Thursday, August 29, 2013

1963 or MCMLXIII

by Bill Holmes 

This is the fiftieth anniversary of 1963. We are being reminded of that with documentaries and news shows about the March on Washington. We'll be reminded again in November on the fiftieth anniversary of a tragic event. In some ways it seems every bit of the fifty years ago, in other ways it seems like just yesterday. Here are some of my thoughts, at least those I can remember, of that year.

In 1963 I was finishing my sophomore year and starting my junior year of high school. That means this account will be through the eyes of a 16 year old. A 16 year old middle class white male, attending a Catholic high school and living in a racist southern city. Sixteen is a confusing age for us human beings. We are becoming adults but are nowhere near ready to be an adult. Society and our parents are giving us more freedoms and responsibilities. Our hormones are raging as are the pimples. Some of the girls become much more noticeable. Many reach our final height by this age often before our muscles and coordination are even close to being ready to deal with the new frame. I never had a growth spurt in 1963 or any other year. I'm still waiting. I did get the pimple spurt, I'm hoping to outgrow it soon.

When you go to a four year high school it's a relief to be a sophomore. While you are far from a top dog you are no longer the lowest kid in the pecking order. Some of the upperclassmen know you by name and may even acknowledge your existence. Some of the female sophomores may be dating upperclassmen. It didn't much work the other way. The junior and senior girls didn't have much use for us sophomore guys. While that dating activity took a few sophomore girls out of our dating pool it did get us closer to the juniors and seniors. If your best girl friend (not girlfriend) or neighbor from second grade is dating a senior then every once in awhile you'll be around too. They get to know who you are and certainly wouldn't make fun of you in front of their girlfriend and your friend.

One of the first big events of 1963 was my sixteenth birthday. You probably read about it in the paper or saw the announcement on Cronkite. At that time in Florida you could get a restricted drivers license at 14 and a full license at 16. I had been driving for two years during daylight hours and with an adult licensed driver. I knew how to drive. I had driven on highways, I had driven some couple hour shifts on a trip from Florida to New Jersey and back. I was ready. I did odd jobs for a very nice widow in the neighborhood. She had a VW Beetle, our car was a 1956 Buick without power steering. I figured her VW would be way easier to parallel park and square off the turns during my driving test than the Buick tank. In the summer of 1962 I had taken a driver's ed class at the local public high school (there are stories there too). Our Catholic school didn't have the time or inclination to offer a non-academic course such as driver's ed. In that driver's ed class I had chosen a stick shift VW over the automatic Ford Comet (or whatever it was) for the car to do my training drives. So, I knew how to drive stick shift (AKA manual transmission) and I knew how to drive the neighbor's car. We took a couple of test runs in the parking lot of Philips Mall so I could get the feel for the clutch and shift. One day after school around my birthday this lovely lady took me to the driver's license testing place on Beach Blvd. Neither of my parents went with me. I'm sure Dad was at work but I have no idea why my Mom didn't go. I guess I didn't need a parent there to sign anything. I passed easily in her small car. I think she was almost as happy as I was. I learned later that the reason was that now I could drive to the store for her or run other errands. Of course I didn't mind. Now I had my full unrestricted driver's license. The problem was I didn't have a car and had to negotiate with Dad for use of the family behemoth. That was not easy and of course I quickly made it much more difficult.

Shortly after I got my license Dad let me take the car alone one night to fill up with gas. Of course back then that meant an attendant pumped the gas and they also cleaned the windshield and checked the oil. I don't remember which gas station I went to, there were several within a few blocks of our house. I do remember that I calculated the longest way home possible. That was my mistake. I wound up on Atlantic Blvd. close to my high school. At a red light, a former neighbor pulled up beside me. He was a former neighbor because Interstate 95 came right through our neighborhood and took their house but not ours. We waved and revved our engines. You know what happened next. When the light turned green we took off. I don't remember what he was driving, I'd guess a Ford since that's what his family always had. I was in the huge white Buick. It was heavy but it had a big V-8 engine too. We raced a few blocks and I don't remember who won. I slowed down and turned onto Spring Park Rd. while he continued straight onto Beach Blvd. The cop who was sitting in a darkened parking lot (maybe the Winn-Dixie or was it still a Lovett's) decided to follow me onto Spring Park. My friend got off completely free. Of course the cop gave me a ticket. I had to go to Juvenile Court for that ticket. I must have drawn the hanging judge. I think I got my license suspended for six month, I know I was without a license through much of the summer of '63. The judge told me that if I got caught driving with a suspended license he would take it for at least another year. I believed him and even though I had the opportunity to drive friends' cars I never did, OK almost never. The judge's punishment had a finite end date. Dad's punishment didn't. Thankfully Mom tempered his punishment or I might have never driven the family car again. I eventually got to drive the Buick again. It was a beast and hard to drive, but I could fit about half the junior class in the back seat and four or five more in the front and often did. I never got another ticket during my high school years. That was as much luck as my stellar observance of the traffic laws. Judge Dad did find other behavior on my part from time to time that resulted in suspension of my driving privileges.

