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Coming of Age in the 1960s

by Linda Rivenbark 18 days ago in immediate family

Finding My Way

Picture of Me in the late 1960s

I was a late bloomer Baby boomer. Shy to the point of almost being afraid of my own shadow.

The boys in my junior high school classes never flirted with me like they did most of the other girls. One of them, in fact, told me not to worry, I would "fill out" one day. It didn't make me feel any better.

My overall lack of popularity (not being part of the "in" gang) gave me plenty of time to devote to studying, so I made good grades in most subjects, staying in the Beta Club with a 3.5 GPA throughout Junior and Senior High school years.

To put that in proper perspective, my junior high experience consisted of my 8th and 9th grade years. The elementary school I attended went through 7th grade before dispensing students to their respective junior high schools to begin grade 8.

My brother, William, and I were the middle children with an older brother and a younger brother. His passion was for Major League baseball.

We watched age-appropriate programs after school - in the lower grades, we watched the Mickey Mouse Club and he developed a giant crush on Annette Funicello..(well, she was beautiful!).

Annette on The Mickey Mouse Club

Saturday mornings were all about cartoons and Western movies or TV shows. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with their stately steeds Trigger and Buttermilk were always ready to "cut 'em off at the pass".

Let's not forget The Lone Ranger and Tonto, Hopalong Cassidy, Wagon Train, The Rifleman, Wyatt Earp, Bonanza...and so many more!

But his (and consequently my) favorite TV time was Saturday Major League Baseball games. William taught me all the players names (and many of their stats) on the New York Yankee team, which was his favorite.

I knew that Mickey Mantle was a switch hitter who promised his Dad that he would always switch hit. I knew that his dad had started him practicing for his baseball career when little Mickey was about 3 years old. I knew his wife was named Marilyn and they had twin boys.

I learned what a ground-rule double was and how to tell a strike from a ball. I knew what a short stop did and could name all New York Yankee team members by position played and most of them by number.

When Roger Maris beat Babe Ruth's home run record on October 1, 1961 with 61 home runs in one season, I was happy for him...but sad because Mickey Mantle didn't do it.

Roger Maris - NY Yankee - Home Run Record Breaker

So you see, I was pegged as a 'tomboy' very early, a fact that my oldest brother reminded me of from time to time.

When William and I had to miss part of a baseball game to help Dad work in the vegetable garden, we could turn surly in a big hurry. Dad always said as long as we saw the last couple of innings, that was what mattered anyway.

I would be fine with that today, but not then. And William was not fine with it either, although we did our garden work quietly, never making any real fuss.

That WAS the 1960s.

From my earliest memory, I was a compliant, submissive daughter who seldom made waves...maybe pouted excessively, but that was in a quiet way.

William paid intense attention to every detail of summer Major League Baseball games, straight through to the World Series games in October. His memory for individual games that happened decades ago can be astounding. He can tell you now which team won most (if not all) World Series titles during the 60s and 70s. I am in awe of his memory for details of baseball games.

My first part-time job was a cashier position in a local supermarket...one of the largest and busiest stores in a big city. As a result, my quiet, reserved, noticeably shy disposition suffered the trauma of some 'difficult' customers who delighted in giving me a hard time.

I had a definite advantage, however, in that my older brother was an established employee in the same store (he got me my first job!) and I could always turn to him for help.

It just so happened that we shared a strong family resemblance. Established customers would come through my line for check-out and immediately say, "You're William's sister!". I answered, "Yes, I have been all my life".

He taught me how to use the (what I later called) antique cash register with push button numbers, department keys, and open/close drawer buttons that, as I recall, DID NOT tell me how much change to give back to the customer. It was more of an over-sized adding machine.

I navigated that problem fairly well because, even though I hated math class, I always worked hard to keep my grades up, so I was able to catch on fairly quickly.

I found out with my first job that the new-job scenario threatened to make me come completely unhinged for a while. Terrified was the way I would describe it, until I had 'learned the ropes' and convinced myself that this was not really so bad after all.

That never really changed with any of the many jobs I had through the years...one reason I am glad to be retired and having more fun with freelance writing than with ANY job I had in the past.

One thing that I particularly enjoyed about my first job was that my brother (mentioned above) took his lunch break three afternoons a week to drive about 10 miles to pick me up at school and take me to work. We had a habit of stopping by a restaurant called Mr. C's Chicken and getting take-out to eat before going to the supermarket. (Yes, he was allowed to take a long lunch to accommodate my need to get to work!).

"Why are you telling me all that?", I can almost hear you asking.

