January 3, 1982: Split Time

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(Pictured: Olivia Newton John performs at the American Music Awards in January 1982.)

January 3, 1982, was a Sunday. Severe winter weather has battered the West and the Rockies since Christmas; in Wisconsin, there’s nearly a foot of snow on the ground after two major snowfalls in 72 hours, and more snow is forecast in the Midwest today. Subzero temperatures have been recorded from Michigan to Montana. President Reagan returns to the White House today from a holiday vacation in Palm Springs, California, where he will have to deal with the ongoing scandal surrounding national security advisor Richard Allen, who is on a leave of absence after being accused of soliciting bribes from Japanese corporations in conjunction with his private consulting business. Jury selection will continue this week in the trial of accused Atlanta child murderer Wayne Williams. In Poland, the martial law crackdown on labor unrest sparked by the Solidarity movement continues. The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Poland; Reagan will meet with West German leader Helmut Schmidt this week to discuss next steps.

In the NFL playoffs yesterday, Dallas crushed Tampa Bay 38-0 and San Diego beat Miami 41-38 in overtime after blowing a 24-0 lead and falling behind 38-31. Today, Cincinnati beats Buffalo 27-21 and San Francisco knocks off the New York Giants 38-21. Conference championship games will be played next Sunday.

On TV tonight, the CBS lineup includes 60 Minutes, Alice, The Jeffersons, and Trapper John M.D. NBC presents CHiPs followed by the theatrical movie The Boys From Brazil. On ABC, it’s Today’s FBI and the theatrical movie Running starring Michael Douglas. At his house in Colts Neck, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen records several songs that will eventually be released on the album Nebraska. The Billboard Hot 100 will be frozen this week; Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” and “Waiting for a Girl Like You” by Foreigner were holding at #1 and #2 for the week of December 27, the fifth consecutive week they have occupied the top two positions. At WBEN in Buffalo, a new survey comes out on Tuesday. “Physical” and “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band will hold at #1 and #2. “I Can’t Go for That” by Hall and Oates is #3 and “Comin’ In and Out of Your Life” by Barbra Streisand is #4. “Waiting for a Girl Like You” rounds out the Top Five. Three songs make big moves into the Top 10: “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie from #12 to #7, “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Gos from #15 to #8, and “Abacab” by Genesis from #23 to #9. “Turn Your Love Around” by George Benson moves from #17 to #13.

Perspective From the Present: Richard Allen resigned his post on Monday, January 4, although he was never shown to have broken any laws. The upcoming NFL conference championship games would both go down in history: the Cincinnati-San Diego game as the Freezer Bowl and the Dallas-San Francisco game for the last-minute Joe Montana-to-Dwight Clark touchdown pass known as “the catch.” And after a grim year for pop music in 1981, 1982 was sounding better already.

It was Christmas vacation at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, although I split time between home and my campus apartment. On Thursday, December 31st, I had done the New Year’s Eve countdown show on KDTH. On New Year’s Day, I ran the board for the station’s broadcast of the Rose Bowl, in which Iowa was thumped by Washington, 28-0. On Saturday the 2nd, two friends and I broadcast a basketball game on the campus radio station—a game that was sparsely attended given the viciously cold weather, and a broadcast likely unheard by anyone not participating in it. Afterward, my friends decided to sleep on my living room floor. The next morning, their cars wouldn’t start until I jumped them. That afternoon, I had to help dig my girlfriend’s car out of a snowdrift after she slid off the road on her way to work.

A couple of Sundays later, I would be on my way out of my apartment, bound for the radio station at 4:30AM, when I heard a banging noise from upstairs. I went to investigate and saw my roommate stomping out burning curtains, which had caught fire from being too close to the baseboard heater. Smoke damage made the apartment unlivable; I decided that I would rent my own place in Dubuque, considering that I was about to start working full-time at KDTH in February while finishing up my last semester of school. So in a span of about two weeks, I found a place, packed, and moved, and become suddenly, unexpectedly, a young man on his own in the city, with no roommates and no parents around, just me, and my salary of $200 a week.

