By ROGER AEGERTER
JEFFERSON, Iowa, July 2, 2021 – When the Greene County Historical Society decided to do a new “historical display on the 1950s, ’60s & ’70s,” I thought it was a good idea until I realized, hey! That was my life! I’m not historical!
I was born in the ’50s, was a teenager in the ’60s, and worked my way into the adult world in the ’70s. So, I guess that does make me an historical figure now.
We needed objects for the display, objects as I came to realize were the fabric of my life. They were also the fabric of my house, things I still use. Unlike my wife Jan, I don’t have clothes from my first dance in junior high (not middle school) or even my suit from graduation. I grew, mostly out. But some of the clothes in the display are real “Groooovy.” They really do remind me of those good ol’ days.
Those days don’t seem so long ago. But my birth was 25,682 days ago. What? It seems like only 23,998 days ago.
All of us can reflect on their lives and say they have been through a lot. But I can modestly, honestly say I have.
I could take you through my life day by day, if I could remember, but that may take too long. “It was a cool spring day in 1951 when I was born…”
I spent my first eight years growing up on a small farm outside Rockwell City, Iowa. I remember watching a tornado pass two miles west of the barn. I remember going with my dad to see a neighbor’s barn burn down. I remember standing in the yard trying to see a small light travel across the sky, Sputnik, I assume. I also remember it was the “country kids” vs. the “town kids” on the school playground. In my mind, my parents lived a typical farm life. I was too young to really help with chores, except gathering eggs from the hard-pecking hens and yelling at cows to move out the gate. My mother was a stay-at-home farm wife in a typical 1950s – gardening, sewing, cooking, choring, etc. Ever since my days on the farm, I have been a fan of green tractors.
When historians or my aunts talk about the ’50s, they many times have said it was a simpler time. I agree. Getting on a yellow school bus with my sister, playing with my dog Tippy, riding my black Schwinn up and down the gravel farm lane, thinking a bottle of pop or an ice cream cone was a special treat worth waiting or working for – those were the best of times. The ’50s were a great time to begin life.
I can tell you exactly where I was sitting when a high school girl walked into Mrs. Gallentine’s 7th grade English class and said President Kennedy had been shot. Front row to the right by the door. I have gone back to that classroom several times and stood in that spot. The school is now a museum for historical stuff! We had a short assembly before we got on the busses to go home that day. I don’t remember if at the time I thought the world was ending, but I do remember lying in front of the black & white TV and watching the next few days’ events unfold.
The rest of the decade, the world – I mean Iowa, or I mean northwest Iowa – was turned upside down and inside out. A few days ago, I was “scooping the loop” (the square) in Rockwell City, and it did bring back memories! Almost all those memories are triggered by familiar sights, sounds of the oldies, and smells like a lockerroom which take me back in time. I can still tell you when, with whom, and what car I was in when I was traveling to the Iowa State Fair to see the Beach Boys, listening to and singing to my Beach Boys 8-track.
There are also memories of the Vietnam War as I graduated and moved on to college. In the fall of 1971, I lost a high school classmate in Vietnam. I remember the funeral. I was on many athletic teams with Craig in high school and I remember him as a kind, quiet person who was big into Boy Scouts. This May, we had a 50-year memorial service for Craig with over 100 people attending.
I also remember protests going on at Iowa State University. Classes ended early that spring because of the riots and deaths at Kent State University in Ohio and protest marches on campus. I forget when, but sometime in 1970 or ’71, the first draft lottery came about. Thirty of us in our dorm sat in the lounge to watch the draft numbers being picked to match birth dates. A couple of things I remember about that night. We were all real quiet, there was no kidding going on when someone was assigned a number. My number was 273, fairly high. But a junior in electrical engineering who was vocal against the war was assigned number 1. He was going to be drafted eventually. I remember him crying, getting up and throwing up several times in the bathroom.
My higher education happened in the early ’70s. My becoming an adult, at least that is what I thought I was becoming at the time, happened in the late ’70s. Being on my own, trying to find my first real job, my second, my third, and for me, getting married, a lot happened in my life in that decade.
Just one last thought about my ’70s decade. In April of 1973, April 9, my birthday to be exact, there was a 1950s-type of blizzard (things seemed bigger when you were a kid). I was in Ames, the snow had been coming down for a couple of days, but I tried to drive out of Ames to go home for my birthday. Not quite thinking as an adult yet. I only made it to the edge of west Ames before I turned back. ISU was closed down for a couple of days, one of the first times in history weather shut it down, and I witnessed a fairly big John Deere tractor, my favorite, doing donuts down main street in downtown Ames! The snow was piled 6 feet down both sides, so it acted as pinball bumpers as the tractor hit the snowbanks.
As with that tractor, “My life, what a ride!”
You can comment on this column in the space below here, or you can write directly to the author by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is executive director of the Greene County Iowa Historical Society.