Friday, April 07, 2006

Memories of '68, Part 3

"Who was the presidential candidate shot last night in California?" Mr. Briggs asked the class as we leaned over our paper taking a "pop-quiz."

Billy immediately shouted, "Is Bobby Kennedy dead?"

Mr. Briggs turned red and walked over to Billy’s desk, taking his test and writing a big ZERO across it. I really don’t think Billy meant to give us the answer. He was concerned for Kennedy and our teacher’s pop quiz on news events reminded Billy of the terrible truth. America had just experienced its second assassination of the year.

Billy and his family were the only supporters of Robert Kennedy I knew and this event is my first memory of the ’68 election year. I don’t remember the New Hampshire primaries although I do remember hearing of Eugene McCarthy, he didn’t become real to me until 8 years later when I met him while in college. I don’t even remember LBJ bowing out of the elections. But I remember Robert Kennedy's assassination mainly because Billy and his parents were diehard supporters.

And I do remember the summer of ’68. We took our required summer trip to Baltimore. My father’s company’s regional office was there and we often made the trip for the company picnic followed by sightseeing in Washington DC and surrounding area. By the time I quit going on family vacations, I’d been through the Smithsonian a dozen times, and still enjoyed the trips. We stayed outside of DC and I remember my father questioning people where it was safe to go and not to go. I’m not sure what we saw in the city, for these summer trips are all mixed up. That summer I also remember watching parts of the political conventions, the Republicans in Miami and the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Who could forget Chicago?

At the end of the summer, I started my last year at Bradley Creek Elementary School in Mrs. Graham’s sixth grade class. Interestingly, the same gang of us guys was together again, the only difference this year is that Mark, and Carl and I were made members of the "safety patrol." This meant that we got to wear badges on webbing that stretched over our shoulder and patrol the playground and take our turn helping people cross the intersection near the school. We weren’t surprised that Carl was picked, but Mark and I were both shocked, along with everyone else. After all, we’d been partly responsible for Mr. Briggs downfall as a teacher (see part 1). Yet we assumed our position of authority with an attitude that would soon come back and bite us. I don’t remember if it happened in ’68 or ’69, but at the end of one of the sixth week reporting periods, when both Mark and I received unsatisfactory conduct grades, we were called into the principal’s office. He started telling how disappointed he was in us. He said we needed to set an example for the other students. I really think he was going to give us another chance, but we got smart with him and he asked us for our badges. We were no longer members of the elite safety patrol; we were now martyrs.

About this time there was a TV show about the life of a US Calvary Soldier out west who was court-martialed. The show didn't last long, but I think it was titled "Branded." And that’s what we said happened to us. We were branded and although we’d lost some privileges and didn’t get to go on the end of the year beach picnic for safety patrol boys from all over the county, we had new respect upon the playground.

If the ’68 election depended upon the kids at Bradley Creek Elementary School, George Wallace would have won hands down. Most of us were voting like our parents and even parents like mine who wouldn’t allow the N word to be used in our home were lining up behind this third party candidate that assured Nixon, the Republican who was considered unelectable, would inherit the White House. I don’t really remember much about the campaigning that took place in the fall. What I do remember is that after the elections, sitting with my maternal grandmother at her kitchen table, listening to her lament over voting for Wallace. She realized that she had helped elect a Republican. Even with my little knowledge about politics, I knew Wallace was a lot closer to Nixon than to Hubert H. Humphrey, the Democratic candidate. When I questioned my grandmother why she would have voted for Humphrey instead of Nixon, she told me about the depression and Roosevelt. As a Democrat, she regretted abandoning the party. After our little chat, I started asking around and found that a part of my dad’s family were Republicans also due to Roosevelt. They hated Roosevelt because they’d lost money in one of the banks that "he closed." None of this "yellow-dog" politics made much sense to me at the time.

Stay tuned. I have to write more. Christmas and New Years were bittersweet, as the Hong Kong flu contributed to the death of two of my great-grandparents.

Memories of '68, Part 2
Memories of '68, Part 1


  1. I keep waiting for the part where you bought your first six string at the five and dime. Oh wait, that was '69.

    I remember when I was perhaps in seventh or eighth grade, our teacher gave us a pop quiz out of the newspaper. I was horrified when two (of our eight total) classmates couldn't even name the president or vice president at the time.

  2. Darn it, Ed. You took my joke. Shouldn't you be working and leaving the bad 80's musical references to me?

    I just remember the poem that was written in my history book in 7th grade by the previous owner. I won't repeat it here.

  3. Remember the night Bobby was shot. My hubby stayed up until the end of the California primary just before Bobby headed off. Got up the next morning to find out he was dead...

    '68 was a terrible year, but amongst all the horrific events, our daughter was born & that was good.

  4. Ed, this isn't the story about the making of a musican, it's the story about the making of a cynic. Murf, you always get my interest up--are you going to post the poem in your blog? The book I'm reading on '68 has a whole chapter on poets--it started out something like, "Poetry mattered in 1968" Not a direct quote (I'd have to get up and go get the book for that). Karen, were you and your husband rooting for Kennedy? If he wasn't shot, I wonder what would have happened--our nation's history would probably have some different ripples in it.

  5. Sage - I can post it there. I have an entry in mind that would fit well with it.

  6. Can I make you feel old? I wasn't even born then! Interesting reading though :)

    Here via Micheles - Enjoy your weekend!

  7. Great blog entries Sage. Can't wait for part 4.

  8. Hey Sage,
    An interesting read once again! You know I don't know anything about that era but I've been told (at least one million times) about my response when Reagan was shot.

    I was in the post office with my grandmother (I was about four) & it came over the radio. My grandmother said everyone just stared at me as I listened to it then looked up at her with tears in my eyes & said, 'Someone shot we president!'

  9. Hi Michele sent me. Now I'm off to read parts one and two. Have a great weekend.

  10. Sage~ yes, we were Kennedy all the way! *sigh*

  11. It is interesting to read your take on the happenings back then. I was married and a mother already, and I was more interested in myhome life than I was politics and world happenings (alas).

  12. Kenju and Karen, I want to thank the two of you for not making me feel so old like some of the above post.

  13. Wow I remember that vividly (I'm born 1953).....When Bobby was shot and killed it almost broke my heart. I had lost my President and we still were reeling.
    My mom was a big George Wallace fan...
    what strange times those were. Michele sent me

  14. I did volunteer work for McCarthy but was blown away by the assaination

    It would have been a truly horrible year, if it hadn't been personally great--I finally got to leave the parents house--the September after everything happened

  15. The day Bobby died is the day America's innocents died .

    "The machine then took control"...