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Saga of 1963 (09/11/2005)
By Janet Lewis Burns

It was the era of "Puff The Magic Dragon" and "Petticoat Junction." Women were swooning over the Cartwrights on "Bonanza," and teens were gaga over the swingin', puppy-lovin' movie "Beach Party," with idols Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

A milestone in the lives of 1963 high school graduates, as Pat and I were, our generation boisterously bounded into the adult realm without a care in the world. It was pretty much fun and games.

Little did any of us know, that less than three months later a tragedy would shake the secure complacency of the U.S., weighing heavily on all nations.

Everyone who was here back in 1963 likely remembers where they were and what they were doing at 12:30 p.m. on November 22nd, the fateful day a beloved U.S. president was mortally wounded while riding in a motorcade through the streets of Dallas.

I happened to be eating buttered macaroni, in my cramped, one-room cubbyhole, on E. Fifth Street. Eleanor Schueler's apartment house was the first place I called "home" after graduation.

"The president has been shot!" The words seemed surreal as the announcement blurted from my radio. I recall crying in disbelief, glued to the radio all afternoon with no means of transportation and no phone, anxiously hoping that it was all a sick hoax.

After his death, a grieving Jackie was to comment, "I should have known that it was asking too much to dream that I might have grown old with him and see our children grow up together. So now he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man."

Five days after Kennedy's murder, his successor Lyndon B. Johnson vowed to make the civil rights bill Kennedy's greatest legacy, outlawing discrimination across America.

Another riveting event, on August 28, 1963, was to become, five years later, another shattered dream. That August day, 250,000 people gathered in the largest civil rights demonstration ever held to date - the march on Washington for jobs and freedom.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his infamous "I have a dream" speech, inspiring millions and bringing hope to the suppressed minority.

As though fate lashed out unmercifully at America's golden family, Patrick Kennedy, two-day-old son of the President and First Lady died after being born prematurely, on August 9, 1963.

This was the year of actress Elizabeth Taylor's title role in "Cleopatra," its budget exploding to a record $44 million. Barbie and Ken reigned as the hottest couple of the Kool-Aid and Twinkies bunch. Woody Allen, the dopey, deadpan comedian had fans rolling in the aisles, if not scratching their heads in bewilderment.

I've always admired poet Robert Frost as a creative mentor. Sadly, he passed away on January 29, 1963, having been honored with the to-die-for Pulitzer Prize four times. (No tasteless pun intended.)

Another writer's troubling, dark poetry intrigued me, following her suicide on February 11, 1963. Ironically, Sylvia Plath's complete, emotionally charged poetry collection would be published in 1981, only to be awarded with a rare posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

It was the year that the instantly popular country music singer Patsy Cline, raised in poverty in West Virginia, was killed in a plane crash. Newcomers, Minnesotan Bob Dylan and Joan Baez wrote and sang some of the most enduring folk music ever performed.

Touch-tone telephones saw their debut across the nation. Betty Friedan launched a rebellious surge of American feminism through middle-class suburbia. Relating to that or not, beehive hairdos gave women that fat-head persona.

Welcome to America, Ringo, John, Paul, and George! As "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was released by the British group, "Beatlemania" was sparked. It was all "twist and shout" British style from then on.

1963 stands out as a year of noteworthy beginnings and endings. History's detailed legacy is entrusted to the record keepers...sentiments and emotions salvaged by poets...lessons learned by those who lived it...wisdom realized by those who were to follow.

Another year...another "ticket to ride." 


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