Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Memories of '69

At least for now, I’m only going to write one post about ’69. It was the year I finished out my elementary school days at Bradley Creek. This post takes off where my "68 posts ended. And yes, that's me in my soap box derby.

Although ‘69 started out with a host of funerals, the year eventually moderated and my memories are not all bad. I started the year in the sixth grade at Bradley Creek Elementary School in Mrs. Graham’s class. Sometime during this year I became interested in Cathy, a dark-haired Italian girl who had transferred from the Catholic School to the public schools. Cathy sat in front of me and her hair often draped down over my desk. By the end of the sixth grade, the two of us became an "item" and were inseparable. Inseparable, except for when her brothers were around. They were several years older and loved tormenting me. However, Cathy’s devotion was a gift that lifted my self-esteem. My thoughts of Diane had long faded and I knew Cathy and I would be together forever.

Cathy and her family often went to the beach the same place our family would go, and we would be there at the same time. I recall one particular summer day in which my grandparents were also down. We were all out at the beach, and I introduced Cathy to my grandmother. I may have even privately told my grandmother that Cathy was the girl I was going to marry. Later, after we were home and while everyone was taking showers to wash the salt off, I overheard a conversation in the kitchen between my grandmother and mother. My grandmother chastised my mother for my interest in this Catholic girl. She worried that this girl might pull me away from the faith and thought my mother should do something.

My mother defended me, although I did’t think that was what happened at the time. I was offended when my mother told my grandmother, "Don’t worry about it. They’re just kids." I certainly didn’t feel like a kid and overhearing this conversation felt like I was about six inches tall. My mother went on to prophesize that our little affair wouldn’t make it out of the seventh grade. But she was right. In May of 1970, at the end of our seventh year in school, I did something incredibly stupid. Trying to act big and bad, I got mad at Cathy and referred to her as a female dog. She took offense and broke up with me. I was devastated and drew upon all the literary skill I possessed as a 13 year old and wrote a letter to her to woo her back. I admitted I had made mistakes and promised her the moon. We talked a few times after that, but we never got back together. That summer, the school district realigned the boundaries once more and Cathy and I were in different schools and lost track of each other. By the way, a few years after my grandfather died, my grandmother married a Catholic man. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Presbyterian Church. This was the second man my Scot Presbyterian grandmother brought into the faith.

Sixty-nine may have been the year of the underdogs in sports as the New York Mets won the World Series, but I never got any lucky breaks. I didn’t even make the little league team in my last year of eligibility. The team was limited to five twelve years olds. I got traded to another team, and they cut me. It was painful, especially since I had hit two homers in practice. But my fielding continued to suck and even the American League didn’t have designed hitters’ back then. So instead of baseball, I looked into racing.

Although I grew up in the South, I came from a family that at best ignored NASCAR. Actually, I think my parents had great disdain for the sport. As a child, I only got to go to two races, both of them in Darlington, SC with the Boy Scouts. Even though my father often volunteered to camp with us, he was notably absence on these field trips. Racing seemed exciting, even though we scouts sat right next to the track and lost some of our hearing from the noise. I saw Richard Petty ‘s famous crash at one of these races. His car came off the turn before the grandstand (we were across the track in the bleachers), hit the wall and flipped several times. We were sober as the ambulance hauled him away. He was our hero and we were hoping he'd win.

That Spring I decided to try my hand at racing by building a soapbox derby car. David, another friend whose father had died the year before, and I both planned to build a cars and my dad served as the supervisor, shop foreman, and safety and quality engineer. Although we were suppose to do all the building ourselves, my father interpreted the rules a little loosely and insisted that anything cut with a circular saw didn’t count. We could use small jigsaws and drills and sanders, but he wasn’t going to let us use something that might cut off an arm or leg. He helped us cut out the parts and then turned us loose. David took his parts home while I continued to work on my car out in carport, where Dad continually told me it wasn’t yet good enough. I’d then turn the radio back on. "Dizzy," by Tommy Roe was popular, and would sand and plane and file to the music. Finally, the car was ready and painted it orange.

Belk Berry, a department store in town, sponsored my car. Belk Berry was a part of the vast Belk chain that spread across the South, whose founder, a pious Southern Presbyterian from Charlotte, gave children a dollar if they memorizing the youth catechism. I decided that I didn’t need a dollar that much, but I think my sister got one. Belk Berry’s name was proudly displayed on the side of my car and on race day, I was a proud driver as we got read on 16th Street, the only street in the county with enough elevation to provide mobility to a gravity powered car. I took the first heat, but lost in the second round.

