I have been incredibly busy and this will continue for at least the next month. In addition to work, I am taking another fire department class (pretty soon, if I wanted to which I don't, I could become a paid firefighter). I am enjoying the class even though it is taking 8-10 a week out of my limited time. Besides work, I am also taking a class in memoir writing and our first assignment is to write an essay (800 word limit) on the year we were born. I have to cut this down, but this is my first draft (it's at 1100 words). What do you think? My baby picture arrived in blogger upside down, don't know what's up with that but is seemed to go with the theme so I left it that way.
I arrived at the Moore County Hospital, just outside of Pinehurst, on a Wednesday morning in mid-January 1957. The highways through the Sandhills of North Carolina were all paved by then, but many of the county roads were still dirt. Longleaf pines surrounded the golf courses around Pinehurst and the rest of the county were dotted with small farms raising bright-leaf tobacco that was still mostly cured in barns heated by wood. It was a simpler time. The average family income had doubled since World War II and was now was a little over six thousand dollars a year. It was lower than that in the South, but on paper Moore County appeared prosperous thanks to its numbers being inflated by rich Yankee golfers. Six thousand could go a long ways as the average house cost $12,000, although furnishing it with a pair of Rembrandt portraits was still out of reach for the most. A pair of his portraits would sell for an even half a million later in the year. For the non-golfers in the Sandhills, such as my Highland Scot relatives, tobacco was king (and considered safe) and selling for 59 cents a pound. There were nearly a half million acres of the crop being raised in North Carolina, producing over 1700 pounds an acre. You can do the math.
The year began with a meeting of African-American pastors who formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We’d hear more about them in the next decade, but integration was moving into the forefront and before the year was out, we’d have the incident in Little Rock and the Senate under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson would pass the first (but mostly benign) civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction. We’d be hearing more about civil rights and Johnston in the years ahead.
Two days after my arrival, three B-52s made the first non-stop around-the-world flights and General Curtis LeMay bragged that we could drop a hydrogen bomb anywhere in the world. The one place we did drop one, accidentally, was New Mexico. Thankfully, it didn't detonate which is why no one knew about it. The military were exploding bombs in Nevada but said everything was safe and no one knew differently except for the sheepherders whose flocks began to lose their wool and die off. There were other nuclear accidents in ’57 in the US and UK, but only a few knew about them. What you don't know won't hurt you, right? And we all knew our government would never do anything to harm us.
Although there were no major wars going on, the world was tense. There was the Suez Crisis and the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack loomed. Our government, working with the Canadians, established the DEW line in the arctic in order to give us six hours warning before the first Soviet bomb could be dropped on an American city (Canadian cities would have a little less time to prepare). By the time the work was completed, the margin was cut to three hours as Soviet jets had doubled their speed. In a few months it all became extraneous as the Soviets launched the first intercontinental ballistic missile. Later in the same year, they'd launch Sputnik and we'd spend the next decade in a space race. Amidst this, some yo-yo created the first plastic pink flamingo. The end was near as prophesied by Nevil Shute in his post-nuclear war novel, published in 1957, On the Beach. I'd read it in high school.
To save us from calamity, we placed our faith in Ike, the President, who many thought I resembled as I too had a bald head. Ike wasn’t Herod and didn’t waste any time worrying about a newborn impostor as he perfected his golf swing while supposedly preparing himself for a second term as the leader of the free world.
Jack Kerouac published On the Road in 1957, and people were heading out on the road as a new line of fancy cars with high fins and excessive chrome were revealed. The ’57 Chevy would become an icon of the era as Ike announced the building of interstates to connect the cities of our nation. Off the radar was an unknown Japanese company, Toyota, with a ship on the sea loaded with their first vehicles for the US market. People were flying more and taking the train less. New York City abandoned its trolley cars in 1957, and shortly afterwards the Brooklyn Dodgers (originally named the Trolley Dodgers) announced they were moving to Los Angeles. The last of Las Angeles trolleys were taken out of service six years later I started the first grade. Now people think the Dodgers must either be named from their ability at dodging wild pitches or maybe an obscure reference to a Charles Dickens character. In other sporting news, the University of North Carolina beat Kansas in the NCAA basketball finals. These teams have remained at the top throughout my life. The Milwaukee Braves led by a young Hank Aaron beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. We’d hear more from Aaron and the Yankees, but Milwaukee faded in the next decade when the Braves high-tailed it to Atlanta. The Detroit Lions, a team whose demise parallels its city, won their last NFL championship.
Ayn Rand published Atlas Shrugged in 1957. Nearly six decades later, “Who is John Galt?” bumper stickers are occasionally spotted on American highways. In the theaters, the Ten Commandments was the top box office success. For a country that seems so religious, the last commandment about not coveting appears overlooked. Rand launched a frontal assault on this commandment with her godless "look out for me" philosophy. Other commandments were also being broken as as the movie “Peyton Place,” which debuted in theaters, reminded us.
Radios in 1957 were playing the music of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Debbie Reynolds, the Everly Brothers, Pat Boone and Sam Cooke. In Philadelphia, love-stuck teenagers danced for the first time on American Bandstand as more and more homes acquired televisions. And in England, two chaps named Lennon and McCarthy met and would go on change music as we know it. Humphrey Bogart died just two days before my arrival, but it was still a good year for Hollywood. Not only was Moses selling, but so were dogs as children everywhere cried watching Old Yeller. Another movie released was the Bridge over the River Kwai which inspired whistlers with its catchy theme music (an old British army tune). That tune would later be used in a commercial for a household cleanser and then inspired one of the ditties of my childhood: