Give Light: The Turbulent 60s

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This is a chapter in a Memoir, “Give Light…” of the six decades the author has spent writing about faith communities in daily, weekly and monthly news publications covering the western third of Virginia.

In these chapters published over the past several months, I’ve arrived at the decade of my thirties when I was more wife and mother than a news reporter.

Though I continued to follow monthly the actions taken by the Roanoke Ministers Conference, primarily as it related to the controversial issues such as racial integration, inclusion of religion professionals – other than white Protestant/Anglican men –  and later opposition to the Vietnam conflict, more of my writing was found in the Observant Citizen columns to which we evening paper reporters could voluntarily contribute.

Yellowed clippings from this period after he and I, with our three small children, had moved to suburban Hollins. I covered the topic of the poor quality of most Sunday schools, our son’s first haircut, the memorable snows of 1960, doing away with the Sunday closing laws, registering our daughter for the first day at Mountain View School, the pleasure of picnics for babies in strollers, and the gradual integration of my family, church and work life.

During this period, public kindergarten was not part of schools; our daughter remained at our wooded hillside home where she quickly took on the management of her two small brothers. In September 1962, she and three others on our street joined a crowd of first-graders.

In these years of big “Baby Boomer” families, many Roanoke Valley churches opened their own half-day programs for four and five-year-olds. A few offered real academic preparation for first-grade. Most provided training in group behavior, introduction to music and art, games and listening to stories. The small attendance fee was affordable for most suburban families.

Our daughter, with her outgoing nature, would have benefited from such training. Although she caught on quickly to such essentials as reading and cursive writing, she had the unenviable distinction of visiting the understanding principal’s office because she tried to boss her teacher. Second grade went better for her. This tendency to manage became useful later in her business career.

But in 1964, my troubles with getting our three children educated began in earnest. They were to dog me for the remaining 15 years until the youngest received his diploma from Northside High courtesy of what’s now called the Burton Center for Technology.

It would be eight years later before both our sons were professionally diagnosed with the condition generally understood now as “Attention Deficit Disorder.” As educators and psychologists have learned more about this condition, it is now being linked to autism and addiction. A half-century later this would cause the death of my younger son.

It became the subject of many stories I produced in the daily newspapers in years to come.

I took the inevitable Ds and Fs on report cards too seriously perhaps. Husband Charlie too had been a poor student yet found his vocation of news reporting while in high school and an encounter with a real newsman. Both he and I were first-grade failures.

He assumed he had outgrown his disabilities by the time he entered college at 25 as a World War II Veteran and did well there. I was blessed to have a single-parent mother who had taught impoverished mountain children for years before my time. Blessed too I was to go to a small small-town private school for my years from seven through 11 and avoid all but minimal math and science courses.

We were not the first parents to discover our own deficiencies through our children. I am slow to internalize my left and right making such activities as square dancing nearly impossible. Most games, both the physical and the mental, were the terror of my childhood. On Easter egg hunts I could hide behind bushes.

By 1965, I was exhausted by the struggles of school problems; a change from one Hollins elementary school to another had not helped much nor had summer sessions and a private tutor.

I sought help from my minister and eventually from a professional counselor. More importantly, I experienced a spiritual conversion which gave new meaning to my news writing. I came to see my role as an educator on issues such as the school problems with which many parents were coping.

As the 1960s passed into the next decade and our sons’ academic and social adjustment problems became better understood, the unrest the Vietnam college protests caused fell upon high schools. It was our daughter’s turn to become a rebel.

College degrees eluded them all as banking, steel recycling and the HVAC vocations assured our children’s’ independence along with valuable volunteer community service.

As I wrote of these changes, a Higher Power seemed at work in us all.