1962: Sandlot Football, Shooting Lessons & T-boned Chevy

Sandlot Football:

elvis playin   football jfk2

Elvis & JFK- Google images

After Little League baseball finished their season sandlot football took over games at Strawberry Park.  After school David Petersen practiced with the Bulldogs at Southmore, so Danny and I hooked up and cruised over to the park.  There were always a half dozen kids who played, and sometimes we’d have as many as eight players on a team.  For most of that fall I was the center eligible while Danny played quarterback; but as I improved I played end and occasionally got to throw the ball to Danny on end around handoff option plays.

The big argument among football fans in Texas always wrapped around the UT Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies; but with two AFL teams in Dallas and Houston, we now had professional football as well.  1962 was a banner year for Texas pro football with the Dallas Texans and Houston Oilers playing for the AFL championship – Dallas won 20-17 in double overtime.  What a game!!  The Bulldogs finished their season with a 9 and 1 record and Petersen was among the star players.

1962:  After Pope John XXIII excommunicated Fidel Castro and JFK sent his press secretary Pierre Salinger out to buy every Cuban cigar in Washington DC, Virginia and Maryland, Kennedy announced United States embargo against Cuba.  Friendship 7 launched from an Atlas booster and John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, three times in 4 hours, 55 minutes.  Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a 169–147 win over the New York Knicks.  In the appeal of Engel v. Vitale: the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory prayers in public schools are unconstitutional.

Shooting Lessons:


Shooting Cans – Google images

For two weeks that June we were back up on Pop’s farm in Indiana.  Mac’s clan was having a family reunion and since Dad was the youngest of nearly a dozen children, we got to meet first cousins who were twenty years older than any of us.  Aunt Martha prepared an endless feast and made sure I got my two slices of peanut butter chocolate cake for dessert.  Damn that woman spoiled me.

Since I was now twelve years old, Mac decided that I needed to know how to handle a gun and after breakfast on a bright sunny morning we went out behind the summer house where the small orchard sloped downhill to the chicken yard.  Mac put a big tomato juice can on top of a fence post, walked the forty or fifty feet back up the hill and handed me Pop’s bolt action .22 caliber squirrel rifle.  I pulled the bolt back and Mac handed me one cartridge.  Slipping the bullet into the chamber I seated the bolt and with my thumb and two fingers pulled back pulled the linear hammer back to cock the weapon.  Clicking the safety and taking aim, I dutifully listened to Mac’s instruction and then blew the big can off the fence post.  It bounced and rolled fifty feet into the middle of the chicken yard.

“Near dead center, pretty good shot,” Dad said as he offered up a smaller Campbell’s soup can.  Pointing at the can on the far side of the fence I asked, “Can I take another shot at that one?”

“Think you can hit it,” asked Mac.  “Yeah,” I replied.  Mac handed me another round and stood back to watch me shoot the can a second time.  When it came to rest about ten feet from the far fence, Mac handed me another round and said, “See if you can hit it again.”

From more than fifty yards away, I aimed carefully and shot it again – three rounds, three hits.  “You’ve been practicing with Bill,” Mac said with a chuckle.  Then he handed me the box of .22 shorts and said, “Never carry the gun loaded, never fire into the air and don’t aim at anything you don’t intend to kill.”

With that I scrambled down to the gate, walked through the fresh mint in the pasture, crossed the creek bed and disappeared into the woods with 97 rounds of fresh ammunition.

