Friday, October 06, 2006


I started 1948 as a four-and-a-half-month-old baby and ended the year as a sixteen-month-old toddler. While I was learning to walk and to eat solid food, the rest of the world was still in recovery, trying to find prosperity while once again realizing that war had solved very few of the world's problems.

In the motion picture world, "Gentleman's Agreement" won Best Picture and Best Director (Elia Kazan.) Based on the 1947 bestselling novel by the same title, it dealt with anti-Semitism in American society. "A Double Life" won Best Actor (Ronald Coleman) and was a psychological drama about an actor who lost his identity in the characters he played. "The Farmer's Daughter", a romantic comedy about a farm girl who ends up in politics, won Best Actress (Loretta Young.)

Popular songs included "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" (understandably a hit in our house), "Nature Boy" and "Buttons and Bows."

New antibiotics were developed, the long-playing record was invented, rocket missiles could go farther and faster and Idelwild Airport (now JFK) was opened on Long Island. Leo Fender produced the first electric guitar, the Bic pen came into existence and the first Polaroid Land camera went on the market.

The books I read from 1948 spanned the gamut from historical fiction to books about World War II, stories of contemporary life and a representation of writers from around the world (Japan and Africa.) The war books written by Americans were from the enlisted man's viewpoint rather than the officer's and were distinctly anti-war in tone (The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer and The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw.) All manner of social situations and problems were represented including poverty, racism, immigrant life and homosexuality. Three of the top ten bestsellers were heavily Christian, which showed a return to religion as some kind of refuge in uncertain times.

I found the war books exciting and eye-opening. Those authors presented a picture of what it was really like to be a soldier, as well as casting doubt on whether the purpose of World War II was actually worthwhile. My favorite book of the year was Raintree County by Ross Lockridge Jr. Besides being an incredible read, Lockridge took on the issue of the ideals of this country and showed that the seeds were sown at the end of the 19th century for the tarnishing and undermining of those ideals. Other favorites were The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene duBois, for presenting a unique utopia; Seraph on the Suwanee by Zora Neale Hurston, because she is a wonderful writer; and The Plague by Albert Camus. All of these books are full of hope, belief in the human spirit and the idea that man can rise above the destructive and evil aspects of his nature.

Overall, I think it was a dull year for America, still trying to get back to "normal" life after the war. That effort made for a conservative time of shutting our eyes to the devastation and spread of communism in Europe. Our government was aware of all this but not the American people, who had had enough of worrying about the problems of other countries. Truman was elected for four more years in the White House and the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe with American money was passed, but labor was still striking, wages and salaries were still low and the cost of living was still rising.

Perhaps dullness was a good thing, compared to the rest of the world. India was unstable after achieving independence and Gandhi was assassinated. Chaing Kai-shek was re-elected as President of China but would fall to the communists within a year. The Jewish state was hammered into existence in Palestine by the United Nations but the area was already bathed in bloodshed as Jews fought Arabs.

As far as my life goes, I was reigning queen of my own little kingdom at my grandparent's house. Mom would put me in my playpen where I played happily, learned to sit up at about five months and then to pull myself up to a standing position. I got my first tooth at seven months, could stand by myself at nine months and was crawling by ten months. I turned one year old in August and by September I was walking. Also in September I attended Aunt Lois and Uncle Frank's wedding. In a picture from that day, I am eating some wedding cake brought to me by my dad. I look pretty blissed out eating that sweet morsel and have always had a sweet tooth, as did my dad. My first word was "mama."

I have some memories of that year. I remember my parents' bedroom, which was where I slept in my crib. I remember falling off my parents' bed and being amazed at what an effect I created as everyone came running. (My mom says she can't believe I would remember that, but she remembers that she and my dad were kissing in the bathroom at the time.) I remember sitting in my highchair at the dining room table and entertaining them with my antics. At least I remember having everyone's attention and feeling that they all thought I was pretty cool. My favorite times were being in the bathtub with my grandma and playing with her huge soapy breasts. I loved my grandma best of all and I'm sure she loved me back just as intensely. My parents sang in the church choir and from my infancy they would lay me on the pew in the choir stall while they sang. So I got those hymns in my consciousness from very early on and this comes out in my songwriting from time to time. Sitting in any church, listening to the music of a pipe organ never fails to fill me with feelings of peace and longing.

I've been told that whenever my grandpa was home, he would tote me around with my face outward so I could see what was going on, but I don't remember that. What I feel certain about is that all that love and attention was a wonderful thing and that all I had to do was cry or fuss and I could get pretty much anything I needed or wanted. But my mom says I was a "pistol" and that if I couldn't get what I wanted I would bang my head on the floor until I got the imprint of the carpet in my forehead. Spoiled drama queen? Well, those days were numbered.

My parents were doggedly saving money for a home of their own. On Sundays, they would look in the paper at homes for sale and my grandma would get upset, wail about why they would be so ungrateful as to move away from her house and then she would get a headache. At the end of 1948, moving out was still a year away.

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