I was 8 years old in 1968. That's sort of an odd age, as ages go. You're old enough to generally understand the basics of what is going on around you and young enough that you'd don't fully grasp what they mean.
At that age, you may still believe in Santa Claus, the infallibility and authority of adults in general and that the world is guided by rules and principles. But you may be starting to have your doubts
Whatever is, is as it should be, since your limited scope won't allow you to fully understand that life can be random, that events that take place miles away can send ripples across an entire nation, the entire world.
We were quartered on an air base near a small resort town in Michigan, a somewhat idyllic setting, at least when you're 8. We swam in the lakes, hiked in the woods, canoed in the rivers and didn't pay much attention when the adults talked of things happening far away.
Just over the hill and past the baseball fields from us lived the greatest war machines the world has ever known. But that was another story and didn't have much to do with what we knew to be our lives.
Our fathers (and at that point, it was almost universally fathers and not mothers) were in the U.S. Air Force. They got up every morning and put on uniforms and kissed us goodbye and went to work.
We didn't think that odd, didn't ask what they did or fully understand the implications. And if they were conflicted, we didn't get it. And if they were troubled by the war that raged or the unrest that swept the nation, they didn't say.
For all we knew, they drove buses or delivered mail. That's what other men in uniforms did, after all.
Detroit had burned the year before during the Long, Hot Summer of 1967. Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities would follow suit in 1968 in reaction at least partly to Martin Luther King J.'s assassination. For those observing it must have seemed the country teetered on the edge of anarchy.
We were 8. We didn't know where Chicago or Washington, D.C., or Baltimore were, had no idea who Martin Luther King Jr. was except our parents seemed to think he was important. He didn't play for the Tigers and wasn't Batman, so how significant could he be?
And we believed our parents because our parents were always right, always confident and never afraid. And we believed Walter Cronkite because everyone believed Walter Cronkite, as history will tell us they should have. And we believed the president because you were supposed to. History will tell a different story there.
They say ignorance is bliss and I don't think that's true. Lack of context, that's bliss. Events are headlines in a paper, words on the TV. Knowing what they mean, that's where the demons lie.
Eight is sort of an odd age. Maybe you don't understand the specifics but you grasp when things aren't as they seem. You sense the fear.
Maybe you know what it means when your mom looks away from the nightly news to your father and your father's jaw tightens and then relaxes.
When at the barbeque, the neighborhood mothers all stop laughing and start talking so softly you can't make out the words. And the men stop talking and start staring off into space.
When your dad takes you to a baseball game at Tiger Stadium and you walk with him through those gates and see the green grass out there like an oasis. But you got there by driving through streets lined with burned-out buildings and you ask him what happened and he says "people got mad." And you don't ask anymore.
The year I turned 8 was a troubled time in our nation. Events from across the world had come together and people marched out of a sense of outrage, a need for justice or just anger at situations beyond their control. It was an odd age.
My oldest granddaughter will turn 8 later this year. Thanks to the pandemic, I haven't been able to spend as much time with her so I'm not always sure what she thinks about all this. Does she think adults are always right? Does she think we have all the answers?
Eight will be an odd age for my granddaughter. It will be an odd time for all of us.
Commentary on 06/05/2020
Print Headline: An odd age