One of the highlights of my summer experience was the 50th reunion of my graduating class from St. Brigid elementary school on Long Island. Back in 1963, 60 children sat in a small classroom hoping for big things in the future. We had spent eight years together, but now high school beckoned, and all of our lives would change dramatically.
Back then, America was a far different place than it is today. John F. Kennedy was president but had fewer than six months to live. The Beatles were just emerging. Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” was scaring everybody in the movie theaters. “The Andy Griffith Show” dominated on TV. There was no war, but civil unrest in the South was intense. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was making great strides in securing human rights for black Americans.
Twenty-two of my classmates made the reunion, and it was good to see all of them. Their lives have unfolded in mostly conventional ways. Most remain in the middle class and still believe in the fundamental goodness of their country and religion, although some are no longer practicing Catholics.
The reunion deal is the same all over. Folks who don’t succeed in life often don’t show up. The happy people usually come armed with pictures of their children and grandchildren. My reunion was very family focused.
Many of my classmates have led interesting lives, but unfortunately, I was the center of much attention. My visibility on television engendered much discussion, and I was happy to answer their questions. Since I was always a loudmouth, my classmates delighted in reminding me that I haven’t changed a bit and pointed out that only in America could I be well paid for doing something that got me a slap from Sister Thomas way back when.
The thing that is so different today is that children have little time to be innocent. We only had each other at St. Brigid. There were no cellphones, computers or video games. There was no Facebook. In fact, outside intrusions were rare. We played games like dodgeball and keep away. We attended square dances and Christmas concerts. It was all so basic, so simple. And there was a magic to it.
Today, children are thrust into an adult world at warp speed. I remember a kid named Billy McDermott explaining to me and the other eighth-graders that his older brother knew some girls who were “easy.” Easy? We were all confused. And so was Billy as he struggled to define the term.
Today, many eighth-graders are thinking about tattoos and drugs. We all know how graphic the Internet is, and believe me, kids know how to access this stuff. So I ask you: Wasn’t it better to be a kid in 1963? By the way, the answer is yes.
I feel sorry for the urchins these days. Responsible parents can mitigate some of the cultural damage but not all. We are living in fast times, in an era of selfishness and narcissism in which lowbrow entertainment envelops children like the chilly fog of San Francisco.
Good memories are forever. I had them back in 1963.
Bill O’Reilly is host of the Fox News Show, “The O’Reilly Factor” and author of the book “Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama.”