Freshman year…times were changin’

I had just turned eighteen that summer, and I my idealism was still rather lofty. I had plans to take it all with me when I started at Kent State in a few weeks. And, of course, it was at Kent that I would once again witness turmoil and violence during the next few years up close and personal all too often. And my earlier idealism would take off in a much different direction during that time.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the time my family and a good friend, who was in for a visit, were caught up in the violent demonstrations/riots of the 1968 Democrat Convention in downtown Chicago. At that moment in time, I was about to begin the next stage of my lifeUnknown.jpeg that coming fall at Kent State University. What I didn’t realize then, however, was just how much of a “preview” of things to come for me during the next few years at KSU the accidental experience in downtown Chicago that August night would be.

Call it culture shock or a new awareness of the way the world had become, that period of my life was disturbing, to say the least. To put it bluntly, I didn’t care at all for the nasty tone and constant mayhem that had become the norm in our world in the late 60s.

I was a law-abiding white kid, with conservative upbringing and values, being forced to choose between respecting authority or taking it to the streets and shouting obscene slogans and fomenting any kinds of anarchy that would tear the system down! Couldn’t do it.

It was everywhere, this “counter culture,” and no more evident than in in the music of the day, which seemed to be all about “drugs, sex, rock and roll…if it feels good, do it!…kill your parents…down with pigs…pigs off campus…start the Revolution!” Anything that would tear down respect for authority was the all-encompassing theme.

I trekked off to Kent, Ohio, that first fall, believing I could eventually earn a degree and be a worthwhile, contributing citizen of this great country of ours–eventually–despite being surrounded by negativity and a different kind of direction in which our country was going.

Of course, for me there were many bends in the road that freshman year. Trying to survive some of the courses in which I had very little interest and figuring out how to curtail the social life that could swallow me up if I wasn’t careful, were prime examples of those “bends.”

Other than the usual distractions and normal challenges, there were also numerous social issues that had found their way onto campus that fall, which seemed to echo the unpleasant tone of the Chicago riots. In November, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which had organized as a campus group the previous spring, and Black United Students (BUS), held a sit-in for several hours to protest police recruiters on campus.

The next spring (1969) SDS began efforts to get rid of ROTC, law-enforcement degree programs, and to have the Liquid Crystals Institute (funded by Defense Department) removed from campus. And all of this was met with contentious feelings and often violent pushback by the protestors, clashing with the police at the administration building. Soon after, the SDS took over the Music and Speech Building (where several of my classes were) and fist fights among demonstrators and counter-demonstrators occurred. Several arrests followed. After this incident, Kent State banned SDS.

But the stage had now been set for more of this kind of upheaval on an otherwise beautiful and glorious peaceful campus. My previous expectations of what my college life would be about had taken a wild ride that first year, and I couldn’t know then how much wilder it was to become in the years to follow.

Summer Jobs, Summer Memories

For some reason, while I was enjoying my morning coffee on the porch and watching the lake begin to come to life the other day, I flashed back to all of the summer jobs I’d had down through the years and tried to categorize them within the correct time frame of my life. They were critical points in my summers (1968-1972) after high school and through my Kent State years, and I found it rather enjoyable taking a nostalgic memory trip back to the experiences, people, and places provided each summer. Today’s post will focus on that wonderful summer of 1968, when I was just eighteen, and the world was my oyster (whatever that really means!).

After graduating from high school in Ohio in June of 1968, I moved to Chicago where my dad had been working at Hunt-Wesson Foods for a couple of years. Mom and my younger sister would come along later in the summer once we found a place to live. As would be the case for the next few summers, my dad was able to land me a job at “the plant” where he worked.

My initial job that summer was in the Quality Control lab where I was surrounded by all kinds of scientific instruments and other gadgets and doo-dads that I had nothing to do with, other than to wash the zillions of test tubes, beakers, and various other lab paraphernalia. I spent many an hour standing at the sink and steam table/washer and basking in the humidity of it all! All I can say is the pay was good and the work was not back-breaking.

As luck would have it, my “career” as Bottle Washer was short lived. A week or so into my “washer” job, an opening down in the Shipping Department had cropped up, and I jumped at the chance to make the change, even though I knew nothing about shipping, receiving, bills of lading, or other such things. But I would learn as that summer played out. I moved down into the bowels of “the plant,” and hooked up with a kindly old gent named John White. He was new to the job himself, so it was a case of each of us figuring things out as we went. He and I got along well, despite our vast age difference. We didn’t screw up too many times, and it was a fun job for the rest of that first summer in Chicago.

Interesting characters came and went—truckers mostly—and I will never forget much of the colorful language they’d throw about as they made a pick-up or delivery. Many enjoyed teasing me and calling me “College Boy” and giving me a rough time because I liked the Sox instead of the Cubs. They were good guys, and I wonder how many of them are still alive today. Despite the fact that my formal college education would begin in September, the stuff I gleaned that summer was just as important, I realize now in retrospect.

For anyone who is old enough surely remembers what a chaotic summer 1968 was. Beginning with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy shortly before I moved to Chicago, the turmoil was constant. The Viet Nam “conflict” was raging and escalating and becoming more and more unpopular every day. There appeared to be no easy way out.  President Lyndon Johnson and the other politicians managed to mangle things at every turn.

Summer ’68 in Chicago was also the venue for the Democratic National Convention, the one that has come down through time as the one where the cops are battling the long-hairs and “anarchists” out there in Grant Park and its streets and avenues. It’s the one where the protests and “anti-everything” America took form, the same theme I’d hear time and again while a student at Kent State. It’s the one that would offer up Hubert Humphrey, a good man, to run against Richard Nixon in November. We know how that all turned out!

I still remember feeling so far from home, a stranger in a strange place, and fighting, daily, that gnawing homesickness and heart-broken misery as I yearned for the love of my life back in Ohio. I couldn’t wait for Friday afternoons to roll around, so I could get in the car and on the highway that would take me out of Chicago, across Indiana, and back to Ohio.

The soundtrack of that summer was highlighted by Stoned Soul Picnic, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Grazing in the Grass, and José Feliciano’s Light My Fire among many others. And Journey to the Center of the Mind by Ted Nugent’s Amboy Dukes still echoes around in the old memory vault, recalling those many late-night drives in our Corvair back to Ohio.

It’s not always easy trying to remember things that occurred so very long ago. But, then again, there are places and moments that are vivid and real and fresh all over again. It’s good to think and remember and realize just how important the summers of my life have always been and the role they have played in my life and of those whom I love.

Summer ’68 was a starting point for the rest of my life. At the time, I never realized the twisting and winding course my life would take. Next…summer of 1969CortlandWriter