December 31, 1986: That’s What Dreams Are Made Of

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(Pictured: the Bangles, 1986.)

December 31, 1986, was a Wednesday. Newspapers today report new developments in the Reagan Administration’s arms-for-hostages scandal, and concerning its plan to develop a space-based missile defense system. The maker of AZT, the only drug shown effective against AIDS, says that shortages of the drug are likely once it becomes commercially available in 1987. Tonight, all three networks lead their evening newscasts with a fire at the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that kills 96 people. A scholar who has been tracking war deaths year-by-year since 1950 says 221,000 people died in the 19 wars fought in the world during 1986.

Three college football bowl games are played today. At the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, #14 Baylor beats #16 Colorado 21-9; in Birmingham, Alabama, Florida State beats Indiana in the All-American Bowl 27-13; and at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Virginia Tech beats North Carolina State 25-24 on a field goal as time expires. Five traditional New Year’s Day games will be played tomorrow, although all eyes are on the Fiesta Bowl Friday, with unbeaten Miami and Penn State, ranked #1 and #2, playing for the national championship.

On TV tonight, CBS presents The New Mike Hammer, Magnum P.I., and The Equalizer; NBC airs the King Orange Jamboree Parade from Miami, sitcoms Gimme a Break and You Again (starring Jack Klugman and John Stamos as father and son), and St. Elsewhere. ABC has Perfect Strangers, Head of the Class, Hotel, and Dynasty. After the late local news, all three networks present their annual New Year’s Eve programming: Happy New Year America on CBS, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on ABC (starring the Bangles, the Commodores, and the Miami Sound Machine among others), and Johnny Carson on NBC.

“That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick and Friends is #1 on Billboard‘s Top 100 of 1986. At WBBM-FM in Chicago, the #1 song is “Addicted to Love” by Robert Palmer. Across town at WLS, it’s “Sweet Freedom” by Michael McDonald. McD is also #1 for the year at WPLJ in New York, with the Patti Labelle duet “On My Own.” At WCAU in Philadelphia, #1 is “How Will I Know” by Whitney Houston. At album-rock station KSHE in St. Louis, the top song of the year is “Dreams” by Van Halen. At WXRT in Chicago, a listener poll names Peter Gabriel’s So as the top album of the year. Billboard‘s top album of 1986 is the self-titled debut by Whitney Houston.

Perspective From the Present: On December 23, I had spent my last day on the payroll at WKAI in Macomb, Illinois, after which we drove to Michigan to spend Christmas with Ann’s family. When we returned to Illinois on Sunday the 27th, I discovered that all evidence of my presence on the radio station had been erased. Although there was no open animosity between my bosses and me, neither was there any kind of going-away lunch, beers after work, nothing. I simply handed over my key and walked out the door. I was glad to be going because I had a new job in a bigger market; they were glad I was going because they wanted to be rid of me, I guess. We spent the next couple of days getting ready to move, but on Wednesday the 31st we drove to Wisconsin, where we spent New Year’s Eve with the group of my high-school friends known as the Crew. As I wrote in 2007, “What had begun in 1977 with half-a-dozen guys, two cases of beer, and two bags of chips ended with six or eight couples and enough food and booze to service a cruise ship for three days.” We were soon back in Illinois to pack the U-Haul truck, and on the first weekend in January 1987, we left for the big city: Davenport, Iowa, where I had a new radio job at the elevator-music station. My first day was Monday, January 5. I would work there for three years, and we would live in the Quad Cities area until 1997.

Ann and I could have been perfectly happy staying in the Quad Cities for the rest of our lives. We did not, of course, later ending up in Iowa City and eventually in Madison, both life transitions far more significant than the one we made 35 years ago this week. But of all the transitions, “small-town disc jockey packs up his wife and his life and moves to a bigger market and a better opportunity” is the most romantic of them.

December 24, 1971: The Gift of Giving

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(Pictured: a house in San Francisco is decorated for Christmas 1971.)

