The “Uh Huh” Moment of ‘69

With the Presidential election over and Nixon in the White House, for our class of bright-eyed, second grade southerners, space travel and rockets had begun to capture our imagination.

So much of American culture focused on the heavens. We studied the solar system in school and made our mandatory science projects of the planets revolving around our sun which, by the way, included Pluto. (I’m generally adaptable to change, but I refuse to give up Pluto as a planet. It’s been a planet for most of my life and I’m keeping it.) The boys in my class in particular, were obsessed with Uranus.

We dreamed, collectively of what it might be like to travel into space, weightless. It seemed as though the futuristic idea of living on a space station was possible. Lunar wallpaper adorned my siblings’ bedroom walls; a red, white and blue affair with a repeating pattern of the moon and rockets. My ceiling had glow-in-the-dark stars which I watched at night as I fell asleep.

Television’s nightly news gave us one of our first sound bites…”The Space Race,” which would be forever etched in our minds. “An astronaut,” quickly replaced “fireman”, “policeman” or “cowboy” as the top choice for what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up for the neighborhood boys. And so it was that one evening in July 1969, I was allowed to stay up late to watch the astronauts walk on the moon.

In those pre-cable days for TV reception, we relied on rabbit ears. These served only to relieve some of the black and white graininess of the images on our tiny television. I futilely struggled to stay awake until finally, my parents aroused me from my sleep, face imprinted with the upholstery pattern from the couch and drooling, to see Neil Armstrong step onto the moon.

To me, this defining moment in history was an anti-climactic interlude to a peaceful night’s sleep. I managed an, “Uh huh,” before falling asleep again. My bedtime went back to normal after that, but the moment allowed me to dream bigger.

For Christmas that year I got a lunar module model to build, which I did with some frustration and without getting completely high on the glue fumes.

Then what happened?


Ken Issues – Christmas 1968

I admit it.  I’ve had unresolved Ken issues dating at least as far back as Christmas of 1968. As promised in my earlier post about popular toys of 1961, I am following up.

I owned Barbie and her “modern cousin” whatever-that-means, Francie.  I had a case suitable to hold Barbie in the narrow reserved spot just her size, and the Barbie paraphernalia in the larger section. The case had a plastic handle and metal clasp. I usually shoved Francie in there amongst the clothing.

Ken, who I have recently learned actually has the last name “Carson”, is Barbie’s boyfriend. I did not have Ken.  But in order to truly pretend that Barbie had the lifestyle and all of the things that she deserved, she needed Ken.

After all, Ken was going to pick her up in the Barbie car, which I also did not have—to take her on their exciting dates. Shirtless, he’d accompany Barbie, with his buff abs, wearing his spiffy Bermuda swim trunks and sunglasses to the beach parties they’d attend. Clearly, Barbie’s friends would be envious. Most importantly, someday Barbie and Ken would marry and Francie could be the Maid of Honor.

As Christmas approached in early December of 1968, like many American children, I wrote my wish list in a letter to Santa Claus. My list consisted of one item: the Ken doll.

I got the notion that if I mailed the letter early, Santa would be sure to have the elves hard at work and my Ken doll would be wrapped and packed in the sleigh long before other kids placed their orders. Also, if I only asked for one thing, it made his job easier; no decision-making required.

I found an envelope, appropriated a stamp from the supply we had, and managed to mail the letter in a sidewalk mailbox. I didn’t think of details like a return address. No need. I’m sure I didn’t sign it with my last name. He knew me well enough by then, I was sure. Plus, that was a lot more writing.

It’s important to point out at this juncture that I did all of this without my parent’s knowledge. As the oldest child, I was doing my best to act more grown up and take some personal responsibility for my own destiny.

Christmas came and guess what I got?

No idea.  I cannot recall.

Guess what I didn’t get?


I was really upset. I asked for ONE thing! It wasn’t a pony or an in-ground swimming pool or a mansion or anything. Geez !

Well, I never got a Ken doll in the years that followed, but then I never asked again either. I was the kind of kid with a ‘tude about things like that. I had this self-defeating internal conversation that went something like this:

“So, I didn’t get a Ken doll.  Fine! I’m not asking for anything I really want EVER again because I’ll just be disappointed. Barbie can just become an old maid and she’ll live with Francie and they’ll be a couple of old spinsters without dates.”

There is a bright spot to this childhood trauma. I was finally able to move on and put the whole sordid episode behind me in 1995. More on that when I get there.

Then what happened?

1967 and the Smothers Brothers

Did you watch the Smothers Brothers?  The show premiered in 1967.  I remember they made me laugh.  Though Tom and Dick parodied other variety shows with their folk-singing style, it was their witty banter about the hippie lifestyle of sex and drugs that had the censors coming unglued.

By today’s standards, they were tame.  I was six, so I didn’t much care about censors.  I just liked their irreverent attitude and the way they picked on each other.

What I do remember more than the TV from that time is the music.

I was especially fond of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,”  even though life in suburban Philadelphia wasn’t exactly seaside.  Plus, my idea of wastin’ time was relegated to Saturday morning trips to Sears Hardware to look for anything “manly” that my Dad needed for those inevitable household repairs.

Then what happened?


The Hill of Life

I think many people view life as though it’s the single tallest hill of a roller coaster. First you chug along to the top and once you reach the pinnacle or middle-age, you careen down the other side at an exponentially increasing speed, until ultimately…you get the picture.

I think of life as a train track; one with off-shoots sprouting in every direction. Some of those sprouts are open-ended and you wind up sailing right off of them and into the drink, while others are wondrous paths with bends and forks and an occasional bump. Still others leave you feeling nauseous; others thrilled.

The peaks represent high points. Some people checkout while right at the top, while others slip away somewhere in-between or at their lowest. Some of us are saved at the last second from “certain death,” while others are not so lucky.

Though I dislike amusement park rides, I’d rather be on life’s roller coaster and take my chances about when or where it will all be over, and experience whatever I can rather than to sit on the sidelines wishing I’d tried.

I once saw an interview of a woman on the occasion of her 100th birthday. The news reporter asked her, “If you had your life to do all over again, what would you have done differently?”

She paused for a pregnant moment—long enough that it left the viewer and the reporter wondering whether she even grasped the question. She took a breath, leaned into the microphone and replied, “I would have tried more flavors of ice cream.” She was serious about the ice cream, but she stunned me with her metaphorical wisdom. Carpe diem.