Updated: Mar 24, 2020
By Terry M. Pace
Life is full of moments. Those moment build up in our memories into years. All of these moments add up to who we are as each one enters into our lives through what we do, think and feel. Each aspect of our living experience form connections in our brain via the nerve and chemical stimulation of our nervous systems. In this way, our brains (thus our lives) are being shaped and pruned all the while as we adapt to the world we experience. The changes we know along the way are sometimes gradual and difficult to describe, then other times we seem to be flowing down a raging river with one large wave after another crashing onto our little boat of life. Some of these waves are thrilling and others terrifying, but they are memorable in their intensity or novelty. As a result, many of us hold special memories of times or years in our lives that help define us. I seem to often be thinking about 1968.
The year of 1968 seems like a critical year in my development, shaping and revealing many aspects of my personality and views. I was 10 years old, going on 11 that year. Puberty arrived then and the world also seemed to be on fire with civil rights, women’s rights, the Apollo space program, Vietnam, a raucous political year with a wild and also violent democratic convention, followed by a dramatic presidential election to go with my own lurching development.
In May of 1968 as soon as I had finished the fourth grade, my family packed up and moved to southeastern Arizona for the summer. My parents had bought a farm in Arizona when a group of neighboring farmers moved there for cheap, plentiful lands with good water wells. I still recall my dad’s excitement as the ancient water was first pumped on his new farm. So for a couple of years, my folks leased our home farm in west Texas and during the main growing season (summer) we lived in Arizona, returning to west Texas for the school year.
We lived in a small duplex on the edge of a tiny retirement and farming village, called Sunsites; with a population of maybe one-hundred souls, in the middle of the vast, lonely and beautiful Cochise Valley. We were about 30-40 miles due north of the Mexico border and about 100 miles southeast of Tucson. We lived surrounded by mountains in the midst of the desert, with scattered areas of lush green farms and orchards. I still remember the sensory shock of the occasional green fields against the brown desert landscapes and blue skies. To the west of us lay the Dragoon mountains and to the east rose the Chiricahua mountains. Other mountain ranges lay scattered in the distance in every direction. Altogether it was an amazingly beautiful place.
There are many adventures I could tell from that summer, such as stepping on rattlesnakes, getting lost in the mountains, seeing fresh mountain lion and bear tracks in the mornings on the farm, watching wildfires up in the mountains at night, attending my first away from home church camp, my mom having emergency surgery; but two other memories are most prominent in my mind.
First, I had my first crush on a girl, and low and behold there were two of them! I think falling in love with two people at once would be very hard anytime, but try doing it your first time around! Of course I was 10 and my girlfriends were just my friends who were girls that I had googly eyes for. I was really happy, yet terrified and confused. My friends were named Kori and Jill. Kori was a couple of years younger, thus I felt the part of the older man. As I recall, Jill was just about my age. Kori had long blond hair. Jill had short black hair. They were both angels from heaven as far I was concerned in my newly awakened puberty. Of course, we were kids and all we did was play; card games, made up games, tether-ball or just listening to Hank Williams on the radio:
Say hey, good lookin’, what ya got cookin’?
How’s about cookin’ somethin’ up with me?”
I spent the summer trying to learn how to be friends with others as I was the new kid, but especially trying to learn how to be friends with girls. It was an interesting time to say the least! In this new awakening I also recall being aware of loss, of choices and life circumstances that divide people, though death or moves or just differences and although happy- go- lucky sentiments dominated my life then, loss and sadness seemed to find me and never let go and I believe these combined feelings influenced my private self during that time and stayed with me all my life. I am unsure if puberty, the move, the national events (for example the killings of King and Kennedy) or just what turned me into a thinking feeling being, but it all seemed to start this summer. A song that affected me deeply that summer was "Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro. I had a 45 record of this song and recall crying sometimes at night when alone in my room and listening. I'm not sure why I cried, other than the song itself; it just seemed life itself was dawning on me with both it's joy and it's losses.
And honey, I miss you
And I'm being good
And I'd love to be with you
If only I could...