December 24, 1971, was a Friday. It’s a sunny day over much of the country, although rain is forecast for the West Coast and snow is possible from upper Michigan to northern New England. Headlines in today’s newspapers include two deadly fires, one in Los Angeles yesterday that killed five children and another in Arlington Heights, Illinois, early today that killed three children, their parents, and their grandparents. Yesterday, President Nixon issued his annual Christmas message. He said, “Among God’s greatest gifts to man is the gift of giving itself, and the more we give of ourselves, the more of ourselves we have to give.” This morning, Nixon goes to Bethesda Naval Hospital for his annual physical. He spends the rest of his day in meetings and on phone calls, although he takes four minutes in the late afternoon to have family photos taken and 90 minutes for a family dinner in the evening. His last meeting ends at 11:35 tonight. Glenn Wallichs, co-founder of Capitol Records and current chairman of the Capitol board, died yesterday at age 61. Today, future singer Ricky Martin is born.

There are no games in the NBA or NHL tonight, although games will be played tomorrow. Two NFL playoff games are also scheduled for Christmas Day: Dallas at Minnesota and Miami at Kansas City. There will be two more games on Sunday: the defending champion Baltimore Colts at Cleveland and San Francisco at Washington.

This afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin, local radio and TV stations present their annual free Christmas Eve showings of the Beatles movie Yellow Submarine at the Capitol Theater, at 1:45, 3:30, and 5:15. Other movies playing in Madison this Christmas weekend include the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn in Dollars, the animated Lady and the Tramp, Summer of ’42, and Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. Dirty Harry, starring Clint Eastwood, opens tomorrow. Most theaters will present regular evening and late-night shows tonight, although there will be no 10PM show at the Majestic. On TV tonight, the ABC lineup includes The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love American Style. CBS repeats the 1969 Peabody Award-winning drama J. T., written by Jane Wagner, followed by Beethoven’s Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna With Leonard Bernstein and Christmas at the White House. NBC starts with an episode of The D.A., a legal drama starring Robert Conrad and Harry Morgan. The rest of NBC primetime is devoted to its monthly newsmagazine Chronolog, with an episode focused on children’s TV programming around the world. After primetime, networks and local stations present Christmas-themed programming.

At KFRC in San Francisco, “Brand New Key” by Melanie is in its second week at #1 on the station’s survey dated December 20. Don McLean’s “American Pie” and “Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey hold at #2 and #3. “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green is at #4 in its third week on the survey. Badfinger’s “Day After Day” is up to #6 from #16. “Sunshine” by Jonathan Edwards also makes a big move, from #14 to #7. The single biggest leap on the survey is made by “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” The New Seekers’ rendition of the Coca-Cola jingle is up 15 spots to #11. A couple of songs are outperforming their national numbers: “Behind Blue Eyes” by the Who at #9 and “Keep Playing That Rock and Roll” by Edgar Winter’s White Trash at #12. Also charting on KFRC: John and Yoko’s brand-new “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).”

Perspective From the Present: When I was a kid, horrific house fires were as much a staple of Christmas as Santa and reindeer, because local radio, TV, and newspapers would report them almost every year. Some newspapers, anyhow. In Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal had a Christmas Eve tradition of publishing nothing but “good news” on its front page. Whether headlines from the troubled world or stories of good works and Christmas joy are more accurate on Christmas Eve is something we’ve noodled with before.

This Christmas Eve, our country is one giant house fire. I am not a naturally hopeful person in the best of times; today, I am even less so. But surely there were hopeless people in 1971 who were surprised to find that 1972 turned out better than they expected. I hope that I, too, will turn out to be wrong about the things I fear for 2022. And I also hope this: that you and your loved ones can light a few candles against the darkness this weekend, and that you may live in their light for a good long while.

December 23, 1991: Say Goodbye to Yesterday

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(Pictured: Don Griffin of the San Francisco 49ers returns a fumble 99 yards for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears on December 23, 1991.)

