What Were You Doing in 1968?
by Peggy Browning
I rang up the young man’s purchases at the check-out counter of the store where I worked. The total was $19.68. He said…”Hmmm…1968. What were you doing in 1968?” So, although a couple of other customers waited in line behind him, I told him what I was doing way back then.
I was twelve years old in 1968. Well…I was twelve most of the year. My birthday is October 6 and I turned thirteen then. I don’t remember much about the first part of 1968, but I do remember watching in horror and fear as the report of Martin Luther King’s assassination came in on April 4, 1968.The name of James Earl Ray is etched in my memory.
In 1968, the United States was in upheaval on many levels. The Vietnam War was escalating…My Lai massacre, the Tet Offensive… The Civil Rights Act was passed and signed. The assassinations of MLK and Robert F. Kennedy left us stunned. President Johnson announced he would not run for another term.Young men burned their draft cards. Young women burned their bras. The Black Panthers began their rise to power.Mayhem ensued and worried everyone, me included…even though I was just a little girl.
I continued to do little girl activities. But I still worried.
In the midst of all the turmoil our country was experiencing, I spent my summer days shelling black-eyed peas and shucking corn from my Mama’s garden. I caught grasshoppers and used them for bait when I went fishing with my Aunt Fern. I wandered down to the pasture, climbed my favorite tree, and daydreamed.
I sold personalized Christmas cards to our neighbors and earned a blue transistor radio with little ear-buds for my effort. I fell asleep many a’night listening to WGN in Chicago. It was the best radio I’ve ever owned.
Monday through Saturday, I walked barefoot down the dirt lane to the highway to get the mail. I read the newspaper daily. One of the most exciting days of summer was when the Sears and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogs were delivered. After that I occupied my time looking at the toys I wanted for Christmas.
I was allowed to check out books at the Edwards Public Library when we drove to Henrietta to buy more baling wire or rake teeth so Daddy could continue baling the summer hay crop. My favorite section of the library was the biographies in the youth section. I read about Ernie Pyle, Kit Carson, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, and Daniel Boone. Sometimes I was allowed to spend 59 cents to buy a hardback book from the Donna Parker series at Wackers’ Variety Store.
I also watched a lot of television.
I watched the CBS Evening News every evening and listened as Walter Cronkite delivered the news that had happened that day. I watched the news reports of the assassinations of Martin Luther King (April 4) and Bobby Kennedy (June 6). I watched reports about the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
Weekdays at noon, I watched “As the World Turns” and on Saturday evenings, I watched “Gunsmoke” with my Daddy. Sunday nights we watched Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and Bonanza. That was my TV entertainment.
I watched the Republican and Democrat conventions where Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew were selected to run against Hubert Humphrey and Edmond Muskie. I watched as the Democratic National Convention was interrupted by riots and demonstrations. And in November 1968 I watched the election returns. Nixon and Agnew won, of course. (Six years later I would watch as Nixon resigned. I remember his wave good-bye after his administration imploded.)
James Taylor wrote and recorded Carolina In My Mind. It was on his first album, released in December 1968. It is still one of my all-time favorite songs.
During the Christmas break from school, I watched Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders orbit the moon in Apollo 8 for twenty hours as they looked for potential landing sites for Apollo 9. I watched the splashdown in the Pacific on December 28.
So that’s what I was doing in 1968. What were you doing?