In 1968, I was in the sixth grade at the Village Elementary School in Somerset, Massachusetts. This school year was a momentous one. In June, I’d turn 12. In the fall, my classmates and I would enter Somerset Junior High — an exhilarating and terrifying thought.

I’d been at Village since the first grade, and mostly with the same kids. It was an old brick building, built in 1925, with classrooms arranged around a central auditorium. There was a lot of polished wood, tall windows and high ceilings. The basement lunchroom smelled of bologna sandwiches.

I just loved it.

Sixth-graders were each assigned a job. I got the top duty — distributing and picking up the attendance sheets teachers had to fill out. How did we know it was the top job? Perhaps we just sensed that such a task was several skill sets above banging the chalkboard erasers against the exterior stair railings to get them clean.

I was confused about this honor. “Are you sure?” I asked the principal when he told me of my assignment. He nodded seriously. “Absolutely.”

Our teacher, Mrs. McCarron, wore her white hair in a bun. She always wore dresses and hose, of course, (all females in the school were in dresses or skirts) and black Oxford-style shoes with a stacked heel. Mrs. McCarron was formidable.

But several weeks into the first term, we were surprised by the arrival of a student teacher. She was young and blonde and had ideas. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the educational world was changing as fast as the rest of society. We were fresh off the “Summer of Love,” and the hippie movement was in full swing. My classmates and I were too young for all that, but just the right age to be introduced to hands-on, collaborative learning.

We started a unit on Japan. But we didn’t just sit there listening to the teacher drone on. We built volcanoes. We wrote haiku. The student teacher typed up our poems, mimeographed the sheets and “bound” them between sheets of construction paper. I still have mine.

The mimeograph machine, by the way, was a barrel that contained ink. A stencil was attached to the barrel, which was then turned by hand to create copies. Anyone who grew up with mimeographed materials can remember the smell, which we think made us a little high.

The culminating event of our Japan project was a tea ceremony. I was excited about this. Not only was my hair black, but I had a kimono-like garment and Asian sandals that one of my uncles had brought back from his service during World War II. Now I would look at this as cultural appropriation. Worse, none of my uncles served in Japan. My costume came from China or Burma.

I am sorry to have to tell you this, sixth-grade self. I’m glad you had such a good time.

It seemed like the year was going very well indeed. But I knew the world was roiling. Protests against the Vietnam War were growing. Mrs. McCarron gave us each the name of a Somerset boy who was serving there. We wrote letters to them, received letters back. I was so afraid my correspondent was going to die. Would the adults tell us if we lost anyone?

On April 4, I was doing my homework on the dining room table and half-listening to a portable black-and-white television when the program was interrupted. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.

In May, my paternal grandfather died, of cancer, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

On June 5, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy of New York, who was running for president, was shot while celebrating a primary victory in California. He died the next day.

My mind and heart were reeling. What was happening to my world?

The last day of school was June 21. The summer solstice. My 12th birthday. I sat on the stage of the Village School with my classmates for the last time.

It is a blessing that we did not know what lay ahead: violent confrontations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago that summer, continual protests against the war, race riots, Watergate. President Richard Nixon would resign shortly after I graduated from high school.

We were children together, innocent, but growing wary and afraid of the turmoil around us.

It is a moment, a year, that I will never forget.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.