Some years ago, I attended a lecture by a person who had done research on the year a person was born and how that effects that person's personality. His thesis was that a person starts to branch out from the family and form a view of the world around the ages of 10-12. The conditions of the world at that time imprint themselves on the person and shape how they will view the world in the future.
My mother was 10 in 1931, the depths of the Great Depression. When my mother first looked at the world, she saw want and danger, and, to this day, that experience is the foundation of the essential structure of her worldview. She saves rubber bands.
I was 10 in 1960. The world was much different then than in 1931. My early experiences of the world are about waking from the somnolence of the 1950's, the "torch" passing to a "new generation of Americans," and the Roman Catholic Church opening its windows to the world. The world was still a place of danger--the Cuban missile crisis was in 1962--but it was also a time of hope and energy. As Bob Dylan sang in 1963, the times, they were a'changin'.
What's not to like about the early 60's? A jazz piece, Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," climbed the charts. Leonard Bernstein was evangelizing young people on the joys of classical music. The unscripted and passionate Jack Paar, an exemplar of wit and culture, was holding forth on late night TV.
Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl were challenging conventions in comedy. Telstar, the communications satellite, was launched in 1961. The Beats generated literature. Muhammed Ali won the Olympic gold medal. The United Nations enjoyed popular support.
In 1960, Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, a signal that we were finally beginning to engage the truth about race. In May, 1961, the first Freedom Rivers went south. In 1961, Julia Child published Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Meatloaf and mashed potatos have not seemed quite the same since.
Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, and the environmental movement began. Also in 1962, Michael Harrington published The Other America, which shocked the country with its documentation of the extent of poverty in the USA. Morris West's The Shoes of the Fisherman, the story of a liberal pope who sells Vatican assets to feed the poor, was published in 1963.
Vatican II opened in 1962. Religious reconciliation was in the air. We could feel the effects even in our out-of-the-way Kansas town. Paul Tillich and Teilhard de Chardin's theology appeared to be the wave of the theological future. Whatley Chapel in Denver, dedicated in 1962, has a stained glass window dedicated to Tillich.
The moderne architecture of the period was fleet and fresh. The work of Eero Saarinen, Walter Gropius, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe set the trend. Alexander Calder and Andy Warhol were leading figures in art. Classical music had its largest market penetration in the early 60's.
This world ended on November 22, 1963. John F. Kennedy was killed, and Camelot with him. Still, those of us who lived in the early 60's, and were formed by them, remember that American public life was once creative and hopeful. We don't save rubber bands. We save the idea that life can be made better, that reconciliation is possible, that religion can be a force for unity, and that "the long twilight struggle" against the enemies of humanity can be engaged and won.