More 1962:


Marilyn Monroe sings “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” - Wikipedia

Andy Warhol hung his Campbell's Soup Cans at an exhibit in Los Angeles.  AT&T’s communications satellite Telstar relayed the first live trans-Atlantic television signal.  Shortly after her scandalous White House performance at JFK’s birthday party, Marilyn Monroe died from an overdose of sleeping pills and chloral hydrate which was officially ruled as a "probable suicide".  Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man made his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy#15.  At a speech at Rice University, JFK stated that the U.S. would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

T-boned Chevy:

1958_Chevrolet_Bel_Air   1955

Mom’s Car: ‘58 Chevy Bellaire / Dad’s Car: ’55 Plymouth Belvedere – Google images

Back in Pasadena, it was more endless days of summer.  With new tennis courts and the Olympic pool, Strawberry Park was much less barren.  Brother Bill sent pretty post cards from Frankfurt, Germany and we resumed our marathon games of Homerun Derby.  Late one afternoon, Mom dropped me and Rick off at the library while she went grocery shopping.  She was supposed to be back in an hour, but it was after 6:00pm when Mac pulled up in his ugly coral pink and charcoal grey 55 Plymouth Belvedere.

We went directly to the hospital where Mom was in bed lying on her back with a massive cast over her right arm and upper body.  She’d been T-boned by some dumb ass who ran a red light less than six blocks from the library.  She’d be months in that cast and while we all pitched in to keep the house clean, we could never manage to meet her expectations.

Grading on the Curve:

bellcurve500    ducktail2

The Gaussian Distribution Curve and “Ducktails” (B. Haley) – Wikipedia & Google

I grew six inches and put on nearly thirty pounds that summer so in the eighth grade I endured much less macho BS than during my first year at Southmore.  I now had pubic hair and wasn’t nearly so self conscious in the showers after PE.  Donny now rode the bus with me and David and there were school dances with girls.  Petersen and I were both members of the Junior Honor Society and shared advanced classes where we competed to destroy the grade curve.  We counted no test score less than 100% and tracked our performance by the number of bonus questions we correctly answered.

Taught by the proud and flamboyant native Texan, Mrs. Wanda Butler, Texas History was a mandatory class where David and I adopted the school’s toughest hood, James Horn.  A 15 year-old with dyslexia who stood nearly six feet tall, wore a motorcycle jacket and combed the sides of his flat top haircut into “ducktails,” Horn, with our help, managed to pass the class with a C.  With my growing height and weight and Petersen and Horn covering my back, no one ever came after me – not even Jim Fonaro.

And even more 1962: Escorted by Federal Marshals, James Meredith registered as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.  The Beatles release their first single for EMI, Love Me Do.

U2_Image_of_Cuban_Missile_Crisis   Low altitude photo -Cuban_missiles

U-2 and Low Altitude photos of Soviet Missiles in Cuba –Google images

On October 14th the Cuban Missile Crisis began when a U-2 flight took photos of Soviet nuclear weapons being installed in Cuba.  Over the next 10 days President Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. 

To anyone who didn’t live through it, the experience of the Cuban Missile Crisis is hard to explain.  We watched and read every bit of news we could find and collectively held our breath for nearly two weeks.  It was different for everyone, but for our family we worried most about Bill.  Stationed outside of Frankfurt, Germany, he was part of a demolition squad attached to an artillery unit.  His job was to blow up huge pits in the earth and set up 155mm howitzers that fired tactical nuclear shells to destroy the overwhelming numbers of Russian tanks that waited just across the Czech and East German borders.  In a shooting war his life expectancy was calculated at less than 35 minutes.

It wasn’t until decades later that we learned how close we came to that hypothetical shooting war.  Bill spent two weeks with binoculars looking at the muzzles of Russian tanks 200 yards away, while out in the Atlantic a US Navy submarine serving as part of the blockade came within 150 feet of colliding with a Russian cargo ship carrying missiles to Cuba.  Two hundred yards, one hundred fifty feet, it was just that close.

A footnote: On December 2nd after a tour of the 12,000 US forces in Vietnam, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield advised JFK to pull out of Southeast Asia.  Kennedy reportedly replied that he planned to withdraw but that first he had to get re-elected.  Mansfield became the first major political figure to speak out against the war.

Except for attributed photos and text, all content is copyrighted © 2012 JKM

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