“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, 1849
I was born on June 16th, 1951; the same year as Sting, Robin Williams, Phil Collins and Rush Limbaugh. Harry Truman; D-Missouri, was president. North Korea had invaded South Korea and the Cold War was in full swing. World War II had ended and those who survived returned home to start their lives anew. The Vietnam “conflict” (we never did declare it a war) began when I was 4 and lasted 20years.
In 1948 my parents had their first child. They built their home the year I was born for $10,000 on land given to them by my grandfather. My dad worked for his dad in the family plumbing business. Mom stayed home with her three boys. Dad’s salary was $110 a week, which was enough to provide a decent living.
When I was 6, my mom, (a classically trained pianist having auditioned at Carnegie Hall at the age of 14) really wanted one of her sons to play the piano. I was the lucky one. I watched my friends playing ball while I sat home and played the piano. Unfortunately, I learned to hate the piano. At 11 I took up the drums mostly to torture my mom, but I really did admire Ringo Starr and his little band.
By the age of 10 I was allowed great freedom. In the morning I would tell my mom where I was headed for the day. Her only instructions were to be home for dinner, which I never disobeyed. I would take off for the day and climb Owls Head. There were no ticks. I was the most dangerous creature in the forest. On rare occasions when I would get lost I simply went to the first house I came upon, called my mom and she’d come and get me. There was usually a lecture about learning to find my way home.
I attended four different schools in my first four years of education. I went to first grade in the former American Legion building near the beginning of Danby Mountain Road. That school was condemned that year. Second grade found me in the wooden firetrap where the Dorset Post Office now resides. That school was condemned upon my departure. Third grade found me in another derelict building in East Dorset where the Town Offices are now located. That building was also condemned after I left. In 1961 the Town built the “new school” which is still going strong today. The most remarkable thing about this school that I still remember today was the water fountain. You could press a metal bar and water would come out in an arch perfectly designed to land in your mouth.
We had party lines that had nothing to do with partying. Multiple families would share one phone line. If you wanted to make a call you would pick up the phone. If you heard someone talking you quietly placed the phone back in the receiver. If the line was not in use an operator would come on the line and say “number please.” I would tell her who I was and that I wanted to call my gramma. Magically, I would be patched into my grandparent’s house across the street.
Gas was 27-cents per gallon and no one really cared. Cars were heavier and burned a lot of fuel; about the same amount as the truck I drive today. Sodas were a dime. I learned to swim at 11 and spent every waking moment at the Dorset Quarry hanging out with friends; all three of them. On a blistering hot summer day, there would maybe be 20 or 30 people there.
I went to college in 1969. The Vietnam “conflict” was in full swing. I brought my drums to school, set them up and began playing. Within minutes the dorm parent came flying into my suite and said, “Do that one more time you AND your drums are going to Vietnam!” So ended my drumming career. Within a week I had purchased my first Marine Band harmonica, which began a long and interesting journey into the world of Blues that continues today.
As I look back over the past 70 years I marvel at the changes and the things that haven’t changed. We’ve morphed from a time when our parents had faith and trust in our judgment and our ability to get out of a jam if we were dumb enough to get into one, to a time where parents need for their kids to have a cell phone so that they know where they are and they’re safe. Personal safety was not a thing growing up in Vermont in the ’50s and ’60s. People looked out for each other. I was hitchhiking by the time I was 12. I knew everyone who ever picked me up. There were few, if any, strangers then.
Seventy years later North Korea’s still a thorn in our side. Vietnam welcomes American tourists and we now can drive cars that don’t use gas. Rabbit ears have been replaced by cable TV that you pay an arm and a leg for. That cheap gas we burned is destroying our planet and for the first time we’ll be leaving this place in worse shape than we found it.
The good news is that we, once again, have a Democratic president who knows what he’s doing. Let’s hope that doesn’t change.