One of my most treasured childhood memories is of Halloween, 1968, when I meandered through several neighborhoods in our southern California suburb as a barefoot tramp, a swelling pillow sack slung over my shoulder. I kept walking, walking, and walking in an impromptu expedition. It was my longest childhood journey and my last West Coast Halloween (we would move to New Jersey in the spring). I did not know I was a twelve-year-old walking through an epoch, an era, an age. I saw much but was blind to much more.
Bobby Kennedy had been killed a few months before about twenty miles from here – and the co-ed next door was entranced by her marine boyfriend, who had just returned from Vietnam. He actually talked about the war. He told us about Hue, the country’s ancient capital and the scene of brutal Tet Offensive combat. We learned about booby traps, blown-off legs, and house-to-house fire fights in simmering heat. We learned how 19-year-old Americans pushed 19-year-old Vietcong captives out of flying helicopters. We did not know the Battle of Hue would be studied for decades – nor did we know that the Tet Offensive, while scoring a significant military victory, would sour most Americans and spur the anti-war movement. Nor did we know that the story-telling, handsome, 19-year-old Marine was effectually pleading guilty to a war crime. He never went to jail.
Four-year-old ghosts and six-year-old goblins swarmed the early evening along with five-year-old princesses and fairies with their magic wands. Homeowners faked fear before doling their treats and the young children gave blank stares. They did not know they were supposed to be scary. They just wanted their candy. And I didn’t know I was walking through a culture-shaping saga, a sociological event. This was Post World War 2 baby-boom California, where Easterners and Midwesterners converged and filled the semi-arid San Gabriel Valley with their pill-box homes, lush lawns, and swimming pools: the American dream veiled in smog. I had no idea that my long stroll hinged on draining aquifers.
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