In June, we ended our tenure at Bradley Creek Elementary. They had a banquet for us in the cafeteria. Some of us thought our parents were invited. We were embarrassed for our parents who came with us and found out the banquet was just for students. I don’t think my parents minded as they went out to the beach and enjoyed what I’m sure was much better meal than a slice of dried ham and lunch room mac and cheese.

Our keynote speaker that evening was Mr. Mason, the principal at Roland Grice Junior High. We'd all be in his school that fall. This was back in the day before there was too much discussion about religion and school, although I don’t ever remember us public prayers in school (I prayed a lot, generally before test in which I hadn’t studied). Mr. Mason told us there were two rules from the Bible that if we obeyed, we’d get along fine at Roland Grice. Then he asked us if we knew which one’s he was talking about. Some girl who always sat up front and knew all the answers was called on first. She said, "Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you." Mr. Mason smiled and congratulated her. First rule down. Then he asked for another volunteer for the second rule and Billy (this was not the Billy I ran around with, but a new guy who had moved into the area that year), waved his hand. Mr. Mason called on him and he stood up and in loud voice asked, "Thou shalt not commit adultery?’" Mr. Mason turned red and everyone laughed, even though most of us just had a vague idea about what adultery was about. However, we knew it wasn’t something we’d likely have to worry much about in Junior High. For those who are curious, the second rule was to honor our father and mother. Six years later, when we were graduting from High School, I recalled this event in Billy's yearbook.

The highlight of the summer of ’69 was watching the Apollo moon landing. We were glued to the TV most of the evening. It was way past my bedtime when we finally saw Neil Armstrong take those first steps. The next morning, Dad and I went fishing at dawn out by the jetty at Wrightsville Beach and I wrote in the sand, in huge five foot tall letters, "we have landed." After the turmoil of the past few years, it was something all of us could be proud in. That summer, in addition to going to the Washington area for my father’s company picnic, we took a vacation to Atlanta. For some reason, driving down to Georgia, I remember listening over and over to the song "25 or 6 to 4" by Chicago. My parents always liked country music, so there must have been some stretches in South Carolina where they could only get rock stations. I still think of that trip when I hear that song. In Atlanta, we visited Six Flags, our first "theme park" as a family. We also took in a Brave’s game. The Braves weren’t very good back then, they didn’t have Ted Turners dollars to buy the best team in the league, but we did get to see Henry Aaron belt a homer. Later that summer, I started school at Roland Grice Jr. High. We were the "Black Knights." It was more exciting than starting college.


  1. Cute picture. Look at all that hair poking out from under the helmet.

  2. Cathy must've been quite hard-hearted. You're one of the best apologizers I've ever seen.

  3. I just about got ran over by Richard Petty once. I was in Daytona for the 500 and me and a buddy were walking to our grandstand seats (start finish line eight rows up) when he grabbed my shirt from behind and yanked me backwards. We happened to be at the entrance tunnel opening under the grandstands and I hadn't realized it because of the crowd of people. Anyway, the long black limo swept by but immediately hit the breaks to avoid another hapless pedestrain. There I stood less than two feet from the King as he stared out at me from his backseat window. By the time my brain recognized him and I thought about waving or something, the limo took off again and disappeared down the tunnel. Probably five hours later, my favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt would be dead.

  4. Cant imagine anything more exciting than beginning college so I can't wait for your next installment

    Loved the way you weaved your grandmother in--wasn't expecting her to look at a Catholic--much less...

    We both seem to have Catholic themes today

  5. Ed - Wow. You must've been at the most remembered race of all times. You have a '3' sticker on the ol' Civic, don't ya? ;-)

  6. Don't talk about Cathy being hard-hearted, you'll shatter my illusions of her (she's dead anyway, killed in an accident a dozen years ago, but that's another story). As for being a good apologizer, when you stick your foot in mouth often, you get a lot of practice.

    Ed, didn't know you were a race fan (btw, I'm not a fan anymore, that was short lived), but you story at Daytona sounds like it would be interesting and bittersweet.

    Pia, my grandmother is a strong woman and his Highland Scots Presbyterian blood runs true.

