Forty years was three lifetimes ago.
Forty years ago in May, I graduated from high school on a warm, starry Friday night. My buddy Trip and I walked and drove around town the whole night, never settling anywhere, savoring every conversation, every hug, every look as though it might be the last.
The summer you graduate is unforgettable.
I remember songs – Carly Simon’s “Haven’t Got Time For the Pain,” the Hollies’ “The Air That I Breathe,” the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number” by Steely Dan.
The following Monday, I started a job moving irrigation pipe for a cotton farmer south of town.
I had gotten an alarm clock for graduation that had a reading lamp on a swivel arm. I would set the alarm, point the light at my pillow, and put the keys to my ’68 Impala on the floor, on top of my cutoff jeans. When the light came on I would sit up, grab the keys, pull up the cutoffs and go.
I went barefoot and shirtless, all the windows down and the radio blaring to wake me up. The first cold spray of irrigation water completed that task.
I moved two lines, skiing the downhill side of the plowed rows carrying 40-foot joints of pipe, banging them down, then skiing back for the next one.
After the last one came a long walk back down the row, then you’d open the valve and the shoot-shoot-shoot of the sprinkler heads quickly went to full blast.
I was done by sunrise, in time to go home for breakfast, get cleaned up and report to my other job at the newspaper office.
That first Monday morning, after I got out of the shower, my dad came in and told me he’d just heard that a former classmate of mine, whose family had moved to the Dallas area, had been killed the previous day in a car wreck.
The whole summer, what I remember is the predawn drive, the music, the sprinklers and the cool mornings.
And I remembered her, our first date, and how much it hurt not to be around my classmates, having to shoulder that grief and loss without them.
Mixed with all that emotion was the excitement of getting ready for college and the start of a new life, in a new place, with friends I hadn’t met yet.
I couldn’t have cared less about Richard Nixon.
But it was 40 years ago Friday, Aug. 8, 1974, that he ended the national agony of Watergate by resigning. I remember on the news, seeing him go down that tearful receiving line, shaking hands with the White House staff members one-by-one before he boarded the helicopter, then turning around for one last wave.
He waved exactly like he had two years earlier, when he’d won re-election.
When I got to college, a friend had a National Lampoon record irreverently parodying the Watergate scandal. There was a Sesame Street takeoff with the Cookie Monster playing a document shredder, a hilarious fake Sen. Sam Ervin, who chaired the Watergate Committee, and his side trips into sermons, malapropisms and southern politician bloviation.
There was even an official “swearing-out” ceremony in the Rose Garden, conducted by a spot-on Billy Graham impersonator who used every &$#@! in the book to send off the disgraced chief executive.
We’d been so steeped in Watergate for so long we didn’t know what to think, so we didn’t think. We just laughed.
It was a fitting finale to more than a decade of turmoil – race riots, assassinations and Vietnam protests, hippies, free love, LSD, Black Panthers and Woodstock, all punctuated by the constant body count on the news every day – how many of theirs we got, and how many of ours they got.
How perfect that it ended with scandal.
Unlike many, I did not become a total cynic. But I did give up, for all time, the idea that my or anyone else’s salvation would come from Washington, D.C.
Nixon’s triumphal wave is in my slide show of memories – goodbye to political turmoil, goodbye to high school, goodbye to hometown and childhood.
With or without Watergate, nothing would ever be the same, except …
I still love to go out early in the morning, water the plants in the yard, feel the cool spray and listen to the songs that play in my head.
Buckel is editorial director for the Messenger.