In early summer, the week after Hurricane Agnes devastated Wilkes Barre and Nanticoke, Pennsylvania where we had relatives, our family headed out for the first time since the hurricane hit. We set off to the BookMobile, a library-on-wheels near our Maryland home.
The route from our house to the drug store where the BookMobile parked each week included a bridge over the local reservoir and a concrete railroad underpass. With both fascination and fear we crossed the reservoir. I had never seen the water in the reservoir so high. The whole surreal scene gave me the sense we were literally driving on top of the water in our Volkswagen rather than a bridge surface, much as Jesus walked on water.
I tried hard not to be overcome by my fear, though the real danger had already passed. We continued on our way under the railroad tracks noting the obvious discernible line of debris overhead. It was still matted to it, marking the level where the water had risen at the height of the flooding. Even with that evidence it was difficult to imagine so much water.
Around that time, I went to a weekend summer camp where it rained the entire time. The accommodations were cabins and we slept with our sleeping bags on the floor. The cabins flooded during the hurricane; the ground saturated so much that the smell inside them was barely tolerable.
To this day I recall the overwhelming smell of the sodden wooden floors, still so damp and musty that they left the taste of mold on my tongue. Camping since has never been my first choice. I was overjoyed to be in my own dry home afterwards.
In late August of that same summer, I spent much time riveted to the broadcast of the Olympics that were held in Munich, Germany. In our house, watching the Olympics was a big deal, especially in 1972.
Our family cheered for American swimmer Mark Spitz as he won a record seven gold medals and set as many world records in the process. After each win, we’d be sure he couldn’t possibly win another. “Who could do that?” we thought. Event after event, we’d watch as he’d touch the final pool wall, solidifying one medal after another.
In the spirit of Olympic sportsmanship, we also cheered Olga Korbut, a young Russian gymnast whose talent was extraordinary to behold as was her comeback from an individual mistake. Watching Olga made the girls in my neighborhood turn cartwheels, and do back bends and back handsprings in our yards until we all, untrained, had sprained ankles, backaches and bruises to show for it.
Much to our horror, we learned from American sports broadcaster Jim McKay, that Palestinian terrorists had infiltrated the Olympic compound, ultimately killing 11 Israeli athletes and one police officer. The television news repeatedly played the footage of the terrorists disguised in ski masks, on the upper floor of the athlete dorms, looking out to the area below. The International Olympics Committee ordered the resumption of games after a 34 hour pause, and the games closed on September 11, 1972.
‘72 was also the year of the first commercially successful in-home video game PONG by Atari. A video version of table tennis, it was fascinating and addictive as it was simple, but I only ever played it if I happened upon a friend who owned one.
We never owned any video game consoles because we were the last generation of children forced to use our imagination to play and encouraged to “go outside and do something.” (See slip-n-slide post.)
“Something” wasn’t always safe by today’s CPSC standards and never included helmets or any other protective gear. We learned planning; like waiting for the construction workers to leave the job site for the day…and problem solving, like how to extract nails from the sand pile in the basement of the home under construction at said job site. This, so we could jump through the future staircase hole from atop the second floor and land safely in said sand pile. It would only take one kid to land on one nail one time to help us establish a sure-fire way to avoid it happening in the future.
By a kid’s standards, 1972 ended in relative calm depicted by the relaxed feeling of The Eagles Glenn Frey singing Peaceful Easy Feeling on the radio.