Sunday, April 02, 2006

Memories of '68, Part 1

1968 is a memorable year, as a book I’m currently reading attest (Kurlansky’s 1968: The Year that Rocked the World). The whole world seemed to be in flux. And neither my middle class neighborhood in Myrtle Grove Sound nor my fifth grade class at Bradley Creek Elementary School were spared.

Mr. Briggs was my fifth grade teacher. Tall and lanky, he looked a lot like the actor who played Mr. Chips in the movie by the same name. He was my first male teacher and the only man teaching at Bradley Creek, the only other men at the school being our principal Mr. Moore and the custodian. Mr. Briggs had his hand full with a group of us who had been put together in the fourth grade and moved up into his classroom. I think they kept us together, thinking that a male teacher could make up behave, but we challenged that proposition. This was back in the days when paddling was an approved form of punishment and Mr. Briggs weapons were yardsticks from Cape Fear Ford. They were cheap and broke easily and by mid-year several of us had a contest going as to who would have the most yardsticks broken over their bums. If my memory is correct, Billy won with six, Bobby had three and Mark, Stacy and I all had two broken on us. Carl came through unscathed.

As a young man, our teacher had been in the Marine Corp. From what I recall he ran away in from home and joined up when he was 16 or 17 and at boot camp found himself stationed in the Philippines. It was a pretty good assignment, but then the Second World War began. When the Philippines fell, he along with the rest of the soldiers from American and the Philippines became Japanese Prisoners of War and endured three years of hell. It didn’t help matters that Hogan’s Heroes was popular at the time. We didn’t really understand what he went through. I remember several of us asking him why he didn’t escape and he told us the story of what the Japanese did to some who were caught. Although sobering, it didn’t sink in and he really didn’t talk much about his experiences as a POW. With images of a POW camp being ran by the likes of Col. Klink, we all bragged the following year when he left teaching elementary school for a Junior College, that the Japanese couldn’t beat him, but we could. Although I never thought of myself as a child in the fifth grade, thinking back on my memories, I’m reminded that children can be cruel.

I really don’t remember much about his class except for a few snippets. I wrote a report on the Pony Express, my first real "research paper." This was a beginning. Little did I know that I’d grow up to write a dissertation focusing on Western American history.

Another memory is being forced to play volleyball, which us guys thought was sissy. When the ball came my way, I kicked it out across the playground, not knowing that Mr. Briggs with his stick was standing behind me. He whacked his yardstick across my thighs, breaking it.

The fifth grade was also when I feel in love for the first time. Diane wore her hair up in a beehive, which seemed so mature for an eleven-year-old (and so hideous now). One day we were whispering back and forth in class when she said, "watch it." I jumped up just as Mr. Briggs yardstick came swinging my way. I landed on top of his stick and made sure it was broken before he pulled it out from under me. Diane moved at the end of the year and our relationship didn’t continue.

Diane moved back five years later and was in my 10th grade English class. Her beehive was gone and she wore unkempt hair and dressed in ratty clothes. I didn’t recognize her at first, which was okay as I had long gotten over our crush. One of our assignments was to write and present a paper to the class about how to deal with the world’s population problems. We all gasped and she nearly gave the English teacher a heart attack when she suggested same sex relationships should be encouraged as a fool-proof way to cut down on population growth. That was pretty radical for a school in the South in 1972 or 73. I was relieved that no one remembered the two of us had been an item back in the fifth grade.

I’ve written enough for this post, but have plenty more as I recall camping with the Boy Scouts, Vietnam, the deaths of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the riots that spring, the ‘68 elections, my transistor radio and other memories. Stay tuned.


  1. I remember 1968 as a terrible year except that's the year my daughter was born. Ironically, if I wouldn't have been pregnant with her, my husband would have been drafted and off to 'nam, I'm sure. She possibly could have been without a father and me a widow if that would have happened.

    I'm adding you to my blogroll so I can stay in touch.

  2. Hello Sage,

    No I haven't seen "Sullivan's Travels" but I'll read up on Netflix.

    Your memoir here really shows the insensitivity children can have towards adult experiences. I was a good kid in school, hardly heard from, but I did make sure my best friend was the most outspoken and daring. Unfortunately, she attended the Catholic school whereas I attended the public school. I am sure I would have been up to greater mischief had we shared the same classrooms.

    One male teacher I had, in the third grade, Mr.Daniels, was a Beatles fan through and through. One day he had written Ringo's lyrics to "Octopus's Garden" on the board and commenced to teach us about poetry. Life changing. Actually, tho, I remember falling in love with syllables in the first grade. That was the start of my end, make no mistake.


  3. Hey Sage,
    Awesome post...although I was a bit shocked at first (I sort of thought you were younger-although wiser-than me ;)
    Have you seen Diane since school?
    When I was at school they still had paddles too but not in the classroom-only the principal could use it!

  4. wow what a post!

    sure kids can be very cruel, but obviously so can adults. and they/we should know better! paddles indeed.

    i'm amazed you remember so many details... and that you knew this teachers past so well.

    i look forward to those other stories.

    btw, thanks for your comments. yes they are and yes the eclipse was incredible. and why the move to cloudy skies?

  5. Wow, you're old. ;-) The only male teachers I had were for band and, my favorite one, art in junior high. Why was the art teacher my favorite? His last name was 'Bates'. He was male. 'Mister' and 'Master' are dangerously close.

  6. 1968 is a memorable year

    I'll take your word for it.

  7. All your comments are going to make me feel like an old man here. Actually Daydreamer, I still feel like I should be in my late 20s or early 30s--it's just that I took my time settling down and am not sure that I've gotten there yet.

  8. P.S. Thanks for the link Sage. It looks like it is going to be a favorite of mine but I think I need to start at the beginning when I get the time.

  9. I don't remember 1968 at all (I was born in '66) but I like how you portray Diane. I think I was a lot like her - always bringing up the unconventional in order to make people think.

  10. Well, '68 must have been a good year! It produced me..

    I love hearing memories...

  11. You do got some memories here. Sobering, makes one think.

  12. hey I began college in 1968
    It was an amazing year to turn 18 in.

    All the old rules were gone, and there were no new ones.

    It was a hard year for our country and the world.

    But people who survived the 60's and lived to talk about it, had to make up new rules, and we stil are.

    Began the 60's thinking that I was going to live one life, and lived an entirely different one.

    It was worth it, I think. But hard.

    Sage, I love your range, really really do

  13. Karen and Pia, I thank both of you for commenting--now I don't feel so old!

    Ginab, I don't think Mr. Briggs listened to the Beatles. I wish someone had turned me on to language before I graduated from college.

    Daydreamer, Diane moved before we finished the 10th grade and, as far as I know, I've never seen her again. We were in different worlds by then and didn't talk about the 5th grade.

    Keda: re the move, I've been asking myself that question too. Especially this winter where we had plenty of clouds and little snow.

    Murf, you must be talking about the movie Psycho, right? :)

    Ed, thought you'd like the link (about a guy paddling american rivers with canoes dug out of logs).

    Dawn, did you have a bee-hive do,

    Tim, I can assure you my memories of '68 were sober ones...

    Chana, I knew something good had to come out of '68.

    I'll try to post my next set of memories by Wednesday.