Out of Oklahoma
I was born in January of 1967, two days after the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles, and I was named after the Starr player. However, I was not born in California. A couple weeks later, in New Orleans, the first Endymion parade rolled. However, I was not born in Louisiana. I was born in Oklahoma. I was baptized in a church in Tulsa at the age of twelve days.
War was raging in Vietnam, but I knew nothing of that. There were over a hundred and fifty race riots across the United States that summer. And they called it the Summer of Love.
In the midst of all this, my parents moved from Tulsa to Norman, Oklahoma, so my father could enroll in grad school at the University of Oklahoma. He wasn’t worried about getting drafted. He’d already served in the peacetime army in Germany. In fact, he was able to attend college full-time because of the G.I. Bill.
Around the time of my first birthday, the Tet Offensive began. Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted on television; I would watch many episodes as I grew up. There was a general uprising in Paris in May of ’68, about the time my father finished his degree.
That summer, we moved to a suburb on the south side of Indianapolis. My father had gotten a job at a major pharmaceutical company headquartered there.
Cops beat protestors at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and Nixon was elected president.
Humans were venturing into space, and we landed on the moon when I was two. We gained a new perspective on the Earth, one which we are still struggling to assimilate.
My earliest memories are little fragments starting from age three. I remember my father sneaking a smoke on the side of the house. I remember going to court to finalize my sister’s adoption. I remember visiting my grandparents in Chicago for Easter when I was four, finding an egg hidden in a shoe.
My father’s job involved traveling around the world. A postcard he sent me from Paris hung on the wall of my bedroom for years, and now hangs on the wall of my daughter’s bedroom. I kept it because the image of the stone gargoyle fascinated me. My daughter likes gargoyles too.
Saturday mornings were devoted to watching cartoons on our new color television. Schoolhouse Rock! made its debut just before my sixth birthday and became one of my favorites. I still know many of the songs by heart. I got the Multiplication Rock! album, a vinyl LP record, which I played on the phonograph in the basement. I liked to look inside to see the glowing vacuum tubes. Occasionally I got a shock from the metal arm.
My first recollection of anything that we might consider “political” was the Watergate hearings, which started in May of 1973. Hundreds of hours of congressional hearings were televised, and they pre-empted my Saturday morning cartoons. As far as I was concerned, this was a major national disaster.
It was around this time that I questioned the existence of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. My mother answered my questions honestly, which I appreciated, but I was fairly crushed.
A tornado came through our town that spring. With some visiting relatives we stood in our driveway and watched it touch down in the distance, the funnel cloud turning from white to black in a heartbeat.
In the fall, I enrolled in elementary school. I’ve been in school ever since, more or less.
After my seventh birthday the global population hit four billion people. The Universal Product Code was introduced; I remember it because Mad magazine printed an oversize UPC symbol on their cover, in hopes that it would screw up every scanning machine in the country. Nixon resigned in disgrace; Ford took office and pardoned him.
Memories become clearer, less fragmentary, as I moved into second grade, and my identity as a freethinking iconoclast began to emerge. You might have called me a freak or a weirdo.
I remember feeling awkward on the playground. I didn’t know what to do or how to play with the other kids. So I would lie down in the middle of the pavement and pretend to be dead. Good times! Once a girl came over to see if I was OK. She startled me, and I lashed out and accidentally jammed her finger. She cried because she was hurt. I cried out of sympathy.
I remember challenging my teacher on the pronunciation of the word mosaic. I remember making green hearts for Valentine’s Day. I discovered the existence of typos and began collecting them.
1976 was the year of the bicentennial. My mom made our family matching outfits of red-white-and-blue polyester. In school, we were assigned to draw a picture imagining what 2076 might look like. Mine depicted a flying saucer robbing a bank and shooting death rays. I thought it was pretty cool, but the teacher pointed out that, even though it was futuristic, it didn’t have anything to do with the tricentennial. As was so often the case, I had misunderstood the assignment.
Carter was elected president. At nights I would lie in bed listening to “The Year of the Cat” and “New Kid in Town” on my Six Million Dollar Man crystal radio. And I dreamed of what my future might hold.
Tune in next time for the crushing disappointments and fleeting triumphs of my second decade!
Bart Everson is a writer, a photographer, a baker of bread, a husband, a father and a resident of Mid-City. He is a founding member of the Green Party of Louisiana, past president of Friends of Lafitte Greenway, and a participant in New Orleans Lamplight Circle. More at BartEverson.com.