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Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Summer of '69

When I think about the summer of '69, I feel mixed emotions. Our senior class had just taken its Senior Trip to Washington, D.C. and, yes, we had foolishly waded in the Washington Monument Reflecting Pool just like Forrest Gump of movie fame and we had visited the grave of John F. Kennedy and the Eternal Flame. Of course, that year I had graduated high school. Then, I helped my brother move to Ohio from the searing heat of Gulfport, Mississippi, and was working at a local gas station. My brief musical career as a guitarist in a local rock band had ended because the band was relocating to Newark, Ohio. I really loved playing clubs, and I hated to make my decision, but I decided to stay in Lucasville, Ohio, to prepare for college the next fall. My draft number was 104, which meant either go to college with a deferment or be drafted at once, most likely followed by a tour in Vietnam. Some of my friends were already on their way to Southeast Asia, so I felt some obligation to serve. I had made the All Southern Ohio Conference Team as a defensive end in 1968, but I had turned down offers to play football on the small college level. So, I knew I was going to college at Ohio University Branch in Portsmouth, Ohio, but I had no idea of a college major, just a slight interest in journalism. I had been college prep in high school, so I was merely following the prescribed course of action. Later, I was to find out how different and how much more difficult college life was from high school. High school had been the greatest experience in my life. I had served as president of my class all four years, had played football and baseball, and had seen scores of my friends each day to basically have fun. We clowned and cruised most every night, shooting pool and just acting out our first tastes of total freedom. We, the baby boomers, felt validated by social changes being made at the time while supporting each other during tragedies. You know- "the best of times, the worst of times." To say we were close knit is an understatement. We hung out at local gas stations, teen dance halls, nearby lakes, the river, the State Forest, the softball fields, the Sand Mines, the drive-ins, and the bars that featured legal 3.2 beer for 18-year-olds. I drove a 1965 289 Hypo Mustang convertible and was dating pretty regularly for the first time in my life. My entire culture was revolving around youthful ideas and this lent a feeling of importance to my life, especially to my music. A little money earned working went a long way. Life was good. As the song says, "Summertime, and the livin' is easy." I think I met more girls that summer than any other time in my life. I'm not so sure I knew what to say or how to act around them, but I was a pretty quick learner when a pretty face passed on one of those sacred female secrets. Life was instantaneous, novel and vivid in every respect. Even though we lived in a small town, we never lacked for entertainment and we never lacked for friendship. I guess you could say my idea of being worldly meant taking care of myself and my buddies in a twenty mile radius in Southern Ohio. To be honest, we were too young to worry about world events: we had a full plate just squeezing every drop of life from each waking hour. We lived life that beautiful season. We became as independent as dependent people with home ties could be that summer. As long as we didn't cause trouble, people left us alone to mature and find ourselves in our community. There seemed to be more slack in the rope that held us to formal institutions and old ideals. Yes, '69 was the summer of Woodstock, the moon landing, racial upheavals, Vietnam, and Charles Manson. And, no, we did not, as 18-year-olds, realize the importance these events would play in our soon-to-be independent lives. Our multitude of youthful actions prevented us from too much reaction to national events. Looking back, that is rather sad to say, but it is really true. The summer passed too quickly. All the new yearnings, excitement, experiences, playfulness, and psychedelic significance quickly faded colors as summer turned to fall. Many friends moved away and others seemed to change for unknown reasons. The fall of 1969 meant removing our protective shades and facing reality and a new adult world of responsibility. Our summer of simple content had disappeared forever, never to be recaptured. This time, vacation had really come to an end. Today, the vivid imagery of the summer of '69 remains indelible in my memory as a magical imprint of world change and personal maturation.
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