In this first article of the new year I should probably be making predictions and projections – or at least a couple of resolutions. However, last week my sister mentioned a program celebrating the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I wondered how Snoopy could be a half-century old before remembering that Charles Schulz and the Peanuts gang were all the rage during my college years, in those “happiness is a warm puppy” days.
My curiosity piqued, I decided to research what might be celebrating golden anniversaries in 2016. My reactions to the results of that Google search ranged from surprise that some things are only 50 years old to surprise that other things are already 50 years old.
In 1966 fans of animated holiday classics enjoyed for the first time a televised Dr. Seuss character in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The long-running Star Trek series debuted on NBC, as it became the first major network to broadcast its entire schedule in color – peacock and all. Bonanza was the year’s most popular series; despite Little Joe’s cuteness, I rarely watched the show. The theme song alone always sent my nerves into overdrive: that music at 9 o’clock on Sunday night meant I had very little time to finish – or start – my homework.
Throughout the 60’s Walter Cronkite reported on the steady US troop buildup in Vietnam as well as summertime racial unrest, including the 1966 Hough riots in Cleveland. Governmental news 50 years ago also carried reports of new rules and rulings that are part and parcel of life today.
Every policeman on every crime show informs suspects taken into custody of their Miranda rights. In 1966 the Supreme Court handed down a ruling, in the case of Ernesto Miranda versus Arizona, that confirmed Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and established the Miranda warning.
That year the government also enacted the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act and the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. The former required that ingredients be listed on food labels; the latter required the “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health” warning on cigarette packs. Because these regulations continue to evolve, those first laws seem somehow more recent than 50 years ago.
For Boomers of the 65-plus set it is important that signups for Medicare began 50 years ago. Although Harry Truman pushed hard for a national health insurance fund and JFK also had a go at it, the program became law under Lyndon Johnson. Congress also enacted the Uniform Time Act to establish Daylight Savings Time across the country.
As the Beatles toured our country for the last time, Americans were paying 32 cents a gallon to gas up cars that on average cost $2,650 to buy new. And in 1966 the average annual income was almost $7,000.
Some of that income was spent on a new product: Pampers. In my family there were always cloth diapers hanging somewhere to dry. However, a chemical engineer who disliked changing his grandchildren’s diapers created a disposal alternative – using those same grandchildren as test subjects.
Fifty years ago drivers listened to music on factory-installed eight-track tape players and drove to McDonald’s, where frozen French fries were introduced to ensure flavor uniformity.
At home kids used the new Spirograph to create elaborate designs that now resemble pages from the adult coloring books currently so popular. Or people played “the game that ties you up in knots,” eventually known as Twister. The obscure party game, considered by some stores too sexy to sell, finally rose in popularity after Johnny Carson and Zsa Zsa Gabor played it on The Tonight Show; and it has been around ever since.
And I never knew that in 1966 Time Magazine named us, the Baby Boomer Generation, as Man of the Year. The actual designation was “Twenty-five and Under.”
However, the Boomers celebrating the most this year are probably members of the Class of 1966. High school and college students who graduated 50 years ago will gather with fellow alums to share news of careers and families and retirement as well as to mourn the passing of long-ago classmates. The Class of 1966 will reminisce about prom, parties, and Friday night football games while recalling funny moments and life-changing experiences from the other side of their lives.
One of my fond and enduring memories as a member of the GHS Class of 1966 occurred after graduation – at the county fair, in fact. A bunch of us, through no prearrangement or design, met on the midway; along with kids from ’65, we moved from games to rides and back again. It was a heady time, as we attracted the attention of other fairgoers.
To end that summer evening, we took over the merry-go-round for one last ride. There we were, too old to be kids but too young to be adults, “prancing” up and down on make-believe horses to make-believe calliope music. It was a magical conclusion to the summer, but also to those final few days before we owed any real responsibility to anyone or anything.
I cannot explain the importance or significance of 50 years. Perhaps we celebrate this round number because it stands as a common milepost along life’s journey. Maybe we need to a focal point from which to count forward. Whatever the case, I wish you all wonderful counting in 2016.