December 23, 1991, was a Monday. After an ice storm hit portions of the country on Friday and rainstorms brought severe flooding to Texas, the weather for Christmas week looks generally pleasant. Today, the United States and other nations agree to recognize Russia as the successor to the Soviet Union following the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States on Saturday. Russia will take the Soviet Union’s seat on the U.N. Security Council, unless one of the other council nations exercises its veto power. The U.S. will recognize the independence of all 12 of the newly independent states and will establish diplomatic relations with five of them. Also today, Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev met with Russian president Boris Yeltsin to discuss the transfer of power. Columnist and TV commentator Pat Buchanan, who is challenging President George Bush for the 1992 Republican nomination, tells reporters today that it’s not the government’s job to help the homeless, and that they should be thrown in jail for vagrancy. He also suggests that multiculturalism and illegal immigration are undermining the fabric of American society, and that he would fortify the entire U.S./Mexican border with a combination of fencing and trenching. A new poll of New Hampshire voters today shows that Buchanan trails Bush by a margin of 58 percent to 30 percent. On the Democratic side, former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas is the choice of 25 percent of likely voters; Arkansas governor Bill Clinton is second with 17 percent. The crowded Democratic field has solidified somewhat now that New York governor Mario Cuomo has announced he will not seek the party’s presidential nomination.

Yesterday, after beating the Minnesota Vikings 27-7 to end their season with a record of 4-and-12, the Green Bay Packers fired coach Lindy Infante. Packers GM Ron Wolf wants to hire former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells and is willing to pay his hefty asking price of $1 million per season. The NFL regular season ends tonight. The Chicago Bears, who can clinch a division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win, are instead blown out by San Francisco 52-14.

On network TV tonight, ABC precedes Monday Night Football with MacGyver. CBS presents Evening Shade, Major Dad, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, and Northern Exposure. NBC devotes all of primetime to The Sound of Music. Movies playing in theaters include JFK, The Last Boy Scout, The Addams Family, Father of the Bride, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Hook, and Bugsy.

In Madison, Wisconsin, radio station Q106 is seeking Elvis impersonators for its fourth annual Elvis Birthday Bash on January 4. Magic 98 advertises “30 Hours of Christmas,” from 1PM tomorrow through 7PM Christmas night. On the Billboard Hot 100, “Black or White” by Michael Jackson and “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” by Boyz II Men hold at #1 and #2. Only one song is new in the Top 10: “Too Legit to Quit” by Hammer, at #9. (The former MC Hammer is also at #20 with “Addams Groove.”) The biggest mover within the Top 40 is “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” by George Michael and Elton John, up to #19 from #34, although “Diamonds and Pearls” by Prince blasts into the 40 at #30 from #49 the week before. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana is up six spots to #17; “Mysterious Ways” by U2 is up seven to #26. The highest debut on the Hot 100 is “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred at #67. The #1 song on Billboard‘s Adult Contemporary chart is “Keep Coming Back” by Richard Marx. The #1 album is Michael Jackson’s Dangerous.

Perspective From the Present: Bill Parcells turned down the Packers’ offer. Pat Buchanan’s brand of cruelty and racism eventually swallowed the Republican party whole. On December 23, 1991, Ann and I flew to Toronto for a quick visit with her parents, a trip I did not want to make and complained about for days beforehand. Her mother gave us two gifts: a handwritten book of Ann’s favorite family recipes and an elaborate Christmas cross-stitch dated 1991. On Christmas Day, we flew home with those gifts tucked into our luggage, not knowing as we left her parents on the jetway that it was the last time we would see Ann’s mother, who died suddenly the next March.

My in-laws were planning a move to Florida in 1992, and surely I would have much preferred we visit them there the next year. But “next year,” as we learned in 1992 and have never forgotten, is guaranteed to no one.

November 26, 2004: There’s Always That One Person

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(Pictured: Alicia Keys and Usher perform in 2004.)

I am occasionally asked to bring this feature into the new millennium, so here.

