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James R. Stout

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12

April 25, 2017

     The summer of 1968 was, for me at least, a great summer. It was the last summer of my “childhood” so far as I’m concerned. It is true that I was only 12 that summer (turned 13 in September of 1968) and that technically I was still a “kid” for another few years, but it was the last summer for me that I still had the innocence of a child. 

     There were three main things I was interested in at the time. The current popular music, baseball, and reading. Notice that girls had not yet entered the list. It’s not that I didn’t like girls because I most certainly did. It’s just that I didn’t have a clue what to say to them or how to act around them and therefore I generally did my best to avoid them. Oh, I watched them from afar wondering what made them tick. I liked the way they looked and how they acted, but there was no way I was brave enough to talk to one of them for more than a moment in passing. So, it would be another year with some rather startling physical changes in not only myself, but the girls too, along with just a tad of maturing that would result in girls being on the top of the list within a year.

     As for the summer of ‘68 I was content with music, baseball, and reading. This particular blog entry is about the latter of those three. I’ll get to the other two in later blogs. In June of 1968, immediately following my departure from the 6th grade, I suddenly had a great deal more freedom and access to the world that of which I lived. The first big discovery was that my parents were more than willing to allow me to walk to the nearest public library. They were and still are avid readers and had always encouraged us to read. Up until that summer I always had to rely on my parents taking me to the library which naturally meant my time there was limited and that coupled with I could not get my own library card until I was 12 made going to the library prior to then less attractive. 

     I should mention too that the library, Elizabeth Ring Branch of the Houston Public Library system, was nearly 3 miles from my house. Summers in Houston are pretty darned hot and not a little humid, but it didn’t seem to bother us back then. Most likely because we didn’t have A/C at home and we were just used to the climate. Still, it was an added treat and incentive to know that when the 3 mile walk to the library ended I would be in luxurious A/C for my stay at the library. 

     We were allowed to check out no more than 3 books at a time. I generally read at least that many in a week with many weeks seeing me make 2 trips to the library. The books that I gravitated towards were in part written for my age group, but in many cases were what I would later learn were considered “classics”. I read every biography I could get my hands on. Especially those about my heroes such as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Knute Rockne, Thomas Edison, Alexander Bell, Abraham Lincoln, most of the presidents for that matter, and too many others to name. I also read a series of books produced by Alfred Hitchcock called “The Three Detectives” about 3 boys my age who solved mysteries and had great adventures. As for the “classics”, I loved “Ivanhoe”, “Robinson Crusoe”, “The Three Musketeers”, and “Don Quixote”. 

     I would get an old quilt and lay out under the large oak tree in our front yard and read the afternoon away. It was almost always cooler outside (if there was a breeze) than inside and I would also stop my reading sometimes to gaze at the clouds and ponder on the book that I was reading.

     So, why am I talking about this now? Well, mainly to point out that my generation didn’t need an iPod, video games, or HDTV to enjoy life. It may have been a simpler life and perhaps sounds boring to kids of today, but it was a great time to be a kid. An added benefit was I was getting an education without really knowing it and I was loving every minute of it. Oh, I still had my chores to do including mowing the yard and so forth, but life was great and even then I knew it. I didn’t realize it would change so much and so fast or I would have tried to slow it down some, but then what 12 year-old ever wants to remain 12? Perhaps a better question is, “Would you like to be 12 again for just a day? I’m pretty sure I would - but only if I didn’t know what I know now. Does that sound backwards to you? Well, the truth is a great deal of the fun and excitement of then was that I still didn’t know how things would turn out. It was all a still mystery and all of life was still ahead.

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