By Anne Saker
Our family has reached the astonishing stage where half of the 17 nieces and nephews have launched or finished courses of higher education. This fall, we send off a bumper crop of scholars, Audrey, Courtney and Margaret, to the University of Utah, Syracuse University and Purdue University.
Even we elders, usually so unfeeling in our dotage, are excited for them, adulthood just arrived, everything possible, electricity crackling in this summer with Black Lives Matter and “I’m With Her” and Zika virus and Brexit as our young ladies approach their grand departures from their nests.
The anticipation reminded me of my own summer before college, when I yearned for that leap into the world with all its chaos, fire, absurdity, confusion and beauty. The news brimmed with the raucous and riotous, in August of 1977, the disco interregnum between the Watergate/Vietnam War nightmare and the Reagan ascension. So I couldn’t resist a peek back in time; thanks, internet …
Aug. 1: Former Lockheed U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers crashes the news helicopter he was flying in Los Angeles. Even then, I learned an important lesson of journalism: Sometimes, the news writes itself. I knew, from a history book, that the Soviets shot down the spy plane that Powers was flying over Russia in 1960 and tossed him in prison as a spy. In 1962, the United States traded a Soviet agent for Powers at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. Tom Hanks just made a movie about the deal. Plus – it’s a funny word now, Soviet.
Aug. 3: Radio Shack issues a press release introducing TRS-80 computer, and within weeks thousands were ordered. Radio Shack pushed a slice of the postwar American middle class to become early adopters. This machine brought a roomful of computing power into the suburban home and weaned a generation of coding nerds. Today, Radio Shack is in bankruptcy, and we wear computers on our wrists to count our steps.
Aug. 4: President Jimmy Carter establishes the Department of Energy. Carter was a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who trained in the early days of the nuclear fleet. Perhaps more than any other president, Carter understood how energy was a matter of national security. Still, even today, small-minded people mock him. Fortunately, Carter is a decent human being who in the past two years has beaten the Guinea worm and brain cancer.
Aug. 9: The military controlled government of Uruguay announces that it will return the nation to civilian rule through general elections in 1981. That kind of talk happened a lot then in many nations throughout South and Central America. At the time of this particular announcement, the Uruguayan military had imprisoned thousands of people. Decades later, one of them, a socialist farmer named Jose Mujica, was elected president.
Aug. 10: Cops catch psycho killer. I read in the Columbus Citizen-Journal (may it rest in peace) that an employee of the U.S. Postal Service, David Berkowitz, had been arrested in Yonkers, New York, as the “Son of Sam” killer. Berkowitz at first claimed that he fired his gun at women on the orders of a dog, although he rolled back on that last detail later. Still, New York City had been paralyzed for the summer by this guy, and the whole story felt like a metaphor of all urban life.
Aug. 16: The King dies. We were at Hastings Pool, where everyone brought a transistor radio, when WCOL-AM in Columbus played “Love Me Tender,” and the deejay cried on the air. How can Elvis be dead? He was a giant, bigger than life, a paradigm shift, a musical force of nature. In time, most of us came to acceptance. Yet Elvis denial remains a significant cottage industry.
Aug. 20: NASA launches Voyager 2. The companion satellite, Voyager 1, launched 15 days later. I have loved the Voyagers ever since, for sending back spectacular knowledge of the outer planets and the edge of the solar system — and carrying out into the universe the golden record disc of human sound, a testament that, appearances to the contrary on the home planet, we like to think we come in peace.
Aug. 31: Ian Smith wins presidency of Rhodesia. Even a coddled, sheltered young American could see in 1977 that this “election” was one of the death throes of colonial racial segregation in Africa. Now, we call the country by the name its majority people eventually were able to choose, Zimbabwe.
Funny — the world felt like it was coming apart then, too.
As my nieces place their dorm orders at Bed Bath & Beyond, I send them off with a few bucks for a nice lunch off campus. I want them to remember this summer of change not as a blur before the main event but as a season of clarity. The world awaits, but no rush. Yes, it’s thrilling, but it’s . . . complicated. Enjoy the buffer that is college.
But who listens to that noise? The world will deliver its wisdom. Gently, I hope, o so gently.
Anne Saker, a career daily journalist, is a staff writer at The Cincinnati Enquirer. She lives with her cat Cleo the Brave in an East Walnut Hills apartment house where, legend reports, Janis Joplin frequently came to party.
Editor’s note: I had the pleasure of recruiting Anne to The Oregonian in 2004 after she’d spent a decade knocking the cover off the ball as a reporter in North Carolina. When my Midwest baseball road trip brought me to Cincinnati earlier this year, it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with Anne, a native Ohioan who roots for the Reds and embraces life with elan.
Tomorrow: Alana Cox, All in for the Olympics