EIGHINGER: Things all changed that one summer; the innocence was now gone

Posted: Jun. 14, 2014 5:20 pm Updated: Sep. 6, 2014 9:15 pm

Can you remember that point in your life when the "real world" came more into focus?

I think everyone, if he or she looks back, can recall a period when the daily newspaper and nightly news broadcasts began to capture more of his or her attention.

For me, it was 50 years ago during the summer of 1964. I was 10 years old, and most of my interest was still directed toward morning baseball games. (Remember when kids actually played outside?) But I began wondering about things other than Joe Azcue, Chico Salmon, Leon Wagner rand the rest of my beloved Cleveland Indians.

Instead of immediately summoning the sports pages each afternoon when I picked up the Times-Gazette off the front porch of my family's house in Ashland, Ohio, I began scanning the front page and seeing images and headlines that caused me to pause.

The same held true with the evening newscasts. Instead of automatically turning to a rerun of "The Lone Ranger" or finding some cartoons, I began listening to what Walter Cronkite, Howard K. Smith or David Brinkley might be telling me.

There were two ongoing storylines that summer. By August, I actually remember being worried about the world in which I lived. One concern was the race riots, the other was the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act early that summer, landmark legislation that prohibited discrimination in public places, education and employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex.

Most of the attention that summer, of course, was focused on the "race" designation of the Civil Rights Act. At age 10, I remember being confused by all of this. I could not understand why in Mississippi there were people being beaten and killed, churches burned and National Guard troops called to try and restore peace.

At that time, four of my best friends were Donnie, Warren, Sherman and Ronnie Jones. I went to their home and played, they came to mine. I would sit and talk with their dad, Warren Sr., at Brookside Park while we watched fast-pitch softball games.

Donnie, Warren, Sherman and Ronnie were black, but that never seemed relevant until the summer of 1964. Why was that such a big deal in places like Mississippi? I could not imagine "hating" someone -- or someone "hating" me -- simply because we were different colors.

We were friends then, and Warren -- who has always been known as "Jonesy" -- and I are friends today. Two of the his brothers have since passed away and I am not sure where the third may be. Over the years, even old friends tend to lose touch, especially when they live in different time zones.

But one thing has never changed. The Joneses have always been my friends and they always will be. Always.

Then there was the Vietnam conflict to start worrying about as a 10-year-old. Words like Hanoi, Saigon and Viet Cong slowly became part of my vocabulary.

At age 10, I was already a big fan of war movies. Even at that age, I had already seen every John Wayne movie about World War II, but that was about a time before my own time. This Vietnam thing seemed to become more real by the day, and I remember being worried that when I was a few years older I may have to be sloshing around rice fields in some place Cronkite, Smith and Brinkley kept referring to as southeast Asia.

I tried to forget about things such as these, and to only worry about the Cleveland Indians and the Lone Ranger. But I couldn't. I guess it was one of the first steps about what they call "growing up."

I just remember feeling that life was so much simpler before the summer of 1964.

And I still feel that way.


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