!!

I also wonder about things we have lost. Doing activities as a family instead of everyone in their own space with a television in every room and a computer to visit Facebook, instead of visiting with your neighbor. One of my most vivid memories I have as a child growing up in Ohio was spending every Sunday evening at my Grandmother’s for dinner. We would all help wash, dry and put away the dishes and then everyone went out to the front porch and sat on the stoop, or in lawn chairs to enjoy the cool evening air. No air conditioners back then. Neighbors would stroll by and stop to visit. We would stay outside until the lightening bugs began to dart between the swarms of mosquitoes and into the house we would go to escapes their bites. The adults would sit around the dining room table playing cards, while we youngsters sat in front of the television watching the Wonderful World of Disney. I don’t know about you, but I kind of  liked some aspects of yester year. Memories are the only thing I can think of that can’t be improved on by progress.