1963 was an active year in our history. It was still the early stages of the Civil Rights movement. Our school was the first in the area to integrate in the fall of 1962. The public schools didn't integrate until a couple of years later when the federal laws required it. 1963 is the year George Wallace became Alabama's governor and said "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!" The Beatles recorded their first album but it would be 1964 before they invaded the US. In 1963 we were listening to Motown and the Beach Boys. We got a great variety of music on AM radio. Check out the Top 100 songs of 1963. It's a pretty eclectic list. We didn't need a Walkman or an iPod. WAPE and WPDQ radio stations provided all the music we needed. Of course I still love that music. Most of us always like the music of our youth. 
WAPE the Mighty 690. The Big Ape.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) was very active in 1963. He was leading marches and protests throughout the South. To be honest I wasn't paying that much attention to all this civil rights stuff. As a sixteen year old I was aware of it but it didn't really affect my very important life. 

James Bond premiered on the big screen in 1963. Sean Connery was a cool guy and Ursula Andress was gorgeous and sexy. I know I've seen the movie but I don't remember if it was in 1963, 1973 or 1983. I do know that I read some Ian Flemming novels around that year. I read a lot back then. I still do. We rarely went to the movies or drive-in back then to actually watch the film. It was a place to gather socially or have a romantic encounter or have a few adult beverages. The Buick was an ideal drive-in theater car. If admission was a flat fee per car I could get a crowd in. Likewise if it was a per person fee there was a huge trunk to hide stowaways. It was also very roomy for double dates. A big bench front seat and plenty of legroom in the backseat.  
Ursula Andress

Medgar Evans was murdered and JFK visited Berlin and delivered the famous Ich bin ein Berliner speech. Again no great blips on my radar but I do remember newscasts.

In August MLK delivered his now famous I Have a Dream speech in Washington D.C. I was aware of it but my guess is that since it was a few days before the 63-64 school year began that I was at the beach getting in the last few days of summer. I had a pretty terrific girlfriend that summer. 

In September 1963 I became a junior in high school. Still not the top dog but getting pretty close. More kids were now below our exalted position in the pecking order than were above us.

In much more important news, the Dodgers won the World Series behind Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. I wasn't a Dodgers fan but they beat the Yankees which pissed off my Dad so it made me happy. That was when the World Series games were played during the day. Somebody always had a radio at school so we could keep up with the games. A few of the teachers would let us listen to the games. Mel Allen and Vin Scully were the TV announcers. Vin still does Dodgers broadcasts.
Sandy Koufax

Then in November the real world came crashing into our insulated and very important sixteen year old lives. During a junior English class we got the news that JFK had been shot. Soon afterwards we heard that he was dead. This was devastating to us. I plan to write a post this November to detail what this meant to me and those around me. Suddenly we were a little more aware of what was going on in the world outside our cliques.
Walter Cronkite announcing JFK's death 

While we were never quite the same or as innocent after the JFK assassination it didn't take too long for self absorbed sixteen year old kids to get back to our real jobs of being professional teenagers and high school students. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. Thankfully we survived and most of my classmates turned out to be OK adults. 

I'm very glad that many of us from those days have kept in touch through various means over the years. It was a good group and I still consider many of my high school (some back to grade school) buddies to be my best friends. You can be away from a true friend for a few days, weeks, months, years or decades. Once reconnected it's just like that conversation one day in the cafeteria or after school in 1963.

Just like most years in our life, 1963 had it's ups and downs. Although some of it is now fuzzy, I'm betting I personally had way more ups than downs. I made good enough grades, except for Latin, to mostly keep my parents off my back about school. I had a driver's license (sometimes), a ton of good friends and a little romance. I had just enough spending money for an occasional date or to buy a burger at the Krystal, a pork sandwich at Bono's, a few beers and cigarettes. I truly enjoyed my youth. 

The changes that have happened in the 50 years since 1963 are amazing. Personally we've grown from teenagers to grandparents. The world has gone from analog to digital. We have gone from indestructible and bullet-proof to very vulnerable. I cherish my life in 1963. I wish I had been more aware of what was going on outside my little circle. That would have been nice, but it wouldn't have been the same youth experience. Apparently I picked up enough social awareness to fully support the civil rights movement a few years later. 

I'm sure there were many other important events in 1963. I was there, but I missed them or forgot them. In 50 years from now, ask today's high school sophomores and juniors what happened. That would be 2063 so text me at my afterlife Twitter account, @BillyEternity.

Youth is a wonderful time and I'm glad I had mine before social media and all the rules and restrictions of today. Thankfully my kids turned out great. I take very little credit for that.

There are probably more adventures of Little Billy to come. Stay tuned to this station for updates. If you were around in 1963 I hope you have fond memories of those times. For those of you who shared my times back then please let me know if I made errors or omissions in my recollections.


No comments:

Post a Comment