Every day, Garrison Keillor sends out a new edition of “The Writer’s Almanac.” He always begins each day’s post with a poem. Today’s poem was by Charles Simic and titled “Nineteen Thirty-eight.” Thinking about his poem written about the year of his birth, I recalled a piece I wrote a few years ago on the year I was born. I wrote this in prose, but wondered if it might be crafted into a poem?  Probably not this week… This piece originally appeared in my former blog. 

Jeff Garrison

Ike II

I arrived at the Moore County Hospital, just outside of Pinehurst, on a Wednesday morning in mid-January 1957. The highways we drove home on through the Sandhills were all paved by then, but many of the county roads including the one we lived on were still dirt.   It was a simpler time.  Longleaf pines surrounded the highways and golf courses and small farms raising bright-leaf tobacco dotted the landscape. The Lower Little River was populated by my relatives. We were mostly descendants from Highlanders from Scotland and for us, tobacco was king (and still considered safe).  It sold for 59 cents a pound. Nearly a half million acres were raised in North Carolina, producing over 1700 pounds an acre. You can do the math.

In the same month I arrived, a meeting of African-American pastors led to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  We’d hear more about them in the next decade as integration was moving into the forefront. Before the year was out, there’d be the incident in Little Rock and the Senate under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson passed the first civil rights legislation since the Reconstruction. We’d also be hearing more about civil rights and Johnston in the years ahead.

Two days after my arrival, three B-52s made the first non-stop around-the-world flights and General Curtis LeMay bragged that we could drop a hydrogen bomb anywhere in the world.  The one place we did drop one that year, accidentally, was New Mexico.  Thankfully, it didn’t detonate which is why no one knew about it. The military were exploding bombs in Nevada but said everything was safe and no one knew differently except for the sheepherders whose flocks began to lose their wool and die off. There were other nuclear accidents in ’57 in the US and UK, but we didn’t know about them. We just trusted that our governments would never do anything to harm us.

Although there were no major wars going on, the world was tense. In October, the first American soldier was killed in Vietnam, a country we’d learn more about. But in ’57, the focus was mostly on the Suez Crisis and the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack. The DEW line was completed in the Arctic.  When proposed, it was to provide a six hours warning before the first Soviet bomb could be dropped on an American city. By the time the work was completed, the margin was cut to three hours as Soviet jets had doubled their speed.  A few months later it became extraneous as the Soviets launched their first intercontinental ballistic missile. Later, they launch Sputnik and we’d spend the next twelve years in a space race. Amidst all this, some yo-yo created the first plastic pink flamingo. The end was near as prophesied by Nevil Shute, On the Beach, a post-nuclear war novel published in 1957.  I’d read it in high school.

To save us from calamity, we placed our faith in Ike, the President, who many thought I resembled as I too had a bald head.Thankfully Ike wasn’t Herod and didn’t waste any time worrying about a newborn impostor as he perfected his golf swing and began his second term as the leader of the free world.

Jack Kerouac published On the Road in 1957, and people were heading out on the road as a new line of fancy cars with high fins and excessive chrome were revealed. The ’57 Chevy became an icon of the era as Ike announced the building of interstates to connect the cities of our nation. Cars ruled!  New York City abandoned its trolley cars in 1957, and shortly afterwards the Brooklyn Dodgers (originally the Trolley Dodgers) announced they were moving to Los Angeles. In other sporting news, the University of North Carolina beat Kansas in the NCAA basketball finals. These teams have remained near the top throughout my life. The Milwaukee Braves led by a young Hank Aaron beat the New York Yankees in the World Series. We’d hear more from Aaron and the Yankees, but Milwaukee faded when the Braves high-tailed it to Atlanta. The Detroit Lions, a team whose demise parallels its city, won their last NFL championship.

