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Raised on optimistic idealism, we were ill-prepared for cracks in our romantic notion of the perfect world

Many of us who grew up during the Fifties wax and wane nostalgically for a presumed time of innocence and bliss, an Ozzie and Harriet time, where families jovially conversed around the dinner table, with dinner cooked and served by a mom dressed in dainty frocks and high heeled shoes. Most of us had no notion of racial segregation, or gender inequality, of McCarthyism, or a distant and virtually unknown country called Vietnam. We were oblivious to any other social ills which may have been simmering under the surface of apparent calm.

The atom bomb seemed a minor inconvenience to us grade school kids, one that could be readily avoided by simply crawling under our schoolroom desks, and emerging when a siren ceased. We disregarded the reality of working moms or GIs and prison camp survivors, many of whom were our parents, who had returned from the devastation of war with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or mental and physical disabilities. They were the "Greatest Generation," who never complained, who did not just survive but who flourished by grit and denial. Living the fantasy of Ozzie and Harriet was so much more satisfying ... a kind of denial that allowed us to joyfully maneuver within the disconnect of that period of time. We had no way of predicting that a perfect storm was lurking in the shadows in wait for the proper catalyst.

On Friday, November 22, 1963, I was enrolled as a freshman at the University of Illinois, Navy Pier,

Chicago. I was six months removed from our high school senior prom, senior homecoming floats, penny loafers, pleated skirts and sock hops, and a year out from football games, and after game pizzas at Alberti's.

This particular day, November 22, as I recall, was cold and crisp, bright and shiny like a brand new penny. Thanksgiving break following midterm exams was a few days away.

At around noon, my friends and I were gathered around a long table in the cafeteria enjoying the camaraderie and small talk when there was a restless buzzing and contagious energy spreading over the cafeteria. It was rumored that the president had been shot. Soon what we could not believe was confirmed: President Kennedy had been shot; President Kennedy was dead.

The assassination of presidents had no place in my sheltered and insulated world view, birthed in an affluent northwest Chicago suburb. Most of us were college bound with life plans that would continue on where we had left off. My parents, like so many parents of that generation, did not speak of the horrors of war or the societal problems that lay hidden beneath a veil of denial. Most had brushed off the dust of the Depression and the doom of World War II, and had moved on. Raised on optimistic idealism, we were ill-prepared for cracks in our romantic notion of the perfect world. Nor did we yet question whether or not the idealism was real or imagined. We had not yet discovered that behind the illusion of Camelot lay a complex of unsuspected challenges waiting to be addressed. We were yet to learn that those cracks would soon become a generational and politically divisive schism, a schism which would continue for decades.

Rosalyn Kliot lives in West Linn.


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