When my Aunt Mary passed away, my cousins going through her things, found a box of mementos sent to her by my family. Our birth announcements, thank you and birthday cards (she shared a birthday with my father), and newspaper clippings filled the box with childhood remembrances long gone in our own household.
One item was of particular interest to me – a principal’s newsletter from my elementary school dated December 9, 1968.
For many US Historians, 1968 (pre-pandemic) was considered to be one of the most difficult in our history. Civil rights protests were in full swing. College campuses equally teemed with students and the National Guard due to anti-war demonstrations. The assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy left the nation reeling. It was a year where the US was fully engaged in the Vietnam War – nearly 17,000 US troops were lost in 1968 (the highest number of any single year for the US during its involvement in Vietnam.) And painfully, in late October, the Pentagon announced that 24,000 troops would be sent back to Vietnam for an involuntary 2nd tour of duty.
Then, in early November, as we have done every four years since the nascent years of our nation, US adults (voting age was 21 in 1968) elected their 37th President in a contentious and divisive election. These were the results:
- Richard Nixon – 31.8M votes (43.4%)
- Hubert Humphrey – 31.3M votes (42.7%)
- George Wallace – 9.9M votes (13.5%)
(For those who are not familiar with Mr. Wallace, he was the Alabama Governor who declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”)
It is no wonder that as families tried to gather in November 1968 for Thanksgiving there was unease. Many may have dreaded going home knowing some within their families had different opinions about the war, civil rights, or the election. And at eight years old, I remember feeling it too, even if I was not totally able to understand all that was occurring.
However, the lesson for me in looking back, as deeply troubling as 1968 was, many other important (or at least interesting) events occurred – some still impacting us today. These do not lessen the pain of trying times but demonstrates no period in our history is ever all good or all bad.
Here is a small sampling of some other memorable events from that year:
- Yale University announced they would begin admitting women
- First presidential election after the 1965 Voting act
- Madison Square Garden opened in New York City
- The company Intel was founded
- The first manned Apollo space mission launched. On the second manned Apollo mission, US astronauts became the first humans to see the far side of the moon as well as the earth in its entirety from space.
- Boeing introduced the first 747 Jumbo Jet
- Star Trek aired the first American interracial TV Kiss
- The Big Mac went on sale at McDonalds
- Emergency 911 began implementation in the US
- The first ATM was installed in a Philadelphia bank
- The first successful heart transplant was accomplished
- Air bags were invented. (This surprised me – I don’t recall having seatbelts yet in our car!)
- The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl II (big in my house!)
As an author of two books, this bulletin contains even more meaning as it contains my first “published” writing. After the announcements regarding Christmas programs and holiday closings this is what it says:
“Although Thanksgiving is now a past memory, we wanted to share with you a beautiful piece of creative writing which was done by Gina Catalano, a third grader in Mrs. Snyder’s class.”
What I Am Thankful For
I am thankful for nature and its beautiful appearance on mother earth’s stage. The beauty of the streams and the rivers that flow down the mountainside. The open springs where wildflowers grow in the side beds. The woods where wild animals live and where tall pines and redwoods grow and where all is (sic) free.
I’m not quite sure how (or why) this poem ended up in the school bulletin. Perhaps Mr. Wacks or Mrs. Snyder found some solace amongst the noise in a young student appreciating what is good – and easy – in a world that was feeling sadness and uncertainty.
But this week, many years later, I know these words still ring true for me.
And I hope they do for you as well.