Without being too philosophical, the 60s were chock full of emotional highs and painful lows. We either rode the crest of a wave as our heroes blasted into space, or watched the nightly news count of young American men that had been killed in Vietnam that week. In between, we sang along to the Top 30 rock-n-roll songs on CKLW, cheered for the Tigers, and mourned with the rest of the nation when one of our leaders was killed.
Growing up as a kid, it all seemed quite normal: space ships, war, rock music, and riots.
So, on the last night of the 60s, I found myself at a New Year’s Eve party hosted by one of my best friends, Jim Book. It was a small party attended by other 13-year-old boys from the neighborhood. As parties go, it was pretty lame. We drank soda pop, ate chips and watched television as we waited for the ball to drop at Times Square. And it did.
“…3, 2, 1. Happy New Year!”
And just like that, the 60s were over; hello 1970. It was all very anti-climatic.
Until Jim’s dad, Mr. Book, brought out his 12-gauge shotgun. We followed him like lemmings to the front porch. He pumped the shotgun and aimed it at the sky.
Sweet Jesus, what a magnificent explosion. It sounded like a cannon. He pumped it again. A hot smoking shell fell to the porch and the aroma of burnt gunpowder filled the air.
We listened as this blast echoed through the neighborhood. Fireworks exploded in the distance. Nearby neighbors fired their shotguns as well. The whistle at Mueller Brass bellowed. Drivers honked their car horns on Griswold Street. This was all new to me. So this is how adults brought in the new year; with explosions and gunfire. Well, I liked it.
Mr. Book pumped his shotgun again and handed it to his son. Jim shouldered the 12-gauge, aimed it at the sky and pulled the trigger.
The recoil just about knocked Jim off his feet. I remember he rubbed his shoulder with a pained expression. Then Mr. Book pumped the shotgun and handed it to me. I was shocked.
“What, me?” I asked.
“If you want to,” Mr. Book said.
Oh hell yeah. I readily accepted the opportunity. Unbelievable. I was about to shoot a real 12-gauge. Holy shit; this was going to be great. What a great way to end one decade and start the next.
Mr. Book helped me shoulder the shotgun. He let go and I held the full weight of the weapon. It was a lot heavier than a BB gun. I aimed it skyward, but I remembered the kickback that Jim had just experienced; I wanted none of that. As a precautionary measure, I held the shotgun about six inches away from my shoulder and pulled the trigger.
The shotgun slammed into my shoulder like a sledgehammer and nearly ripped my index finger off in the process. I fell on my ass, screamed in pain and dropped the shotgun on the concrete porch. At first, Mr. Book thought I’d shot myself. Once he realized it was just pain from the recoil, he picked up his shotgun and went inside followed by my friends. I picked myself up and dragged my wounded shoulder (and pride) back home.
Looking back, it was a fitting end to the 60s; from an emotional high to a painful low.
“So, bye, bye, Miss American Pie.”