I Remember The Sixties

My family, circa 1960

The old saying is that if you remember the 60s, you weren’t really there. Well, the truth is that if you don’t remember the 60s, you really weren’t there. All of us who lived through it remember it. How could we ever forget?

How could we forget Kennedy being assassinated? I was only 4 and even I have vague memories of my grandmother screaming at the television. I remember The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I remember Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and I clearly remember their deaths.

I remember the Eagle landing on the moon.

And I remember the endless streams of war correspondents who seemed to live inside the old black-and-white (what you call monochrome) set with the rabbit ear antenna. I remember Jed Clampett, I remember Andy Griffith, I remember Uncle Joe.

I remember walking more than a mile every day with my 3 brothers and sister to my grandma’s house for water. We couldn’t afford a well, so we carried our water in gallon jugs along the gravel road from Mama Lacie’s house to ours.

I remember my mom working 2 jobs as a single parent. I remember how tired she was, and how hard she tried to never let us see it. I remember how important education was to her. I remember her playing the old piano her parents gave her each night until we slept: Mendelssohn, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff…

I remember the new clothes of my classmates on the 1st day of school, and looking at my own threadbare hand-me-downs. I remember not being allowed on the gym floor because all I had were my brother’s broughan boots and we couldn’t afford gym shoes.

I remember my mom playing the piano in the church. I remember showing up to Sunday School in clean but barely fitting handmade clothes, eyeing the other boys and girls with envy because their clothes looked so much more stylish. I remember not wanting to make many friends because I would be too embarrassed to show them where I lived.

So I can tell you, I remember living through one of the golden ages of America. And I remember knowing, at the tender age of 9 or 10, that my family was one of the poorest in the state, maybe the whole country. I remember being angry and not understanding why my family, who were some of the nicest folk you’d ever meet, were so cursed with poverty.

Putting It In Perspective

I remember my mom telling us to eat everything on our plate. ‘There’s children starving in China!’. At the time I thought it was just something to make us not waste food, something probably only poor parents say to poor children.

I remember my grandma telling us that our family was one of the wealthiest in the world, because we had health, family and possibilities. We were dirt farmers, scratching an existence out of the red clay so abundant here in the foothills of North Carolina.

I remember my father taking me for a ride through the wealthiest section of town, Belmont, and pointing out and adding up an estimate of how much money those people owed the banks to be able to display their success. 

I remember finally understanding that wealth is not something that can be measured with money, because in this world money is just another word for debt.

I remember finally figuring out that those old beat up boots were actually some of the best made shoes ever, worth far more than their rugged appearance implied. I remember finally seeing the pure value my mom was investing every night, stating timeless truths and beauty in the notes she played, themes that would forever find a home in the hearts of every child she had brought into this world.

I remember eventually missing those daily walks with my family to get the dearest, most priceless treasure in all the world. I’m not talking about the water we carried. I’m talking about the closeness that comes from shared actions which keep the whole family alive.

I remember that finally, it dawned on me that at least we had a television, and time to watch such silliness when most of the world was too tired from just trying to survive that day to even care about a TV.

I remember finally understanding that there really were starving children in China, and India and Africa and even here in the US.

And I wasn’t one of them.