Both Kori's and Jill's families were like us, relocated west Texas farm families. So we often gathered together in the evenings as our parents visited and played dominoes. The most telling story happened at the end of the summer, on the night before we moved back to Texas. Our family was given a going away party at Kori’s house and of course Jill was there. Toward the end of the evening, Jill’s teen-aged older sister pulled all of us younger kids into a room. She then set up a going away ceremony where each kid in the room would approach me and we would tell each other good-by, then I would say if I wanted a hand shake, a hug, a kiss on the cheek or a kiss on the lips. Honestly, I did not have anything to do with planning this, but what a gift! Her older sister controlled the game so she had Kori’s brother Ted (my best friend that summer) go first. Of course I asked Ted for a manly handshake. Next, older sister approached and I asked for an appropriate hug. Next, she asked Kori to approach. I asked her for a kiss on the cheek, feeling that was right for a girl so young, and Kori sweetly complied. Finally of course it was Jill’s turn. Jill turned bright red and I immediately felt bad for her. However, she approached and we said our good-bye’s, then I looked her straight in the eye and said I would like a kiss on the lips! Poor Jill, it was just too much with her sister and friends all watching and laughing, so I quickly said a kiss on the cheek would be very nice. Dear Jill gave me kiss on the cheek I never forgot!
As I write this I am sadden by the passing of time and by how I have not seen or heard of any of these friends for 50 years. But I still love them all. They were an important part of my life. I am easily attached to people and am loyal to and protective of those I love. I felt early on in life that respect for each person in each moment was how I wanted to be treated, thus how I wanted to treat others (not that I was always able to live up to these beliefs). But in that Arizona summer of 1968, I had many opportunities to learn and practice these social skills and feel in this way this was the first time in my life there was a glimmer of the psychologist I became as an adult.
I also played my first organized sport that summer in Arizona. I was on a little league baseball team made up of mainly farm and ranch kids from around the area. All of them were bigger, more experienced and just better than me. But they were all nice to me, some exceedingly so. Most of our team were local Mexican kids, undoubtedly some were citizens and others probably were not, but such distinctions or concerns were never mentioned to me by anyone in those days in the Cochise Valley. People were people, at least as far as I could tell then. Maybe some adults felt differently, but if they did it was never obvious to me. Of course, I was pretty busy.
Interestingly our coach was a woman, a retired air force officer as I recall. I do not remember her name but I recall our family calling her “the Sargent”. She was nice to us kids and was a good coach who knew the game. This all felt right to me with a woman leader. My mom led us kids in our family, which seemed pretty important to me; a woman can be a leader, so a baseball coach seemed fine, I didn’t see the difference.
In one of our baseball games, I was, as usual then, playing out in right field. I recall a runner was on first base and the second baseman had cheated toward the bag. The batter hit a line drive to me in right field and the ball hit in front of me and simply disappeared! I thought I caught the ball, but could not find it. I looked around me and then frantically ran to the fence, but no ball! By then our second baseman who had seen what had happened, ran to me, yelling in Spanish and pointing at me. He reached me and ripped my jersey untucked and out popped the ball! Holy Guac! The ball had gone down the massive jersey draped on my tiny body and I hadn’t had a clue of this. It was an in the park home run and yes, two runs scored including the winning run. It was the bottom of the 5th (as far as we played then), so the game was over and we lost on my error. I looked up and it seemed as if everyone in the world was staring at me, pointing and laughing. I felt tiny and exposed and like even God was staring right down on me shaking his head in bemusement. Now, looking back on it, who could not laugh? It had to be hilariously cute. But that is an adult view looking back. As a kid, I was humiliated. I held it together with the team. Everyone was nice to me, even our star player – Hondo, who only shook his head and smiled at me.
But I had heard the inevitable laughter and I knew that what I had done, well no one had probably ever seen done before and I thought their laughter at a funny event was somehow also diminishing me. So, the moment that I was safely in the car with my family, I cried my eyes out. I got in the floor so no one could see me and I sobbed inconsolably for the 30- minute drive home on the darkening desert highway. Of course my parents were consoling and my brother, though I know it was funny to him, did not rub it in. I enjoyed playing baseball, big jerseys and limited skills be damned, so thankfully with support from my family, coach and teammates, I returned to the team without any permanent damage! Our coach was nice saying that such things could happen to anyone and besides I was in the right position to block the ball and field it, and if we only had uniforms that fit…, so better luck next time and she was able to let the team and me laugh at my “great catch” without belittlement. What a wonderful little league coach!
