The Loss of Virginity In America: A Moment With Bill Reflection
Do you believe change is necessary for growth?
THE END OF INNOCENCE
For many, it was the end of innocence. It was a time remembered by sensations rather than by any historical events. Top-down T-birds rumbling down the main drag. The mouth-watering taste of cheeseburgers at the A&W. The smell of leaves burning on a fall morning and the sounds of Roy Orbison singing about the lonely.
Ike and Mamie held court in our nation’s capitol, seemingly good but terribly bland people who mirrored perfectly the average neighbor on the average street, from Savannah to San Diego, Baltimore to Sioux Falls to Ashford. Television slowly wrestled control of the nation’s psyche from radio, and sports heroes were larger than life and as sacred as the pope.
The nation’s press protected our leaders in those days, from politics to entertainment. Nary a word was printed about personal scandals, as though one truly could separate the public persona from the private.
Starry-eyed girls left for California to be discovered on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, and soldiers came home to resume the lives they had left behind for foreign lands.
A barbecue on every patio, a new Maytag in every kitchen and the arrival of the Sears catalog more important than the latest national legislation….that was America as the 1950’s came to a close. What threats there were could only be described as nebulous at best. Yes, school children practiced duck and cover in the event of a nuclear attack, but it was never really expected and was generally treated as just so much annoyance. The economy was reasonably sound, families were living the dream and life was all it was supposed to be.
The End of Innocence
OR WAS IT?
One of the more disturbing aspects of termite infestation is that often times the home owner has no idea there is a problem until the entire structure of the home is compromised and major reconstruction is needed.
America, the turn of a new decade, and those damn termites had been busy.
I was twelve years old in 1960 and I had no clue about abuse. It simply was not a subject that was discussed in “proper” homes.
I was twelve years old in 1960 and I know for a fact that PTSD was never heard of then. Returning soldiers were sometimes shell-shocked, as my uncle was, but there was no real remedy for it other than to hike up your pants and “be a man.”
I was twelve years old in 1960 and vaguely aware that somewhere in the United States blacks were treated as less than white, but I had no personal experience with prejudice….simply because I had no personal experience with people of other cultures.
I was twelve years old in 1960 and yes, I knew of prostitution and pornography, but the closest I came to a bare breast was National Geographic.
I was twelve years old in 1960 and I was clueless, not because I did not care, but because the termites were oh so sneaky as they ate away the foundation of the United States. If left unnoticed all hell will break loose eventually, and so it was in the United States in 1960.
LOOKING BACK WITH ROSE-COLORED GLASSES
I have written often about the idyllic childhood I had, and the wonders I encountered as a child of the 60’s, and all that I wrote is true by my recollections…..but…..there was another side of that childhood that would surface with the peacefulness of a 2x4 to the side of the head. It was a side of life that was hidden from view until it grew to such proportions that it could no longer be confined to the closet.
Of course I speak about the societal ills of this country, ills that had been suppressed and swept under the rug while Ike and Mamie roamed the Rose Garden and Madison Avenue filled our heads with an “attainable” dream life.
Sex trafficking was alive and well in 1960. Drugs were alive and well in 1960. Men abused their wives and children in 1960, and women did the same. The income and opportunity gap between white and “coloreds” was reaching terminal mass, and our determination to keep an eye on those pesky Communists had us advising in a country few had heard of, namely Vietnam.
Soldiers, ten to fifteen years removed from Omaha Beach, Manilla and Seoul, were finding it increasingly difficult to forget the severed limbs, and night sweats kept their eyes peeled open in the middle of the wide-awake nightmares.
Words like nigger, chink and spic were common vernacular from sea to shining sea, and Pleasant Valley Sundays were not being lived in Detroit, Birmingham or Watts.
To put it another way….Billy Crystal was twelve in 1960 and so was Ted Bundy.
AND THEN ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE
At the end of the last ice age, approximately 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, the Great Missoula Floods occurred. There were periodic and sudden ruptures in the ice dam on the Clark Fork River in what is now Montana, and Glacier Lake Missoula broke through and rushed down the Clark Fork River and the Columbia River, devastating everything in its path.
Metaphorically speaking, that is what happened to the United States, and to a lesser degree the other industrialized nations, as the 1960’s unfolded.
Pressure had been building for far too long, and eventually the dam broke and what were once hidden problems were in our faces and shoved down our throats in a jarring and seemingly never-ending dose of reality.
Suddenly we realized that people of “color” had valid complaints and by God we were going to pay attention and do something about it or we would all fall.
Suddenly the wisdom of our political leaders was called into question, and for possibly the first time since 1787, a majority of Americans talked about revolution.
Suddenly we had to admit that the elders and power figures we respected so greatly were, after all was said and done, only human, with defects just like those that we carried with us to bed each night.
Suddenly we were forced to face the terrifying truth that we were not, as a nation, perfect, and perhaps the crown we wore as leaders of the free world might be a bit tarnished.
The termites could no longer be ignored.
A NOSTALGIA FOR INNOCENCE
I suspect, and that’s all the following is, that part of the reason why the 60’s were so tumultuous was because so many people felt cheated. They had been handed an illusionary bill of goods only to find out it was all smoke and mirrors.
It would have been one thing to just find out our political leaders had deceived us, for truthfully I believe most citizens expect a certain amount of deceit from Washington D.C. It was quite another thing to find out that our own families had been deceiving from birth. The hypocrisy that could be found on the streets of Charles City, Iowa and Idaho Falls, Idaho, was every bit as great as that found on Pennsylvania Avenue, and that hurt Americans to the very core of their being.
In 1960, little boys and little girls went to church on Sundays and heard of the brotherhood of man, and learned to love thy neighbor in Sunday schools, only to find out that their parents, grandparents and other extended family members did not live by those same rules. It…was…all…a…farce!
So tear it down, baby. The foundation is rotted and we need better construction techniques if it is to survive another 184 years. We need to get rid of the termites no matter the cost, and if that means burning the house to burn the termites then so be it.
And so it was, and so it is today.
Not so wide-eyed innocent today, are we? We have seen the enemy and the enemy was us. We have seen the dark side and it was in our own homes, and slowly….ever so slowly…we are chasing away those nightmares and building a better nation.
The waters eventually receded from the Great Missoula Flood, leaving a landscape that today is battle-scarred and yet lovely in its bleak nature. As one travels through eastern Washington you can see the undulating ground where huge waves once flowed at over sixty miles per hour, and you can see the huge gorge carved out by an unstoppable force.
We are still dealing today with a similar unstoppable force….that of change….and it will continue unabated wherever innocence is shattered and reality proves to be too ugly to bear.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”