The Best of Times

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Camelot or “Paly High” were interchangeable for me. It was a mythical place, where that peaceful easy feeling could be found. It was a cheerful time, therefore condemned by naysayers for its frivolity and to be discarded for it's lack of social upheaval. It was the Eisenhower years, 1953-1961, a time that didn’t constantly “try a man’s soul”. Although the Korean War was raging on and for those that were in the trenches and being killed and wounded it was very real. But for most folks and especially kids like me it was so far removed from the Frontal Lobe of my brain that it hardly came up in teenage conversation.

Okay class, do you remember that once a year at Jordan Jr. High we had the manly sport of boxing? I think it was an after school event that any boy could enter and I believe that it was Nick Schmidt that “cleaned my plow” and ended my boxing career. Most boys wore Levi’s and sewed on the left side of the right rear pocket was a little red cloth tab that spelled Levi. If you weren’t watching some track star would come racing by and try to pull that little tab off. If successful, for some with slightly inflated egos, those pants would be rendered as “home pants”. For me and my friends, girls started to register on our libido scale when they started wearing lipstick in the 9th grade.

My sophomore year was spent in limbo as my move to a new house in the Sequoia school district relegated me to spend my Sophomore year there.

With the start of my Junior year, I was once again a member of the Palo Alto School District. One of the school board members was David Packard of Hewlett-Packard fame. There was also my father and uncle’s venture that became Varian Associates. My dad once asked what I wanted to be, I said “I wanted to be a cowboy”, lucky for me I got my wish for the cowboy’s life has been my occupation these last 62 years of “no regrets”. So this became a juncture that upon my graduation from Paly. I would leave these earliest founders of the electronics industry and go my way while the electronics industry was left to paddle their canoe without me and they even changed their name without me from The Santa Clara Valley to Silicon Valley where entrepreneurs were free to dream all the impossible dreams and many would come true.


With my return to Paly, and drivers license in hand, it was cars that topped the list for boys. They were a must have. I belonged to the Palo Alto Clutch Riders and those clutches took a certain amount of skill to not grind the gears when shifting and from a full stop in gauge the clutch without killing the motor there was a little pride attached to that skill and if you could parallel park on a busy city street well, take a bow. Today it’s all Automatic Transmissions that do the shifting and cars that park themselves while you sit idly by twiddling your thumbs that smacks of boring.

Phil Stavn was a classmate who was the best mechanic around. It was nothing for Phil to tell me that my cluster gear was out and if I would order one for my 1947 Ford Convertible he would help me pull the transmission out then put in my new cluster gear and get me back on the road. Thanks Phil.

We can’t forget about going “steady”, that precursor to getting married. Going steady opened up many doors to what each partner expected. For me, first was good conversation and when all had been said hopefully it would lead to “necking”, next came the giving of a ring to be worn on a chain around the neck of your now steady girl. As the confinement and commitment became reality of going “steady” it sent many back to their friends that were always taunting you about being “pussywhipped” while being welcomed back to the gang. But if the bonds are getting evermore tightly wound then you could move on to “petting", that’s when after some serious necking had taken place a hand could slide over a breast and then wait for a reaction and with any luck at all a blouse would unbutton and then trembling hands trying to unlock a bra would be replaced by her deft fingers and in the blink of an eye there they were. They were what we guys had been talking about the last couple of years and more. It seemed to me that this most exciting and meaningful time would have noble words to describe the event but, no, what language was acceptable was “feeling her up” or if your date got cold feet and you only had time to “cop a feel” before the wall of respectability went back up. What a gracious and forgiving time to experiment with “trial and error”.

So, back to looking at all the smiling and intriguing faces passing in the hall between classes. Enter now temptation that would unlock the shackles that bind. So “going steady” was always the favorite gossip topic as to who had just started going steady and who had just “broken up”.

I think these times were the “best of times” people were more open and friendly, less defensive and polarized, more trustworthy and we teenagers couldn’t wait to have a job, any job, as they were a badge of honor. When the boss told you what you would be doing, you wouldn’t be telling him the condition that you might accept a job. Class of 53 you lived during the best of times.


See ya,

Jack



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