5th Grade is the year we began to understand the world. We were all fans of our president. He was young and he was cool and his wife was beautiful and he had two beautiful children. This was a time before the time we live in. The press allowed us to indulge in this fantasy. If he had a terrible back problem and was a womanizer and if his wife was not so very nice and if their marriage was less than perfect and if maybe he wasn't the best president in the world we'd never know because it wasn't good form to talk about such things in the press. Thanks be to God.
So me and Terry and Kenny and Bob picked up Our Weekly Reader and read about the latest events of the world. We learned how we should join the Peace Corps so we could help save the poor Africans from starvation and ignorance and we learned about how we should exercise and go on fifty mile hikes. This particular bit of presidential insanity somehow rubbed off on my old man who decided Mick and I were flabby little nincompoops. Nincompoops we may have been but flabby was far off the mark. I weighed all of 60 lbs in 5th grade and I may be stretching it at that. In my Sophomore year of high school I weighed in at a cool 115lbs without even trying. Mick was no better. Nonetheless my father challenged us to see how many push ups we could do. Not many, not many. Which led, somehow, to the Royal Canadian Air Force Exercise Manual. A series of isometric and other calisthenic exercises which we were encouraged to indulge in on a daily basis. And like little puppies we did...for a while.
But being good little boys we also indoctrinated our friends and that led inexorably to the Wenonah Olympics. That's right. We staged our own Olympic games in Wenonah. Of course we didn't have a track and we didn't have a discus and we didn't have a shot to put and we had no arenas but we had willing acolytes (Ted and his little friends) and we had imaginations and we did the best we could under the circumstances. We ran the fifty yard dash and someone had a stop watch they borrowed from their dad. We had relay races. We tried as hard as we could using bamboo poles to do a pole vault. For some reason the pole vault more than any other Olympic or track and field event captivated us. We wanted with all our hearts to be able to launch ourselves twenty feet into the air and land on a soft cushion to the cheers of the crowd (Ted and his little friends).
Sadly we never got over three or four feet. We did a credible long jump and we enjoyed race walking because you looked like an idiot and we passed race walkers in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia so if adults could walk like idiots so could we. And we ran. But then we ran anyway all day long. It was the one thing we did beside ride bikes.
What did this running and jumping and cheering have to do with John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his bride and their two young children? To them, nothing. To us, everything. We were walking in their footsteps. We were playing touch football just like they did. We were active. We were committed. We believed. That's the key word here. Belief. Because now if you picked up Our Weekly Reader you'd say what a bunch of shit. You'd say this is just propaganda or hooey or nonsense. You wouldn't give a shit if they were building a great bridge from Staten Island to New York City because you'd be sweating the costs. You wouldn't care about bringing water to a small African village because you'd be worried about the ozone or the price of gas or your kid who's got a drug problem. But we believed. We believed we should be better. We believed we could be better. We believed that by dint of hard labor and imagination you could change the world. This was to have dire consequences but for now we were just a bunch of kids in dungarees racing around the block as fast as we could trying to be the best and fastest kid on the block.