The Summer of 69, and What a Summer It Was


This is the one vacation that I will never forget. Every thing that led up to my family moving to Wisconsin started that summer. My father was fresh out of the Navy and was working for Continental Can Company. He was a field installer/engineer. Continental built canning and bottling production lines. The best part of my dad’s job was he could bring the family with him if it was somewhere we wanted to vacation. Early that summer my dad was out on a job and we stayed home. We lived on the south side of Chicago and it was a very hot start to the summer. We didn’t have AC at our house, so one night my mom packed us up and we went to my grand parents house to sleep. Good thing we did. Our house and the house next door were broken in to that night and totally trashed.

This is one of the tangents I tend to go out on. My mom volunteered at the Saint Agnes Church youth club for young people from 15 to 17 or so. The church would hold dances and outings for them. One of the boys that attended the events was named Sergio. His brother was the leader of a Puerto Rican gang. He was most likely not a very nice person but he was a good big brother. When Sergio found out about our break in, he told his big brother. The police never found the crooks but big brother did. I was just a little kid and I only heard the whispered talk. Apparently some low life crooks had to spend some time in the hospital. Long story short, no more break ins in our neighborhood.

1969 post card

We did not have a camera, 40 more years until the cell phone.
But we could buy post cards.

After the break in, my dad decided to bring us with him on his next job. Lucky for us it was Miami. We started driving down south on July 15th. The next morning my dad turned on the radio and we listened to the launch of Apollo 11, the first mission to land on the moon. So I did not get to see it but I did get to listen to it. The car had AC so the windows were up and my dad’s arm was resting on the door sill. More later.

start smoking

No big deal in 1969

My dad was a smoker but not my mom. As we drove on when my dad would want a cigarette, my mom would light one and pass it to him. After two days of that she started to light one for herself also.

We finally made it to Miami somewhere around July 17. As soon as we checked in to the motel we headed out for the nearest hospital. Remember my dad was driving with his arm in the window. He had the worst case of sunburn the doctor ever saw. We got back to the motel with my dad’s arm all bandaged up and settled in for a great vacation. We almost started anyhow. As soon as my mom turned the light on in the bedroom she spotted a very large bug on the wall. I think it was a Palmetto Bug. The image of my dad with an arm bandaged up and standing in his underwear chasing a big bug , all the time my mom trying to hide in the front room, will stay with me forever.

1969 hotel

Our hotel would be at the top of the photo

The motel was actually very nice. It was right on the ocean and had a pool. I Google earthed it and I found the breakwater that was just down the beach. Now everything is gone and it’s all huge hotels.

During the day my dad would go off to the job site and my brother and I would play in the pool and walk the beach. On one of the walks we watched some men carry a woman off the beach. She was walking and stepped on a jellyfish. After that we always had on shoes.

The other place we would go to was the breakwater I talked about before. That was cool, we would dare each other to go in the water and get closer to it. Big waves hitting a flat wall when you’re only 6 years old is very exciting and one of the things you don’t tell your mom about.

On Sunday my dad was off work. Early in the morning we went for a family trip. We started with a drive through Safari Land. For you young people, you drove your car around this huge park type zoo and the animals were free to walk around. It was some what of a let down. The cool animals like lions,tigers and bears just sat back and watched us drive by. The only thing that came even close to the car were some ostriches. So much for exciting adventures with Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler. That done, off we went back to the city.

1969 Moon landing

One Small Step For Man

The next adventure of the day was a late afternoon site seeing boat ride down the Miami River and out in to the harbor. Sailing along looking at the huge houses and boats was a lot of fun. When we made it to the harbor, things got really exciting. The place was filled with cruise ships and huge private yachts. All of a sudden they all started blasting their horns and sirens. It was deafening and also a little unsettling for a 6 year old boy. The big deal was the, “The Eagle Has Landed” . Yep, the astronauts made it to the moon. What a celebration in the harbor!

The next morning dad went off to the job site and mom took us walking down the beach. At 6 years old, swimming in the ocean and looking for sharks was great fun and exciting. We spent the morning on the beach and went back to the room for an afternoon nap, getting out of the sun. As soon as we got in the room my mom noticed her purse was not where she left it. Most likely, the maid’s son stole her wallet. Lucky for us she did not have a lot of money in it. Back then you used travelers’ checks. We headed off to the MPD station.

We went to the station and my mom started talking to one of the officers when all of a sudden a sergeant grabbed me and told my mom, “This is to important, he’s got to see it!” The sergeant brought me to his office and sat down with me on his desk. He pointed to the small TV he had on the shelf and we watched the astronauts blast off from the moon. Thinking about it, I would like to thank him for that.

Let’s pause for a quick recap: Home broken in to, missed the biggest rocket launch in history, stuck in the back of a car for days on end, dad burnt and bandaged up, mom started smoking, saw a woman crying and carried off the beach, got to see some big birds, scared by huge ships blasting horns and my mom’s money stolen. Yeah, great summer so far. On the up side, I got a great tour of a police station and saw the blast off from the moon.

As we settled in to our vacation things were very nice. During the day my mom would take us swimming and site seeing. We would have our mid day nap to get out of the sun. At night we would sit on the back pool patio and watch the lightning out over the ocean. My little brother would hide his head in my mom’s lap. He was afraid of the lightning, what a baby. Well OK, he was a baby.

After a few days I got what my mom thought was the Mumps. Off to the hospital once more. In the waiting room two guys came in. Thinking back, they must have been construction workers. One was helping the other walk. The sick one of the pair had his hand all wrapped up in a bundle of bloody rags.

I was just a kid so I went over to watch what was going on. The nurse or doctor wanted to see just how bad it was so he pulled the rag away and one of his fingers fell out and on to the floor. With blood dripping all over the other guy picked it up and they rushed bloody guy in to the back. Anyhow, no mumps. I did get them about two years later on a vacation to NYC.

A few weeks go by and it was Sunday again. This time we headed off to watch some alligator wrestling and see a real orange grove. The main event for the day was a trip to NASA Cape Kennedy. This turned out to be the greatest family trip ever.

On the way in to the base you had to check in at a guards’ shack. It was down a long road with water on both sides. We stopped and checked in and the guard told us to pull up the road and park behind the other cars and look to the right. We were still on the water road and we pulled in back of some other tourists and waited. Everyone was looking to the south east and so we did too. Suddenly there was a huge flash and then the noise. We had just seen a British submarine do a test launch of a Polaris missile from underwater. The sub was just offshore a few miles. That was incredible.

Once we made it to the base we had the standard tour of the launch pads, the assembly building and even some of the training facilities. While we were walking around the rocket displays and the museum, an announcement came over the loud speakers. The three astronauts had just been released from quarantine. That was one more big noise-making celebration. And I got to be there at home base to see it. This was the best vacation ever.

This is what got us to Wisconsin: My dad was not happy with the home invasion and decided to get his family out of Chicago. His next job was to build a Pepsi plant here in Watertown. He left for the job as soon as we got home from Florida. After the plant was built, the owners discovered that no one knew how to run a soda plant. They were a collection of distributors, not bottlers. So they made my dad an offer to be the assistant plant manager. He jumped at the chance to get us out of the city.

What a summer that was. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.