Tuesday, March 19, 2013

50 Years Ago - 1963

(NOTE: This blog was originally written and published on my original blogging site on February 9, 2013.)

Since everybody's talking about 50th anniversaries (this year it's the Kennedy assassination and last fall it was the James Bond film franchise), I thought I'd try and reminisce about 1963, at least what I *can* remember about that year.

Isn't it interesting how we only remember "flashes" of events from our childhood? We just don't possess the complete cut of a scene: only a few seconds of some imagery, a bit of dialogue, and suggestions of the setting. For example, can *you* remember your 8th birthday party? Of course not. But I have a *flash* of memory, as if a few seconds of footage from a film remained in my brain. The party was held in the back yard of our house in Odessa, Texas, with a bunch of kids from my grade school and neighborhood friends in attendance. I want to say we went to see "Jack the Giant Killer" or "Pinocchio" at the theater, but I could be wrong. "Jack the Giant Killer" was released in 1962, and so was the re-issue of "Pinocchio." So maybe I saw one of those pictures the year before when I turned seven. At any rate, that *flash* is of me with a blindfold on and the other kids laughing and screaming with delight as I tried to do something in a game (Pin the Tail on the Donkey, maybe? Who knows!).

My birthday is in September, so for the first half and summer of '63, I was indeed seven years old. That spring I was in second grade at Gonzales Elementary School. My teacher was Mrs. Gaines, and I had a big crush on her. I thought she was very pretty. There was also a girl in class named Camille that I liked. I pretended she was my girlfriend, although that was the furthest thing from the truth. The one flash of memory from second grade, though, was when I got up in front of the class and lip-synched "Hawaiian War Chant" by Spike Jones, acting out the wacky song. The response I received was tremendous. I'm actually still in touch with a handful of people from my elementary school days. Here's a shout out to Thomas, John D., and Deborah, to name a few.

Summers were always reserved for a trip to Oklahoma to see relatives. My mom's huge extended family lived around Tulsa, Cleveland, and Oklahoma City. I think we went to Oklahoma every summer--and never anywhere else. I always wondered why we didn't go to Disneyland or some place cooler than Oklahoma, but we didn't. Nevertheless, I always had a great time visiting my cousins, uncles, and aunts. It seemed that the road trip lasted forever. My dad always drove, and my sister Judy and I sat in the back seat. No seat belts. I'd have my half of the seat, and she'd have hers. I usually brought along comic books and toys to keep me occupied. Stopping at Howard Johnson's was always a highlight.

In the fall of '63, I turned eight and started third grade. I remember my teacher, Mrs. Weir, but nothing much else about the class. The one big flash of memory I have, of course, is from Novemer 22. "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" It's a question that we Baby Boomers can always answer. Well, I was sitting in third grade. The loud speaker came on and the principal told us the news that the president had been shot in Dallas. Even at our young ages, we were shocked. We tried to continue with class, but an hour later, the principal came back on and told everyone that Kennedy had died. With that, we were released. No more school that day. I walked home, stepped into the house (my mother was home), and said, "Mom, guess what happened!" She was already upset, of course, and had the television set on (still a black and white box-like thing with only three channels).
All of that I remember vividly.

Trivial things from the year are less lucid, but I remember being into books (my reading level was at least a couple of years advanced over my peers). I loved movies and tried to see most everything that a seven- or eight-year-old could view. I've gone over a list of films released in 1963 and can pick out the titles I know I saw that year, the more grown-up pictures with my parents, the kids' movies with friends: "How the West Was Won" (loved it, and I got the soundtrack record at some point), "Jason and the Argonauts" (wow!), "The Great Escape", "Cleopatra" (I was bored to death, and am still bored to death by this one, despite the brief glimpse of Elizabeth Taylor's skin), "Call Me Bwana", "Donovan's Reef", "Flipper", "Four for Texas", "Fun in Acapulco", "The Incredible Journey", "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World", "McLintock!", "The Nutty Professor", "Son of Flubber", "The Sword in the Stone", "Who's Minding the Store?", and "Spencer's Mountain". I do remember "The Birds" coming out, but it was deemed too scary for me to see at that time.

Speaking of "flubber," I remember a toy coming out that year that every kid wanted-- flubber! It was a glob of gooey, rubbery stuff that you could mold with your hands into a ball, and it would bounce pretty high. The flubber was green and pretty when it first came out of the package, but after a day of playing with it, it was all black and gross. Other toys of the year that I recall were: Big Loo (a robot that shot a ping pong ball out of its arm and also talked http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Loo ), Mattel's Vac-U-Form machine http://www.samstoybox.com/toys/Vac-U-Form.html , which allowed you to create plastic cars and things--it would never pass a safety code today because of the exposed hot oven!, and an 8mm toy movie projector that you hand-cranked. It included 3-5 minute reels of excerpts from cartoons, monster movies, and comedies.

Mostly, though, 1963 was the year I discovered Marvel Comics. "The Amazing Spider-Man" #1 came out at the beginning of the year, but I didn't notice Spidey until that fall, after a few issues had been out. The first one I bought on the newstand was #8 ("The Living Brain"), but I was able to find earlier issues at used comic stores. I had a Spider-Man #1 for many, many years--but I didn't take care of it and it was in pieces when I sold it in 1993 for a surprising $350, despite its extremely poor condition (if it had been mint, I'd have been able to put my son through college with the proceeds). I did love those Marvel Comics. I immediately latched on to Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, and Iron Man.

And then there were the classic television shows-- "The Twilight Zone" was my favorite. I also liked "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "The Andy Griffith Show", "The Flintstones", "The Jetsons", "The Outer Limits", "The Beverly Hillbillies", "My Three Sons", "Mister Ed", "Lassie", "Bonanza", and "Gunsmoke". All black and white. No remote.

I suppose I was just a typical eight-year-old nerd.

And as Bob Hope would say, "Thanks for the memories!"

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