1960 at the ripe old age of 10, I had my first foray into politics. Mom and Dad were completely nuts about the man they had both shook hands with and I was there to help. I had the proverbial little red wagon and I had it decorated with “Vote for Kennedy” hand made signs and one precious bumper sticker to impress the people of Nordman Road as I walked up and down the dirt road yelling: “Vote for Kennedy!”
After 57 years I still have a button that is the prize of my political buttons.
My folks had canonized the junior senator from Massachusetts months before the election. In those days everyone smoked and Mom found what became an heirloom: A John and Jackie ashtray. I somehow ended up with it as one of the only things I inherited from the Flanders estate.
In November he won a very narrow victory over the sitting Vice President, a man my Dad hated since 1952 – Richard Nixon. Kennedy served for 3 years before tragedy struck and Richard Nixon after redeeming himself went on to be the only President to ever resign from office. Kennedy went on coins, Nixon went on a helicopter after quitting.
The 60’s were a decade of changes and coming of age for everyone concerned. Back on Nordman road in East Ann Arbor my Mom was making some money as a musician but far more as a sales lady at the Wurlitzer store. With success and money comes…progress? Mom convinced Dad that a move to a better part of Ann Arbor was in order. Flanders Radio and TV Service was not doing all that well, so Dad was open to something different.
They, meaning Mom, went out and found a house on the west side of Ann Arbor. One day they just announced, we are moving to a really nice house in a great part of town. The streets are all paved and the schools are cool. Best of all, everyone gets to have their own room. Van can live in the basement, Gary and Bonnie can have their own room and the backyard is wonderful. Van could care less, Bonnie was excited about a wonderful backyard and a new school. My reaction was, …”sure, why not…”
So, in mid 1961 we packed up and left my childhood home and moved to the Naugahyde part of Ann Arbor.
Ten is a weird age. The early 60’s was a weird time. Middle class Americans were what we were, which was weird. Bonnie seemed to fit into the new school and the new neighborhood with lots of possibilities for friends. For me it was a time of non-committal. I just was not sure what to think of the whole life thing.
Two grand things turned things around for me. The first was my greatest sports moment of my whole life. It happened pretty early in my career at Hasley Elementary School. I was in the 6th grade and came in the middle of the school year. So, I was the new kid, I was from the hick part of town, and I was not the physical specimen I later became. (Please, no fact checking on that part.)
One fateful day in gym class, it had been raining, so we had to play kick ball inside the gym. To fulfill the pattern, I was picked last to be on a team. Well, the scenario would only be correct if in the bottom of the last inning my team was behind by 3 runs and there were two outs, the bases were loaded…you know the rest: that new kid was up to bat, or kick, remember, it was kick ball. From the gym teacher and the kids on my team there is an audible sigh…
A little bit of explanation about the Hasley Elementary School inside kick ball rules: a home run was if you kicked the ball from the homeplate end of the gym and it hits the basketball board on the other end of the gym. Our opponents were snickering already, giddy about beating us. You could hear a pin drop as the smart-aleck pitcher rolled the ball toward that new kid. I waited on the pitch, and confidently walked up to it, with a mighty explosive kick I sailed the ball to the far end of the gym, not only hitting the backboard, but bouncing it through the hoop.
For the first, ok, and the only time, I was the hero. The dreaded other guys with heads down, headed to the locker room. When I rounded the bases, my teammates jumped on me and slapped and screamed as they carried me off the gym floor.
That carried me off the gym floor part may have been only in my dreams, but I was a hero for approximately 2 days.
The other enlightening turn around was that I was able to get a big Detroit Free Press paper route. 125 daily customers and 200 Sunday customers. The Free Press was a morning paper so I learned about working the early morning shift. For a few months I also had an afternoon paper route, boyhowdy, I was rich.
My Mom handled her new income prowess by looking for ways to get out of more of the boring domestic stuff. She was never a, what you would call…cook. She never did her own laundry. Now she decided that a lady of her stature should not have to clean house either. She put an add in the Ann Arbor News for a house cleaner and thus she hired Annie.
I don’t say this to be mean about Mom or in any way suggest she was racist, but there was something uncomfortably odd and condescending about how Mom spoke of and treated Annie. Annie was a wonderfully kind and gracious woman and I rather enjoyed the times I was around her. We were in a new part of town and I had never been exposed to anyone of color. The only color in East Ann Arbor was the red on everyone’s neck.
I was learning alot about things I had never been exposed to. Even the radio stations I could pick up on the transistor radio played some music I had never heard before.
My first and heartfelt reaction was, ‘I have been cheated.’ Why didn’t I ever hear this before? Why didn’t get a chance to meet any people of color? Changes kept coming in 1962 when I headed off to Forsyth Junior High School.