“Those were the best days of my life.” — Bryan Adams
Unlike Bryan Adams, who sings the above line in his song “Summer of ’69,” I cannot say those were the best days of my life. But they were darned good.
As my own Summer of ’69 began, I had completed my sophomore year of college, was madly in love with the girl of my dreams, and had a “summer job” that was actually turning into a career.
Still a few months shy of my 20th birthday and living at home with my parents — happily at home with my parents, I hasten to add — one word could be used to describe me during that summer of Woodstock and “Midnight Cowboy” and “Honky Tonk Woman.” That word is innocent. Man, was I innocent. An absolute baby compared to 20-year-olds of today.
Two years into our relationship, my girlfriend and I were still at the kissing stage. True, the kissing was about as advanced as kissing can get, and there may have been a bit of exploratory touching, but that was it. Mostly we just hung out. And often that was with our families. I cannot remember if we watched “One small step for man” at my house or at her house. Actually, something tells me we watched separately with our own families.
I had no car and neither did she, so a typical “date” was I being dropped off at her house and then walking home later (about two miles), or she being dropped off at my house and I driving her home in my dad’s station wagon. When she came to my house, it was easy to walk down to Main Street and take in a movie at the American, or stroll to Grablick’s Ice Cream parlor.
Occasionally, my dad would grant me the station wagon to go to the Comerford Drive-in on a Saturday night. We’d usually invite another couple, bring blankets and pillows, back into the space and fold down all the seats so we could watch lying down.
We might bring a pizza, but you know what we didn’t bring? Booze.
I realize it’s hard to believe, but at that point alcohol was the last thing on our minds. Oh, I might have had a weak whiskey sour or rum and Coke at a friend’s house at Christmas, but other than that, drinking was not part of my life.
I told you I was a baby.
The crazy thing is that one of my duties at the Sunday newspaper where I worked was to go for the beer on Saturday night. My job was just about done by 11 p.m. and that was when the production people, who still had plenty to do, would send me out for food.
One night it might be burgers, another pizza. Then one of the guys had an idea. I should swing by this neighborhood bar, where the owner surely knew me, and grab a couple of quarts of Schaefer. Remember, I was 19. “Tell him it’s for the guys at the paper,” he said, and I did. I was so innocent, I was amazed that guys could drink a whole quart of beer by themselves. Before long they were up to two quarts.
My main role was to write sports and in summer that meant running the slow pitch softball league, sponsored by the paper. I was just a kid, but more than once I’d be called upon to iron out a dispute. Tempers would be flaring, stoked with post-game beers, but there was not a single time when the players did not treat me with respect and abide by my decision. Guys like Joe Danko and the late Jimmy McCabe and Chucky Giardina, among others, became lifelong friends. Up to the day he died, every time Chucky saw me, he called me “Skinny” and planted a kiss on my cheek.
The national events of 1969 are, of course, legendary. If the three days of peace and love in upstate New York and man landing on the moon were not enough, we were treated to the “Miracle Mets,” the former laughing stock of baseball, winning the World Series, and, though we didn’t know it at the time, The Beatles recording their final album, “Abbey Road.”
Something that struck close to home also happened that year. The draft lottery.
I got number 34, which pretty much assured a trip to Vietnam as soon as my student deferment ended in a couple of years. My girlfriend’s mom pronounced she would pay my way to move to Canada. How was she to know my dad had been awarded a Bronze Star during World War II and his brother, the first Edward Ackerman, had been killed in the Battle of the Bulge? There’d be no Canada for me.
As it turned out, by the time I was eligible, a moratorium had been declared on the draft and the war wound down. So there was no Vietnam either.
Locally, commencement was held for the first time at Charley Trippi Stadium for the Pittston Area Class of ’69, the first seniors to attend the brand-new school in Yatesville. As a reporter, I had gotten a tour of the place before a single student entered. The school had no tennis team, but three courts had been installed on the campus. Thank goodness. Who knew in the summer of ’69 that, although I had never touched a tennis racket, a few years later, I would spend countless hours on those courts. That was after the girl of my dreams dumped me and I had a lot of time on my hands.
By then I had discovered beer, which also helped.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.