Publisher’s Corner

Summer of ‘69

Blastoffs and First Steps

In the Summer of 1969, there was much ado about everything. I had just graduated high school and adventure awaited. I joined up with a construction crew as a summer job that would be laying telephone cable underground in Elsberry, Missouri. It was the chance of a lifetime to work hard and make money. We stayed in flee bag motels and at 18, I was drinking beers with the older workers. These guys were grizzled. Operating backhoes and bulldozers. They were some pretty mean hombres and they took me under their wing. The old guy I bunked with, always started the morning with a cigarette and a shot of whiskey. He coughed for 30 minutes then we hit the road. He was an artist with a backhoe, digging ditches and trenches like a maestro of the mud. The young guys finished up around the edges with our shovels. Some days one of us was lucky enough to get flag duty and stand in the highway all day directing traffic. The job was hot, buggy, muddy and very physical. I loved it. It was just what every 18-year-old dreams of. Hard work then drinking with the guys. Every bar we went to never asked my age. So long as I was with my sun-wrinkled gang of denim dudes, I was always just part of the construction crew. From Elsberry we went south to Washington Missouri, a much more hopping town than Elsberry for an 18-year-old. Hey, I was making $4.00 an hour and I had money in my pocket and beer in my mug. Songs of the summer included Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat & Tears; Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival; A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash and Get Back by the Beatles. That summer in Washington was historic of course. Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, I sat in my motel room with my high school girlfriend (who came down for a visit) and we watched as Neil Armstrong set the first foot on the moon. It was a right of passage not only for me, but for our nation as well that summer. I have always been a fan of space travel. And even with so many other things to think about for an 18-year-old boy, I knew I was watching a part of history that really meant something. President Kennedy had promised we would get there and I was sorry that he was not around to see his dream come true. As I sweated away digging ditches that summer, I wondered what my future had in store. I was eligible for the Vietnam War draft but my draft number was pretty high. I already signed up to enter Meramec Community College in the fall. I was not sure I wanted to go to college yet, but a student deferment sounded good at the time. The one thing I knew was I loved to write. And some day I would be a writer, I told myself. Little did I know as I fought off a nest of hornets alongside highway 100 near Washington, Missouri, that one day I would be a writer, photographer and publisher. I knew I was destined to go to college and follow my dream. I liked the old alcoholic backhoe operator. He had a profound impact on me that summer. He helped me see who I wanted to be and did not want to be. He may not have known what he taught me, but he helped me realize that we are what we create for ourselves. And as those men landed on the moon, I knew that my dreams of grandeur were no more lofty than those astronauts before the blastoff. The summer of ‘69 was my moon shot, the moment I realized the sky’s the limit! And I was the author of my own story.

Take Your First Step, JB Lester; Publisher