The present now
Will later be past
Oh yes, the times definitely were changing during our last few years at Stern Summer Camp, as Bob sang in his 1964 anthem. And while many of us at the Catskills camp were too young, too sheltered or too naïve to sense how Dylan, the Beatles, the war, the civil rights movement, feminism and counter-culture forces would rock our world, we had learned in late November of ‘63 that there wasn’t always “a bright golden haze on the meadow,” to quote another lyric we knew back then.
I’ve been thinking about that era as we prepare for a second reunion June 24-26, 2005, which marks an important anniversary: Exactly 40 years ago, also near the end of June, about eight dozen New York City area campers and counselors rode north for our final summer in Pine Bush—though we didn’t know it’d be the last until a “Dear Parents” letter landed in March 1966.
Little did we imagine, in other words, how the present would soon be past.
To put the turning-point summer of ’65 in perspective, it helps to recall events beyond the Catskills that July and August. If this were a documentary, it’d open with news footage from Feb. 21, 1965, when 39-year-old Malcolm X was assassinated while speaking in the Audubon Ballroom at Broadway and 165th Street, opposite a small park where we began and ended chartered bus rides between Washington Heights and Pine Bush. The ballroom reopened in May 2005 as the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center.
But since I’m no Ken Burns, you’ll have to imagine the images behind these real-world vignettes from our last eight weeks at the sheltered setting where we’d “eat until we burst / drink milk for our thirst / come home all tan and strong . . .”
First, some scene-setting to sketch the backdrop for mid-1965:
- Letters to and from home needed a five-cent stamp, while cards cost four cents.
- Movie theaters were showing Ship of Fools (released that July), Doctor Zhivago (in theaters since April) and The Sound of Music, the year’s top-grossing film and Oscar-winer for best picture.
- The National League won the All-Star Game, 6-5, thanks to pitching by Juan Marichal of the Giants (MVP) and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals, who ended the July 7 game by striking out the Yanks’ Joe Pepitone with the tying run on second.
- Our newest 45’s and transistor radio tunes included I Got You Babe, Downtown, Love Potion No. 9, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, Mr. Tambourine Man, Mrs. Brown, Help Me Rhonda, Eve of Destruction, Unchained Melody, Wooly Bully, I’m Telling You Now, Cara Mia and others we may hear at the Nevele. Bobby Vinton, without whom no camp social was complete, is on the Top 50 list with Mr. Lonely. Naturally, Billboard’s rankings start with the Stones (Satisfaction) and Beatles (Help!)—and include four more from the Fab Four and another by Jagger and company. Lastly, this Motown-based writer is compelled to note that Diana Ross and The Supremes, as they were billed by ’65, have four singles on the list.
- The year’s best Broadway musical was Fiddler on the Roof, which won that category’s Tony Award. The Dick Van Dyke Show earned Emmys for its star and as best comedy.
- Also on TV, Bonanza was the top-rated show and Bill Cosby became the first African-American co-star of a series, I Spy.
But that was all just fun and games, as were our carefree days at camp. More important stuff was happening that summer 40 years ago.
There’s a battle outside
And it’s ragin’
From whichever of New York City’s six daily newspapers they read, our parents learned that:
- LBJ on July 28 committed 50,000 more troops to Vietnam, boosting the U.S. force to 125,000. Monthly draft call-ups would rise to 35,000 men, up from 17,000.
- Two days later, Johnson signed a bill establishing Medicare.
- Congress on Aug. 5 passed the Voting Rights Act, enacted into law by LBJ the next day.
- From Aug. 11-16, rioting in the Watts section of LA killed 34 people, injured more than 1,000 and destroyed hundreds of buildings.
- Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, part of his “war on poverty,” on Aug. 24.
And that’s the way it was during our break between school years, a summer that we now know marked a dividing line between . . . well, between pop songs like I Got You Babe and social ballads like Eve of Destruction, as well as between attending Stern Summer Camp and moving on to recall the oasis it provided at a time of transition.