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Summer Time in the 60’s

As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

Me on a picnic.

Me on a picnic.

Simpler Times

It seemed we lived in a simpler time in the 1960s. I was just a pre-teen discovering the world and finding it an interesting place. I didn’t yet know what I wanted to be in the future but I was open to exploring possibilities. I had no idea really that we were struggling financially. My mom didn’t work outside the home (she did plenty of work in the home let me tell you). My father worked hard and studied in the evenings to be an electrician and plumber. He did some of the most menial jobs in that field. He would often come home smelling of a sewer having unclogged someone's leech lines or cesspool. His greatest fun was trying to hug me after first coming in and watch my nose curl up.

My siblings and I played outside most of the summer, inventing our own fun worlds. There was always a woodpile beside the garage because my dad was always building and repairing something. My sister and I often would use the broken and warped boards to build a make-shift fort for the day. We would find rusty nails and hammer the boards together using a rock because dad didn’t like us messing with his tools. I can’t begin to guess how many times I stepped on a rusty nail that went through my flip-flops and into my foot. It seemed I got a tetanus shot at least once a summer.

The innocence of childhood is like the innocence of a lot of animals.

— Clint Eastwood

My sister and friend inside our make-shift fort.

My sister and friend inside our make-shift fort.

Swinging on Palm Branches

Next to our home, growing on a few feet from the street, were 5 big date palms. Here in California palm trees are not uncommon. The problem is that they rarely produce any fruit because of the cold winters. But the palms grow big. This one had some long branches that nearly touched the ground. We found that they were strong enough to hold up our weight and even swing on. My nearest sister (in age) and cohort in crime and I would climb onto the swing set hold a palm branch and swing down like Tarzan and actually out over the street. Our street wasn’t very busy but now and then we scared a driver to death by swinging out just above their car hood as they passed. This made them swerve and us squeal with glee. The two of us didn’t much think about the bad example we were setting for the younger siblings or the fact that if we had lost our grip we could have been killed by a passing car. It’s a good thing our parents never caught us. We would have had trouble sitting down for a week, to be sure.

You can see how close the palm branches were to the swing set.

You can see how close the palm branches were to the swing set.

No man knows the value of innocence and integrity but he who has lost them.

— William Godwin

My Vision

It was the summer I turned 13 when my siblings and I were bowling with my Aunt. I asked several times what the time was. I was hoping not to miss a favorite TV show. After the third time, I asked, my aunt became annoyed and asked if I knew how to read a clock. Of course, I could read a clock. She pointed to the clock on the wall at the end of the alley and said I should read it for myself. I told her it was a dumb place for a clock to be mounted since no one could see that far away. I really thought everyone saw the way I did. How could I think anything else? She immediately told my mom, her sister, that I should have my eyes checked. The optometrist said I had astigmatism and was “legally blind” without glasses. Going home with my new glasses, I couldn’t believe that I could see individual leaves on trees and actual blades of grass at my feet. Those glasses were so thick and heavy that I got sores on my nose and behind my ears but I managed to get used to them. Everything changed once I could see.

My first glasses were ghastly cat-eyes.

My first glasses were ghastly cat-eyes.

A Bomb in Birmingham

It was September 1963, when my aunt and uncle visited just after the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young girls about my age were killed going to Sunday School. One of them was named Denise. I couldn’t help think that could be me. I go to Sunday School. My name is Denise. I was too naïve to think about the irrational concept that they were black and I was white. They were girls in church. Then my uncle said it. He laughed and said if he had known about it, he would have contributed dynamite to the cause.

My shock and mortification were so overwhelming that I couldn’t breathe. Suddenly I was glad he wasn’t related by blood but only by marriage. I would HATE to share DNA with a creature such as that. At only 9 years old my world grew to include racism. I was pretty sheltered up to that point. But there are some things you can’t unhear, you can’t unsee, you can’t unknow once known. I never wanted to speak to him again. I felt dirty sharing the same air with him. Fortunately, my parents had a falling out with them and they didn’t visit us again. I felt for their children, my cousins growing up in that environment. I knew that there were monsters in fairy tales, but that day, I found out there were monsters disguised as real people and walking among us. Some even in our own families. I didn’t need glasses to see him for the monster that he was.

“Killing in the name of religion defines someone who is ignorant and actually void of religion. God does not condone terror. To kill innocent people to make a political statement is like shooting a dove to say hunting is wrong.”

— Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Final Thoughts

Did your innocence die the day those four children did, like mine? Were you aware of the civil unrest before that day or were you like I was sheltered and blissfully unaware of the unfair and unwarranted treatment of some American citizens? What are your thoughts on the subject of those days before we knew there were monsters in the world? Please leave me your thoughts in the comments below.

Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 22, 2021:

Devika Primić,

Yes, they have small minds and small hearts. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 20, 2021:

Hi Denise thank you for sharing your experience and the lovely photos. I was born in South Africa and faced racism in a different way. I think people are small-minded who thinkin such ways.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

Misbah,

Thank you, my friend. You said it very well. We have so far to go if we want to overcome the hatred in the hearts of people. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

Lorna Lamon,

You are so right. All I had to worry about in my grammar school was not getting caught chewing gum. Today kids have Covid, drugs, and the threat of gun violence. Those are things I never would have thought of in my wildest nightmares. It makes me wonder if there is any innocence anymore. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

John Hansen,

My dad loved cameras and even got an 8mm movie camera (without sound of course). My childhood was filled with him taking pictures. I wish I could transfer those to DVD or digital film now but it costs more than I can afford at the moment. Someday I will find a way. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

Dora Weithers,

My dear friend, I will never be the same. I guess the hatred was always there but those events turned on the lights and make me aware of the ugliness in some people. As an artist, for a decade after that, I refused to draw people because they were so ugly inside. I drew and painted only animals. Isn't that telling? Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

Pamela Oglesby,

Yes, growing up in California put me in close contact with all sorts of nationalities that I would not have had if we lived in Indiana (my dad's home state). When my sister married a Mexican American, they went to Indiana to visit the grandfolks and charged people 25 cents each to see a real Mexican. They asked him to speak Mexican and he said, "Tortilla." I had to laugh because that's sheltered. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

Peggy Woods,

Yes, and I think being able to see things on TV removed a lot of innocence too. You can't pretend you don't know about it after you have seen it on the news nightly. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 20, 2021:

Rosina S Khan,

They were in the church at Sunday School when the church was bombed. Racism is a horrible thing. We are all family, the human family. Some people just don't know that. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on May 20, 2021:

It's a shame those four kids died on their way to Sunday school. Racism exists globally. We've got to raise the voice and defeat it together. I'm glad you did such a lot of fun activities when you were growing up. Life is very complicated now. Racism is now fractured and has so many new faces that are even crueler like sexism, and ageism.

Your photos are lovely. Thanks for sharing this story, Denise.

Blessings and Love

Lorna Lamon on May 20, 2021:

The innocence of childhood is so fragile and can be easily shattered by an atrocity such as this. Sad to say these atrocities are still part of our lives today and children are being robbed of their innocence by the hatred of racism. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience Denise.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on May 19, 2021:

Thank you for sharing that story Denise, what a terrible way to be introduced to racism, by someone in your own family. Gladly your immediate family fell out with them, but still.

I didn’t hear of this atrocity, but that was before Internet and news from around the world wasn’t so common, especially for a child to hear about. I love that you seem to have a lot of photos from your childhood. I don't have many unfortunately.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on May 19, 2021:

Oh for the days when children played outside without fear of criminal attacks! Bombing a church was unthinkable. Life is so much more complicated now. Thanks for reminding us of the days when life was indeed simpler.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 19, 2021:

I do think it was a simpler time. I don't think my innocence left as abruptly as yours. I grew up in Ohio and I was never around anyone that was not white. It is a little nuts as I look back, as my first experience was not particularly goaded Regardless, I never heard any prejudice words, and I felt no prejudice thank goodness.

I also started wearing glasses in the 7th grad and should have and them sooner. I enjoyed your article as I related to so much of it, Denise. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 19, 2021:

I am also a baby boomer and was pretty innocent and sheltered growing up in the countryside of Wisconsin. The 1960s were an eye-opener for me because of all of the political and social unrest, plus the Vietnam war. Things have never been quite the same.

Rosina S Khan on May 19, 2021:

It's pathetic that those four children died while going to Sunday school. Yes, racism exists all over the world. We have to come forward and defeat it unitedly. I am glad you carried out so many fun activities during your childhood. Very interesting and impressive. Thanks for sharing, Denise.

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