I will tell you.

After almost a decade (the 60s) of watching the aftermath of a Presidential assassination on TV (JFK), being horrified over the events of the Civil Rights Movement and the mind-blowing violence that cost people their lives for trying to achieve equality and a way of life that no one should be deprived of, witnessing more real-life TV trauma with the assassinations of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy….. my two older brothers got letters from Uncle Sam cordially inviting them to report to Ft. Bragg, NC for boot camp to get ready for whatever the government asked them to do.

Minutes or Seconds Before Assassination

My oldest brother was married by that time and was soon stationed in the Florida keys, for how long, I do not recall. His first child, my first nephew, was born there. I was so excited to be an aunt for the first time, as I seriously doubted I would ever get married and become a Mother. I didn’t have much self-confidence at the time.

I later did both (got married and became a mother) with two boys born less than two years apart and then a baby girl almost 4 years after my second son.) No accomplishment of mine could ever rival that.

Back to the story...word soon came that my oldest brother, John, had orders to go to Vietnam. I got my first dose of finding out how it feels to have to go about business as usual when you have a loved one in a combat zone.

I would be going through a typical day of college classes with my mind on what books I would need to run to the car for, trading in ones I had finished with, and suddenly I would realize I had no way of knowing what John was doing right then or if he was alright. He was near the end of his army stint when he arrived in Vietnam and only spent about three or four months there before returning home and being discharged.

My Brother, William, in Vietnam

William then received his orders to go to Vietnam in the army signal corp. He later told us that one of his commanding officers told him he would make a good ‘tunnel rat’ because he was a small-built young man. Any thoughts of extending his army time from three years according to the draft to four years voluntarily went right out the window, he told us later.

The stress and strain resumed…by the way, there were no cell phones back then. Hard to imagine now, huh? Occasionally the soldiers would get a chance to call home on a landline phone, but that was not often.

One day, about six months into the year he was supposed to be stationed in Vietnam, he was part of a detail that was loading ammunition onto the back of a pick-up truck to transport it to another location. He said he was the first one on and was near the back window of the truck cab placing ammo boxes carefully on the cab floor.

Apparently someone, instead of handing one box, decided to toss it onto the truck bed. The commanding officer was afraid the ammo might be compromised by the excessive heat in the region, and gave loud orders for all soldiers to get off the truck. My brother, being the first one on was also the last one off, and as he got to the tail gate, a box exploded and threw him a long distance, twisting his leg in the tail gate as he left the truck.

When we got the call that he had been injured in duty, that was a traumatic day.

My Mom was convinced that he must be hurt worse than he was telling us...yes, he did get to talk with her for a few minutes.

Three subsequent calls were made to the Red Cross with Mama trying to get more information. An officer she talked to convinced her that if she had talked to her son and heard his voice, she should try to believe what he said and wait to hear from him again.

When he called a few days later, he said the doctor who operated on his broken femur bone, inserting a rod in the leg to keep the bone properly aligned in his right leg told him, “This will give you a ticket back to the states, Private”. He replied that nothing could suit him better.

William on crutches on military furlough

A couple of weeks later, after he spent some time in a hospital in Japan getting his leg stabilized, he was flown home and we went to see him in a Fort Bragg Hospital.

At 5 feet 7 inches and all of 128 pounds, I was shocked at how different he looked compared to when he had left home.

He was given a furlough after a few weeks in the hospital here in the states, and came home on crutches. After a few weeks on Mama’s cooking again, he gained some needed weight and rested a lot so his leg could heal.

Once back to normal, Uncle Sam decided to send him to Frankfurt, Germany for a whoppin’ 14 months.

I was much relieved that he would not be returning to Vietnam, and in all his letters, he seemed to be enjoying being in Germany. Pictures he brought home showed him enjoying some beautiful scenery.

I was working at another grocery store (same chain) when he returned home from Germany. I knew my Mom and Dad were going to pick him up at the airport that day, but I went in for my day shift looking forward to getting off and seeing William again.

In the mid-afternoon, I was checking out a large grocery order and when I finished the check-out, I turned around and there he was, standing at the end of my register check-out counter. I really did NOT know I was going to do it, but I broke down crying at the sight of him in dress uniform.

My boss, the store manager, came to my register smiling and said, “Take a break…take your time visiting with your brother”.

And I did!

That experience has stayed with me throughout the decades. My heart goes out to all military members stationed anywhere worldwide.

And for their families waiting for them at home!

immediate family

Linda Rivenbark

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Make some light.” – Kate DiCamillo

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Linda Rivenbark
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