It was a different time; volatile, exciting, new. The year was 1960 and it was the first actual year I can lay claim to. That’s not to say that I don’t remember anything about my first 6 and a half years of life because I do. It’s just that in 1960, I guess I began to notice things more, or at least differently. Maybe I was already developing some kind of pre-adolescent, pre-cub scout maturity or something. Or maybe, almost 50 years later, it’s just the time stamp that starts my consciousness and generation. Whatever the reason, 1960 was a beginning for a lot of things, not just this narrative.
Our country was in the midst of electing John Fitzgerald Kennedy as it’s 35th president. Kennedy had young children, a beautiful wife and a charismatic way that would energize much of this country. He looked and acted differently from the stodgy, complacent regime that preceded him and his version of Camelot was soon to be unveiled for all of America and the world. There was a developing space program that was exciting and would eventually lead us to the moon and beyond and we were kept up to date on those developments every night by Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Diversions like drive-in movies, hula hoops, Slip -N-Slides, and transistor radios were important to kids like me and my brothers. We didn’t know much about the Cold War but it was happening and we heard about new places like the Soviet Union, East Germany and Cuba a lot. Dynamic and influential personalities were developing and would later play significant roles not only in the 1960’s but in the history that would forever follow that decade. I didn’t know much about the things that had come before that time, but I had a feeling that I was getting on a pretty exciting ride.
I was six years old in 1960 and living with my parents and two brothers in Jamestown, New York, a small town of about 145,000 people located in New York state’s most southwest corner. I was in first and second grade that year and most of my interests involved the New York Yankees, Mickey Mantle, Lassie, Bat Masterson, Cub Scouts and getting attention from my parents. My dad was 33 and a salesman for Sun Oil Company (Sunoco). Today my mom would be called a “stay at home mom” but in the pre-women’s liberation movement of the 60’s, she was a “housewife.” Same thing, different name. She stayed at home with her three sons while my dad took care of business and the paychecks. It’s hard to think of my mother as a 24 year old, but in 1960 that’s exactly what she was. My brothers Tim and Jim were, and continue to be, three and four years younger than me. So in 1960 they were 3 and 2 years old and not much good to me as playmates.
We had moved to Jamestown from Bradford, PA a year earlier. We rented a house instead of buying one because my dad was pretty sure he was going to get a promotion soon enough and would have to transfer out of town anyway. I had already transferred a few times already in my short 6 and a half years of life having left my birthplace of Martins Ferry, OH in favor of the excitement and thrills of Erie and Bradford, PA before finally settling in Jamestown. And settled I was. I had my own neighborhood complete with trees and hiding places and friends like Donnie (Hort) Norton, the Pembridges, Donny Nelson and the Seekins girls, Mary and Julie. I was in Cub Scouts with my own mom as Den Mother and I was the catcher on the Fluvanna pre-Little League baseball team. There was a nice slope to our backyard which was perfect for our Slip-N-Slide and a yard across the street we used to play baseball in. My grade school was just up the street and a bus came to pick me up every day. My teachers liked me, I was smart and didn’t get into much trouble. I do recall trying to cheat my dad when playing the card game “War” and hiding my peas under my dinner plate and that one Christmas when Dad caught me with his 8mm movie camera pouting and acting spoiled. I probably took advantage of my younger brothers along the way but for the most part I think I had my parents pretty impressed. I was the first born child and grandchild and not only recognized early on the benefits of that distinct honor but also how to use it to my advantage.
Probably the most rebellious I remember being was on October 13th of that year when the Yankees lost the World Series to those terrible Pittsburgh Pirates on a crazy walk off homer by Bill Mazeroski in the 9th inning of game 7. Back then, the World Series was actually played during the day, even on weekdays. I hurried off the bus and ran down our street to catch whatever was left of the game. The Yankees were my team and I had never known them to be anything but champions. As the game crept toward it’s dramatic conclusion with the Pirates taking a 2 run lead in the eigth only to have the Yankees tie it in the top of the ninth, I was as nervous as I had ever been. I threatened right then and there, “If the Yankees lose, I’m going to go upstairs and rip up all my Yankee baseball cards.” My dad was there with me when I said it and he was there with me a few minutes later when Mazeroski took Ralph Terry’s one and oh pitch over Yogi Berra and the left field wall to win the game and the series. I was devasted. At that young age, it was the first time I had experienced such disappointment. So what did I do? I marched right up those stairs to my bedroom, took out my box of baseball cards, found the Yankees section, and cried. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t rip up those cards of my heroes. It took a while, several days probably, before I got myself back to normal. I felt better the next year when my Yankees beat the Reds in five games to regain their baseball dominance.
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been able to recover so quickly if not for the help and guidance of my very best friend of all time at the time, Hort Norton. Hort’s real name was Donnie and I never knew why we called him Hort, we just did. Anyway, Hort was a year older than me and I pretty much idolized that kid. He was a good baseball player and a good bike rider and I learned a lot about both of those things from him. We used to play catch for what seemed like hours and talk about the Yankees games or players on different teams. Hort always wore black high top sneakers, probably Keds or PF Flyers from the Sears catalog, so I did, too. And he always rolled up his right pant leg when he was riding his bike so it wouldn’t get caught in the chain. Hort was the first one to show me how to use clothespins and baseball cards to clip to your bike so the cards would make noises against the spokes. Pretty cool trick which would serve me well about 5 years later with some girls from a different neighborhood. More about that later.
Hort seemed to know everything about sports and his dad was a coach and a referee. I remember watching a football game on TV at their house one Sunday. It was in black and white and was probably the Giants against the Lions or something like that with about two TV cameras covering the game. On one play Hort’s dad said “holding” while the play was still happening and before the ref threw his flag. Then the television announcer, probably Ray Allen I think, interpreted the game referees signal and said “That’s a holding call against the Giants.” I thought to myself, “Wow, Mr. Norton. How did you know that?” Talk about being impressed. I guess some of that stuff rubbed off on Hort because I was pretty impressed with what he knew, too. But one day he taught me something that I wished he hadn’t.
I was in second grade by then and we were at the bus stop waiting to get picked up for school. For no apparent reason, he said, “You know it’s your parents, don’t you?” I had no idea what he was talking about. “What about my parents?” I asked. “Well, it’s them, Stupid. They do all that stuff. You don’t really think some fat guy named Santa Claus comes down a chimney, do you?” I wanted to run home right then but couldn’t because the bus was on the horizon. So I lived with that accusation from Hort all day and finally asked my Mom about it when I got home. And we all know, try as she did, she couldn’t fix it for me and make the hurt better. So that was a tough day in a life and coming so close to that Mazeroski home run that I was still struggling with, I had suffered two major setbacks within a few months of each other. I don’t think I ever forgave Hort for breaking the news and I honestly don’t recall being as close to him after that.
more to come ….