Born in 1956, I remain the product of a lifetime spent primarily in small town America. One of my earliest memories is of watching a stampede of cows race by me, as they left the pasture to be fed. I recall greeting them with a polite “Hello Cow!” as they hurtled past the open gate. I also remember my mother’s frantic calls, as she ran up the hill to save me from the thundering herd. The memory comes from a time when we lived on Wheelbarrow Hill Road, near Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where my father worked as the principal at a local elementary school. During the summers, Dad also served as a riflery instructor at a local summer camp. My life was pretty much normal for a 1950-60’s era kid. It was a time when children were still kept relatively innocent to adult affairs. Telephone calls were dialed with just three numbers and television shows were mostly westerns. ‘Beatles’ were still just insects we collected to mount on pins in a little cardboard box.
I was just another innocent kid in an innocent age, until I started school. That is when I learned to fear the ‘Commies!’ I don’t really remember when I was first introduced to the concept of hating the Commies, but I do recall the first time I was instructed to hide under my desk at school for an air-raid drill. My initial fears were soon overcome, when I realized the horde of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the classroom desks. In following years, I came to appreciate the threat of Commie attacks, especially after the air-raid drill sirens saved me from a particular test I had never bothered to prepare for. The best of all were the air raid drills that required students to huddle in the hallways. There were a lot of shenanigans going on when we were all crouched down and lined up, head to butt along the cinderblock walls. None of our teachers every bothered to explain how the old block walls would actually protect us from an atomic blast. However, as youngsters we dutifully followed instructions from our teachers, and cursed the Commies, even if we didn’t understand why. It certainly was a far different time.
I realized the Commies were really out to get us in the spring of 1960, when airplanes rattled the windows of our house on Rugar Street in Plattsburgh. Our house was directly in the flight path. Throughout the dark night, bombers left Plattsburgh Air Force Base in response to the shooting down of a U-2 spy plane piloted by Col. Gary Powers. Those damned commies!
Despite experiencing such disturbing incidents at such an early age, I remained relatively oblivious to the realities and dangers of the adult world, probably because it was also very easy to get lost in the western culture. And by western culture, I mean television shows such as Wagon Train, Roy Rogers, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Johnny Yuma, Maverick, Gunsmoke and dozens more. With westerns, it was easy to figure out who the good guys were because they always wore the white hats! Back then, my favorite toy was a pearl handled, six shooter, and all little boys played with guns, some of them even had caps that would spark, bang and send smoke in the air.
Looking back through the eyes of age, I never really considered the fact that guns actually killed people. The reality that guns were dangerous weapons simply wasn’t on my radar screen, despite the fact that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed when I was in second grade.
The realities, and the accompanying terrors of the power of a gun came to me unexpectedly in 1966, when a crazy man by the name of Charles Whitman climbed to the top of an observatory tower on the campus of the University of Texas.
He killed 14 people and wounded 12. Like most people in the country, I was stunned and scared. At the time, my father worked at Plattsburgh State, and it sure seemed to me that there were a lot of towers on that campus.
I believe the incident signaled the end of innocence for many citizens of the Boomer Generation. I know it did for me.
Unfortunately, the insanity did not end there, and it appears such events have continued seemingly unabated. It also appears they are becoming more frequent, and our responses have been less effective.
Like most of the nation, my heart sunk as word of the most recent such incident rattled across the television news and other media outlets.
As I listened to unfolding news of the massacre, there was an old fear rumbling in the back of my mind. It was a ping of fate that hadn’t been disturbed since the 1960’s.
It struck a particular nerve, as my younger brother now serves as principal for the Red Hook Elementary School, which is located less than a half hour’s drive from Sandy Hook.
My heartfelt sorrow and prayers now go out to yet another traumatized town in small, town America.
Connecticut Governor Malloy summed it up when he explained, “evil visited this community today. “
I know there never be an explanation, since there is no rational answer for an irrational act. However, as a nation, we must begin to work together on a process to put an end to such madness.
And we should all remember, “There but for the grace of God…”
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.