Ours became the generation that told tales of “where I was the day JFK (President John F. Kennedy) was killed.” I was sitting in sophomore algebra when the news rang over the Public Address system at Neligh High School. Coach Downs was the teacher, and our school cried in disbelief, right along with the rest of the nation. The horror that gripped America on November 22, 1963, showed us over and over on TV the president’s cavalcade in downtown Dallas. John F. Kennedy’s slump. Jackie’s bloodied dress. The sadness lasted until the news coverage finished and I continued the life of a teenage.
Death hit closer in June 1964. Leslie Backhuus, our friend from up the road, drowned. Memories are blurry here. Either the sheriff came to our place first and Mom went up to be with Lucile, or he asked Lucile if she wanted to call someone. Mom, eight months pregnant and having a hard time herself, gave Lucile as much comfort as she could. A greater responsibility fell on Dad and Gaylen. They went into the field to tell Orville that his son had died. I grieved silently as I cared for our family and the house.
The following fall was my junior year, my best year of high school. I returned to school pounds lighter, because all I ate over the summer was half a sandwich at noon, and ready for fun following the drudgery of that summer’s hard work. (My youngest brother was born in July and Mom had a tough recuperation.)
I was friendly, and tried to treat all the kids in school, no matter if they were from the poorest farm or the doctors’ and lawyers’ kids, as equals. Most of the time I felt that I fit in anywhere. Any jealousy or hostility had to be pretty overt for me to feel that my presence was unwanted. To this day I am naïve when it comes to undercurrents, or manipulative minds. I chalked it up to my Pollyanna attitude at the time. There is good and something to be glad about no matter what. Now I’m not saying I was always up emotionally, I took roller coaster rides. With the migraines I suffered through, and hormone activity, moods struck me the same as any typical teen.
One friend very close to me wound up pregnant. Reputed for my naïve flirtations, I discovered sometimes after the couple was already married, what friends got into trouble. For some reason my closest friends didn’t share those tidbits with me. Full of my innocent ignorance, I was the last to know. It doesn’t matter now. The kids joked about girls being nice or good, I never did figure out the difference.
The year’s highlight came in July. I was the first runner-up to the first Miss Teen Nebraska. Roger Miller was the country entertainer in Neligh for the Fourth celebrations, and the photo shoot took place in his trailer.