Ayn Rand published Atlas Shrugged in 1957. Nearly six decades later, “Who is John Galt?” bumper stickers are occasionally spotted on American highways. In the theaters, The Ten Commandments was the top box office success. For a country that seems so religious yet so consumeristic, the commandment about not coveting appears overlooked and Rand “look out for me” philosophy glorified the sin.  Other commandments were also being broken as “Peyton Place,” which debuted in theaters, reminded us.

Radios in 1957 were playing the music of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Debbie Reynolds, the Everly Brothers, and Sam Cooke.  In Philadelphia, teenagers danced for the first time on American Bandstand as more and more homes acquired televisions.  In England, two chaps named Lennon and McCarthy met and would go on change music as we know it.  Humphrey Bogart died just two days before my arrival, but it was still a good year for Hollywood.  Not only was Moses selling, but so were dogs as children everywhere cried watching Old Yeller.  Another movie released was the Bridge over the River Kwai which motivated whistlers everywhere.  That old British army tune would later be used in a commercial for a household cleanser and inspired one of the beloved parodies of my childhood:

Comet – it makes your teeth turn green.
Comet – it tastes like gasoline.
Comet – it makes you vomit.
So buy some Comet, and vomit, today!


28 Replies to “1957”

  1. “Who is John Galt?”

    Not a fan of Ayn Rand but I made a curious observation once of someone sporting a John Galt bumper sticker.

    The person with the Galt bumper sticker had pulled out into a busy intersection and almost got hit by a truck that didn’t slow down and stop when the yellow traffic light turned red.

    Given the Rand philosophy of selfishness being a virtue, had the two vehicles actually collided could the driver of the car faulted me if I asked for a fee before pulling he or she free of the wreckage?

    1. Hopefully you can see that I’m not a big fan of Ayn Rand, either. But I feel a bit of debt to her as she wrote a play to celebrate my birthday (not really, but she wrote a play titled “The Night of January 16,” which is my birthday).

  2. This was fun to read. The Comet ditty is one we heard and sang as kids too. Although, for some reason, I remember singing the word Vaseline instead of gasoline. I was born in 1959, so just a couple of years behind you.

    1. You’re my sister’s age, Connie! I’m sure there were plenty of variations on that ditty, with a few that wouldn’t be appropriate in this blog 🙂

    1. I’ve never heard that term, “Irish Twins”. I’ll have to look it up? Was it because we’re a gestation period apart?

  3. Great history lesson here, Jeff. Nicely done. It’s amazing how we tend to forget these historical events until some brilliant soul writes about it or makes a film about it. This: “Thankfully Ike wasn’t Herod and didn’t waste any time worrying about a newborn impostor as he perfected his golf swing…” LOL.
    You didn’t give us the actual date you were born. Was this a trick so we can’t wish you a happy birthday in January? 🙂

    1. Ah, the date? Maybe it’s so you can wish me happy birthday all the mid-days of January! But there is a clue provided (2 days after Bogart’s death). Here’s another, the day after Martin Luther King’s birthday (his real birthday, not the holiday one that we celebrate that wanders around on Monday’s so folks can get a three day weekend).

  4. Nice piece! A few years ago, my mother bought us each a fun Xmas present: a newspaper from our DOB. I’m a 1973 vintage, an interesting year what with the US pull out of Vietnam, the beginnings of Watergate, the oil crisis and so forth.

  5. Hi Jeff, your blog is very interesting,however, your homepage contains so much content that it opens up very long. Could you do something about it?
    Your post proves that everyone has their own interesting history and the times in which they were born :-)Nice to read 🙂

    1. Thanks for letting me know, Alice. I don’t know a lot about wordpress (I used blogger for 10 years before starting this blog). I need to find someone to help me streamline this site.

        1. You’ll have to write your own year’s review then :). My brother was born in 58, He graduated high school in 76, while I graduated in 75

  6. Delightful, Jeff! Loved the commercial parody! It sound like something my third grade boys would have written with glee! 1957, obviously, was a very good year!

    1. It was pretty common back in the late 60s for elementary kids to sing this little ditty. A friend from Michigan knew it from there, so it got around. Yep, ’57 was a good year

Comments are closed.