Recently we were fortunate to make a trip to Plainview, my home town. There was a lot going on there. For me, there was the All-Class Reunion. My high school class was celebrating its 65th anniversary. A number of my old (and I do mean old) classmates returned and it was fun to reconnect with these friends and relive some of those special times that we shared at PHS. But the Reunion was just a small part of the celebration for the town.
This year Plainview celebrated its 125th birthday, with more events than we could possibly attend, including a Civil War re-enactment, bull riding contest, the annual Klown Days celebration, and parades extolling the virtues of all three events. Each night there was a spectacular fireworks show. The old hometown really did herself proud.
During our Friday night party one of my classmates brought me a letter. He said that it was a long overdue bill that I had not paid, dated 1961. We laughed a bit about that and then I looked more closely at the envelope. It was addressed to the grandchildren of Walter and Lenita Sehnert. It was clearly my mother's handwriting -- but my mother has been gone for many years. It was a very strange sensation. I was holding in my hand a message from the grave, so to speak.
As part of the Quasquicentennial celebration, the good people of Plainview had opened a time capsule, which had been buried in 1961, 50 years ago. The letter from my mother was a part of the treasure trove unearthed. I had not been at the opening, so my friend had agreed to deliver the letter to me at the reunion.
The letter greeted our daughters, Susan and Marie (our son, Matt was born later, in McCook), and Todd, Roger, and Chuck Olsen, my sister, Judy's three children (Nancy was born later). Evidently Mom was not sure that Judy and I would still be around.
Mom's letter to her grandchildren was short. She was concerned about the world as a troubled place and ended, "... America -- Our Country is a wonderful place to live -- free and rich with opportunity. May it always be so! God Bless you, Grandma"
During the '50s and '60s my mother wrote a weekly column for Leonald Warneke's Plainview News. Originally, the column began as a folksy letter about events and people in Plainview, but over the years evolved into a conservative's view about what was happening in the United States, warning about the excesses of Big Government and the breakdown of moral values of our political leaders, and the excesses of the population of the U.S. generally.
Thinking back to 1961, we tend to think of it as a comparatively benign time in our nation's history. After all, World War II was over, as was the Korean War, and we had not yet gotten into the Vietnam War, though 1961 did see the first direct military involvement by the US in Vietnam.
In 1961 the Cold War was the major concern for the world. The United States and the Soviet Union both had nuclear bombs that could destroy the world. As the two world giants glared at each other, here in the U.S. we were urged to build fallout shelters in our basements and school children were shown how to take refuge under their desks in case of an atomic attack..
In Germany the US and the USSR nearly came to blows, leading to the Soviets erecting the infamous Berlin Wall as a very visible symbol of the split between east and west.
In Cuba Fidel Castro had taken over the country and installed his brand of Communism for the island. This led to the ill-conceived invasion of Cuba by Cuban patriots and the CIA, in the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation -- all a prelude to the Cuban Missile Crisis, early in President Kennedy's administration.
The Cold War was not confined to land and sea. In 1961 the Soviets made their move to lay claim to outer space when they launched Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet Cosmonaut, into orbit around the earth -- the first man in space. The US followed quickly, when Alan Shepherd became the first American to orbit the earth, as part of project Mercury, leading to Kennedy's bold call to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade of the 60s.
It's always interesting to look at the prices of yesteryear. In a picture of my folks, taken by Harold Mauck at the bakery in about 1961, the special of the day is for Hot Cross Buns, 35 cents -- that's not for one, but for a whole dozen. Bread was 15 cents per loaf. But eggs were up to 30 cents per dozen. We were paying 27 cents per gallon of gas for our new cars, which set us back a whopping $2,850. The average house cost $12,500. Though we worried about the rapid escalation of prices, in 1961 inflation hovered at 1.07 percent per year.
Ballroom dancing was succumbing to Rock n' Roll, but it was still fun, trying to get your hips moving correctly to Chubby Checker's new dance, the Twist. Elvis was the big music star, but the Beatles were on the horizon, even as Lawrence Welk held the top spot in record sales with his hit, "Calcutta."
By 1961, TV had nudged out the radio for the place of honor in our living rooms, and Westerns were popular programs, with Wagon Train, starring Ward Bond, Lorne Greene's Bonanza, and James Arness' Gunsmoke leading the list of favorites, with comic Red Skelton, suspense specialist, Alfred Hitchcock, and folksy, Andy Griffith not far behind.
In 1961 there were TV sports programs, to be sure, but TV had not yet made sports team owners and pro athletes into the new class of multimillionaires that we have today.
In 1961 there were a couple of medical advances introduced that today we think of as ordinary, but have saved countless lives -- the laser, for surgery, and the heart pacemaker. Personally, I feel that I can count myself as one who owes his life to such advancements.
Lenita Sehnert pointed out a good many excesses of government that would have great impact on our country. Unfortunately, a good many of her predictions have come to pass, in the intrusion of Big Government into our lives, and the rise and fall of our political leaders because of the apparent disregard to moral values. For this I believe she would be saddened in 2011.
In regard to her grandchildren, Susan and Marie Sehnert, and Todd, Roger, and Chuck Olsen, I believe she would be pleased. Susan is a mother and housewife, with grown children, still active in her church and local affairs. Marie, a retired kindergarten teacher, with a recently married daughter, now helps out in the office of her church.
She and her husband are very much involved in community affairs. Todd and Roger Olsen are very successful farmers in Hamilton County, conservators of the soil, and mightily proud of their grandchildren. Chuck Olsen, the father of two productive sons, is an engineer and has traveled the globe as an official of his company. His letters, describing the places he has visited are eagerly anticipated by the family.
"...America -- Our Country is a wonderful place to live free and rich with opportunity. May it always be so!"
On one hand, while being dismayed at what I'm sure she would describe as the country's slide toward Socialism, at the same time, I feel that Mom would be encouraged by the direction her grandchildren (as representative of the many many decent, hardworking Americans of their generation) have taken. Yeah, I think Mom would view our future with hope.