In time I became a decent baseball player and had many enjoyable days playing during my teens. I think I learned the power of kindness and empathy and even something of the goodness of humor from my “greatest” baseball play ever. I certainly gained any needed humility at least for a while. I also learned the power of not quitting upon disappointment or embarrassment and the value of hard work and teamwork. Combined all these moments from the summer of 1968 seem to me now to be the first steps I really took toward growing up into adulthood. I had a long- ways to go, but somehow it felt as if I had a good start and I returned home to Texas and my regular school friends with renewed confidence. I had encountered girls and survived. I had overcome embarrassment and began to thrive. My soul had been altered by wilderness and solitude.
In the fall of 1968 I entered the 5th grade at South Elementary school in Levelland Texas. I loved South Elementary for many reasons, but one of those was there were great windows in every room and often they were left open for a cooling breeze and that meant I was all the closer to the outdoors, which is the only place I truly wished to be. I loved it when the school lawn was mowed and the smell of the cut grass drifted in to me. I just wanted to run and play outside and follow my imagination. So, I did not really try to attend to school work; I didn’t dislike school at all, I just had different motivations. I am pretty sure that today I would easily have been labeled if not diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. It was very hard for me to sit still or expend much effort on academic tasks, but ring the recess bell and I was on fire and ready to go!
During recess we often played “washers” which is a poor folk version of horseshoes, you just use a big round washer to toss and see who gets closest to a pole or a wall. We also played football, baseball, softball, basketball, four-square, jump rope, red rover, and all sorts of running and racing games.
One of my favorite games was called “king of the mountain.” Only the boys were allowed to play this particular game in those days. It was the only fully sex segregated game that I recall. We made a big circle out of a long rope, perhaps 20-30 feet around. Then all the boys who wanted to play took a place inside the circle and upon the whistle from either Mr. Wise or Mr. Phillips, we all started fighting – wrestling and pushing to knock everyone else out of the circle and see who remained as the “king of the mountain.” The main rules were no slugging, no hits to the face, no pulling hair, no biting or pinching and no low blows! Otherwise, it was no holds barred chaos. There seem to have been a lot of us, maybe 20 or so boys per game. Of course the bigger boys were the usual winners. I’m sure I’ll leave someone out here, but in my memory Ross and Roy Don were the biggest boys and often won. I also recall some of the middleweight sort of guys like Danny, Mark, Russ and Lorenzo who were like fighting lions as they had both size and speed. Then there was another faction, the one I belonged to, being the quick, squirmy little guys, who were determined to show our metal despite our size. These were guys like Ken, Scott, Tim, Greg, Robert and Steve. Once in a while, one of us little fellows won by teaming up on the bigger boys then having it out among ourselves. I was lucky to call each of these boys and many more – my friends. I was so happy with my friends at school. I had an implicit sense of trust and raucous rapport with these guys. They all taught me much about friendship, about loyalty as well as forgiveness. About toughness in the face of adversity as well as patience, kindness, an acceptance and appreciation of differences and laughter, always laughter.
With my poor attention to school work, I was often in trouble in school. In Mrs. H’s math class, my friend Domingo and I got our heads cracked almost daily for our silliness. Mrs. H had a three-foot long old- fashioned blackboard pointer made of thick solid wood. If I heard a loud crack I knew to duck as I would be getting it next. She would swing that pointer like a bat and crack our heads and no one thought anything about it. I remember taking a few blind hits from behind as I leaned toward some friend to tell a joke. I’m sure if my parents knew of this head cracking, they would have encouraged Mrs. Harrington to crack my thick head all she wanted. It hurt, but it also made school funny to me. It became a source of pride and humor to see who got their head cracked. Thus, of course what is meant as a punishment or deterrent can often be a reinforce if it creates attention, sympathy, envy or humor. In behavior there are no set- in- stone rules, one must always examine the results and make new adjustments. Needless to say I learned little math that year and I’m pretty sure this set me up to struggle with math the rest of my life. However I think I learned a good deal of psychology and perhaps Mrs. Harrington’s attention served me well in my future career. It for sure taught me that things are not always as they seem and one must get the whole story to have understanding.
In Mrs. S’s room I was just as disruptive. Mrs. S was one of only four African American teachers I had in my entire 25 years as a student, from kindergarten through graduate school and post-doctoral training. I enjoyed her class a lot. She was funny and warm and captured my attention as long as she was talking, unfortunately fifth graders are expected to do some quiet work on their own and I missed that lesson!