    Another thing--I was checking something and decided to look up the 69 Braves and they were better than I thought as they won their division that year. So maybe it really was the year of the underdog in everyplace but my world.

  7. The only thing I do remember from that year is the moon landing. I was 2 1/2 and I remember that...glued to the TV with my mom right behind me. I think she made it a big deal (because, as a toddler, it may not have been that big of a deal if she didn't make it so).

  8. Can't wait to read your tales of 1971 or later, Sage. Ed and I are feeling a little left out. ;-)

  9. Murf - I do have a number 3 sticker somewhere but it has never been adhered to anything. That was the first and only NASCAR race I've been too.

    Sage - I wouldn't say a fan. When in college and my roommate brought a television into our dorm room, the first time I had lived with one, I became addicted and used NASCAR to feed the addiction during the weekends when the same six movies were playing over and over on FOX. (Didn't have cable.) Once I left college, I quit watching regularly but when someone offered me free 500 tickets, I couldn't refuse. After Dale died, I never had much interest in it again other than I read about it in the sports section every Monday. (The only thing I read in the sports section.)

  10. Sage - Much like you, I have nothing more to add. I just wanted to see my icon. The monkey was starting to scare me. I'm not sure if this is much better.

  11. Not a huge NASCAR fan either, but I have grown to appreciate that there is more to the sport than cars going around the track and crashes. I hate crashes. It means someone has the potential to be seriously injured, why would anyone want that??? Anyway, Jem is a NASCAR guy, even has a sports show for it. To each his own. Thanks for sharing your memories!

  12. I was graduating high school and flower children were blooming all over the place.

  13. Cathy sounds beautiful. Can't beat a good dose of 13-year-old angst. Your car is pretty hot too :)

  14. kontan - As an engineer, I guess I can say that I am fascinated with the crashes because I marvel at how hard race cars can crash with their driver walking out safely thanks to engineering efforts. I can't say that I want them to happen but I do pay attention when they do.

  15. It appears my word verification isn't working right, so I've temponarily disabled it.

    Dawn, you must be a whopping 4.5 years older than Murf and Ed!

    Ed, quite a deal to have free tickets to the Dayton 500! Interesting that you still keep up with racing via reading the sports page.

    Murf, you're smile is nicer than that monkey picture, which looks like one of those demon monkeys from the Wizard of Oz (or is that movie too old for you?)

    Kontan, I agree with you on the wrecks in racing. However, ED has an interesting point--from an engineering point of view.

    Colleen, our flower child, I'm glad you're hear to take some of the sting at of folks thinking I'm old.

    Daydreamer, Cathy was beautiful. A few years ago my mother found a stack of my old pictures (the type you traded with friends in school) and there was Cathy. I didn't remember her looking so young! The car I built the next year--in which I laid back--was even hotter.

    Ed, as only can be said by an engineer... Did you hear the joke about the Doctor, the Lawyer and the Engineer facing the gullotine? Or the three lawyers and three engineers taking a train to a convention?

  16. Our family never had a TV. But the night that Neil Armstrong was to take the first step on the moon we were relatives that did have a TV. And I was so looking forward to seeing man walk on the moon for the first time. But his walk kept getting delayed and mom and dad finally decided that we had to go home and to bed. Us children protested but to no avail.

    All in all, I didn't mind growing up without a TV but this time I was really disappointed.

  17. Being the sports fan I am, I went to a Mets game while visiting my sister in New York many years ago.

    Loved your whole write up on '69. Are you still with Cathy or is that too personal to ask?

  18. No I haven't sage but I have heard about the constipated engineering who was solving a problem and used a pencil to "work" it out.

  19. Tim, we only had one TV and it was still black and white in '69. I don't think I would have missed it too much as I generally liked to spend time outside.

    Karen, Cathy and I broke up in the 7th grade and I only saw her a couple of times after that--the last being in college. A few years ago I found out that she'd been killed in an accident several years earlier.

    Ed, I'll have to post some engineering jokes then (my brother is a mechnical engineer).

  20. Cool, I don't know if i can recall my school years in such detail - although admittedly I don't particularly want to remember much from that time of my life!

    I wonder what in Billy' home life made him come up with that commandment:-)

    Here from michele's today

  21. sage~ Sorry about Cathy. We always remember our first crushes. Actually, I remember all my school crushes. A couple of them have died, as well. *sigh*