3 -1963/1964 Small Town GA Happenings
On January 22, 1964 I wrote in my diary, “Today President Kennedy has been dead for two months.”
But first, let’s back up a bit.
January of 1964 unfolded with a series of ordinary events in the life of an 11 year old. In south Georgia, an ice storm had paralyzed our little town for several days. The crystalized frost created an ice cream like world. School started back after the holidays. My family dropped my 14 yr old brother back at Gordon Military School. My sixth grade year continued and I felt like an only child, since my brother was away from home that school year.
I filled my month with many activities. The Girl’s Auxiliary (GAs), a small youth group from the Baptist Church, was a favorite spot for me to meet friends for fellowship of eating, singing, and Bible study. The adult sponsor Ms Pattie could tear up a piano. She was a regular entertainer around our county when it came to improvised music and spontaneous gaiety. She played “by ear” and reminded me of Joanne Castle from the Lawrence Welk show. My piano teacher on the other hand who I saw twice a week was talented beyond measure, but had an occasional irresponsible moment of not showing up for the lesson.
Coming from a very small town, my parents found it fairly routine to drive to neighboring larger towns for entertainment or shopping. Weekend trips of 30–35 miles were standard fare. I remember weekend movies at the Bradley theatre and Sunday dinner (mind you, ‘dinner’’ was lunchtime, as opposed to supper) at the S & S cafeteria.
The fish camp just up the road in Omaha (even smaller in population than my hometown) was a favorite Friday night eatery. A local Omaha family ran the business. A great restaurant to meet family and friends! The catfish in that little cafe was to die for. The coleslaw, scrumptious beyond description.
I took a sewing class that winter. Several girls in my age group became interested in developing our seamstress abilities and one of the mothers hosted a once a week sewing class. We cut out our targeted garment from store bought patterns and learned painstakingly step by step the process of creating a wearable clothing item! I remember my dad buying a new Singer sewing machine for the family as added incentive for me to hone my sewing skills. I hesitantly admit I never became a seasoned seamstress.
A couple of my mis-adventures that month: chewing gum in school and creating a special secret language with my best friend which had all kinds of slang and beatnik sounding phrases: “Yeah man Yeah. Get the message, stop squawking, call Awkin.” Such fun, but such silliness. Not to an eleven year old.
The Barbie doll had hit the scene a couple of years earlier and I along with all my female friends had a Barbie doll. A favorite pastime activity for us girls was to get together and “Play Barbies.” That easily engaged us for entire weekend afternoons.
My dad was always on the cutting edge with electronics back in the day. Since 1961, he had had an audio recorder, reel to reel made by a German company, Grundig. He had a hobby of recording local events, such as high school graduations or piano recitals or sometimes programs from the TV. He actually audio-recorded the four days in November 1963 of just after Kennedy’s assassination and through funeral procession and his eventual being laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery with the eternal flame. Dad had a couple of buddy enthusiasts in town. They would invite each other to one anothers’ homes and would record music and experiment with sound recording technologies of the day. We also made small reel to reel communication tapes to my oldest brother who was stationed in Germany from 1960–1963.
My life that January of 1964 in small town Georgia unfolded without a lot of fanfare. Cheerleading for the junior high basketball games was a big highlight in the life of an eleven year old. Our uniforms were black corduroy with a vest, white long sleeve shirt, knee length skirt that would twirl full width and little black pantaloons with tassels.
My mom had a January birthday and turned 50 years old.
January 4, 1964 Auburn University admitted the first African American student.
As a child, I had President Kennedy in my consciousness as being the first president of whom I had clear memories.
Eisenhower had just been elected when I was born, but the election of 1960 when I was just eight years old marked my first cognizant moments of awareness of the US presidency. I was too young to process that JFK was a very young man in comparison to others who had held the office.
I remember visiting Washington. D.C. the summer of 1963 while he was in office. We visited in July. Later in August 1963 Washington captured the world spotlight as Martin Luther King, Jr. rallied a “March on Washington.” The Civil Rights movement was igniting and that young African American man from Georgia was leading the cause.
I was awe stricken with my first visit to Washington D.C. The amazing architecture of the monuments to some of our presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and the majesty of the US capitol building. I remember my uncle who worked in the capitol building taking us on a tour and showing us his office in the capitol. The Iwo Jima memorial was a drive-by on the way to my brother’s apartment over in Arlington, VA. Those bronzed soldiers raising the flag — simply breathtakingly stunning.
We visited Mount Vernon, the home of our first president, while we were in the area. My parents and I walked the grounds and toured the home. I began cultivating my lifelong interest in current events and politics that summer.
Back earlier in this school year, on November 22, 1963, my classmates and I were outside for recess, playing on the softball field and I remember my sixth grade teacher coming to the back door of the school building to call us to come in earlier than we would have. As we were running toward the building, the message was racing through the air that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas TX.
The fog of disbelief was heavy.
Everyone was in shock. A few minutes later the TV and radio news broadcasts announced his death.
After having been a university professor, Lt. Colonel after 20 years in the US Air Force, and avid traveler, I'm finally fulfilling my dream of writing. This is my perspective looking back on my life growing up in a small town in southern Georgia.
Thank you for reading my story. - Donna
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