That fall, Mrs. S brought a little black and white TV with a rabbit-eared antenna to school and we watched several major national events together and talked about them. I thrived on these types of interactive and cooperative learning experiences. I recall watching Apollo 7 in her room, as it was the first of the Apollo flights to carry a human crew. I am not sure we watched Apollo 8 as it was during the Christmas holidays, but that first picture of the rising earth from the other side of the moon I still recall as stunning and I relate seeing this famous photo to being in Mrs. S’s class - seems like we looked at a magazine photo of the earth rise and talked about it.
The event I most remember watching was the Nixon-Humphrey presidential debate in October, 1968 just prior to the election on my birthday, November 5th. Despite my family and most everyone I know being for Nixon in 1968, I clearly recall liking Humphrey and feeling sad when he lost the election to Nixon. I remember Hubert Humphrey quoting from Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom had been assassinated earlier in the spring and summer of 68. Those events had been significant to me through a great sadness and feeling of loss.
Perhaps this was because, I was already a civil rights believer, as since I was six years old and MLK had given his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, and the miracles of radio and TV brought this profound vision to us way out on our farm on the Great Plains of Texas. I was convinced by what I heard; that justice and peace was right for every one regardless of color or sex or any difference. As a six- year old I asked my parents for a vinyl record of this great speech and they bought it for me. I then commenced to lay in our living-room floor and listen over and over to every word and mannerism and became a little white MLK kid. I would give the “I Have a Dream” speech to my family and as a tiny little preacher, they sort of showed me off to friends, asking me to perform the speech for them.
So when Humphrey said he would extend the New Deal and Great Society programs that focused directly on civil rights and citizen well-being, I think I intuitively identified with being a democrat then. Humphrey once reportedly said:
“It was once said that the moral test of government, is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; the twilight of life; the elderly; and the shadows of life, the sick the needy and the handicapped.”
While I didn’t understand the full meaning of all these words then, I did understand their sentiment and it sank deep into my soul. I suspect that simply by showing the larger world to us kids and letting us have our own thoughts, that Mrs. S influenced many of us along life’s pathways. So I am very thankful to her. She was one of the best teachers I ever had.
However my innate restlessness still got the best of me often but instead of head cracks, Mrs. S used a more personal type of discipline. If two boys were talking they had to kiss on the lips in front of the class. I probably kissed all the boys in my class (and sadly none of the girls). I particularly recall kissing the son of the minister of the local First Baptist Church. No one thought a thing of this disciplinary method and neither did I. It was more funny than it was punishing.
But Mrs. S had other tricks too. One of the ones I was on the receiving end of the most was bear hugs which were strong enough to make you feel you might pass out. I never feared any of this, as again, it became part of the story of school and something we laughed about. The more kisses and bear hugs, the more cracks on the head, the more legendary one became among friends and I was blessed with friends.
The year 1968 was revolutionary for me in so many ways. On a personal level puberty arrived and I was inexplicably obsessed with the sudden and mysterious beauty of girls. After recovering from my first summer loves, I found myself smitten by new girl-friends such as Martha and Jana. Martha was blond, athletic and really smart. She had chased me down and kissed me behind the school in the first grade. So I sort of thought of her as my girlfriend ever since then, though I am pretty sure I never told her any of my feelings. I thought Jana was sophisticated, with black hair and glasses, and a voice and smile that made me nervous. Jana was the first girl I remember talking to on the phone, and I recall how I just liked to hear her voice. Such tender, funny childhood memories.
One of the other songs I most recall from 1968 was Simon and Garfunkle's (1967) "Feelin' Groovy" (59h Street Bridge Song). This is mostly how I felt then, with friends at school and out roaming the farms and playing - just feeling groovy! I know I was blessed.
Slow down, you move to fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feeling groovy
If one’s foundational personal identity is usually formed by age 12, then in my tenth and eleventh years I actively affirmed my emerging sense of self. I was developing a love of fun, laughter, friends and feeling groovy! But I was also feeling a concern with social justice and others well- being, a desire to be able to relate with and understand others, and an interest in the larger world of history, politics, science and religion. As I look back on 1968, I see it was indeed a year of revolution in the world, but for me it was the quiet kind of revolution simply known as growing up.
The next year, my sixth- grade teachers recognized some of this in me when they penned this poem for a graduation gift:
Terry Terry Terry Pace
You are very good in a race
You could do better in your work
If your books you wouldn’t shirk