November 26, 2004, was Black Friday. Network news reports tonight say that retailers expect this year’s holiday sales figures to be similar to those in 2003, and that gift cards are growing in popularity among holiday shoppers. The networks also report on the continued unrest surrounding the disputed presidential election in Ukraine and the request by political groups in Iraq that elections scheduled for January be postponed due to continuing political violence there. Speaking briefly with reporters in Texas today, President George W. Bush doesn’t have much to say. He hopes the Iraqi elections will go forward as scheduled and that the Ukraine crisis “will be resolved in a way that brings credit and confidence to the Ukrainian government.” Also during his five-minute press availability, Bush teases a reporter he does not recognize for being unshaven. In Duluth, Minnesota, it snows today; it is the latest date recorded for the first measurable snowfall of the season since records have been kept.

Three of the nation’s top college football teams are in action today. Sixth-ranked Texas defeats #22 Texas A&M 26-13 and #14 LSU blows out Arkansas 43-14. Thirteen games are played in the National Basketball Association. The Seattle Supersonics run their league-best record to 12-and-2 with a 92-79 win over New Jersey.

The top movies at the box office this weekend include National Treasure, starring Nicholas Cage, and The Incredibles. Two holiday-themed movies, Christmas With the Kranks and The Polar Express, are also in the top five. On TV tonight, CBS airs Joan of Arcadia, JAG, and the top-rated show of the night, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. ABC presents Eight Simple Rules, Complete Savages (a sitcom starring Keith Carradine as a single dad raising five sons, executive-produced by Mel Gibson), Hope and Faith, Less Than Perfect, and 20/20. FOX airs the 2002 theatrical movie Mr. Deeds, starring Adam Sandler. NBC has two episodes of Dateline NBC, including a two-hour retrospective on Tom Brokaw’s 22-year career as anchor of NBC Nightly News. Brokaw will leave the anchor chair to Brian Williams after next Wednesday’s broadcast.

On the Billboard Hot 100, “My Boo” by Usher and Alicia Keys is #1 for a fifth week. (“There’s always that one person that will always have your heart / You never see it coming ’cause you’re blinded from the start”) “Drop It Like It’s Hot” by Snoop Dogg is #2. On the adult-contemporary chart, “Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys is in its ninth week at #1. The top song on Hot Country Singles is “Mr. Mom” by Lonestar. The new #1 album on the Billboard 200 is Encore by Eminem.

Perspective From the Present: We spent Thanksgiving 2004 with Ann’s family in Virginia. Here’s a page from my journal about Friday, November 26:

We had been playing with puzzles early in the evening, and later, while some of the family was making smores out on the deck, [my niece, Jocelyn, who was two] realized she had lost her sippy cup, which she carries constantly. We searched for it high and low, upstairs and down, and when Laura finally found it, joy reigned supreme. “My sippy cup!” she exclaimed while jumping up and down. (Her favorite thing to do is jump up and down and giggle, which just melts me every time I see it.) She was so excited at finding her sippy cup that she ran back outside without filling it up. I ran after and pointed this out to her. She ran back inside and grabbed the handle of the refrigerator, pulling with all her might, grimacing as she was unable to open it. After I helped her, she grabbed the gallon of milk and gave it to me, again so excited that she ran out of the house without filling the sippy cup. Well, maybe you had to be there, but it was the most sweetly hilarious thing I’ve ever seen. Later, Cheryl took her downstairs to get ready for bed, and I assumed I wouldn’t see her again until morning. But just as I was about to turn in myself, they came back up and Cheryl said, “Jocelyn wants to sit on your lap until it’s time to go to bed.” And so she did, playing with my beard and snuggling and giggling, and leaving me utterly smitten yet again.

Jocelyn is 19 now, already an accomplished young woman on the way to greater things. But I have to admit that I sometimes miss the little girl.

October 27, 1962: Fight Songs

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(Pictured: President Kennedy speaks to the nation on Monday, October 22, 1962.)

October 27, 1962, was a Saturday. The American naval blockade of Cuba, technically an act of war, continues in response to the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Today, in another act of war, a U2 spy plane taking reconaissance photos over Cuba is shot down by a surface-to-air missile, killing the pilot, Major Rudolf Anderson of Greenville, South Carolina. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev exchanges messages with President Kennedy following the rejection of Khrushchev’s offer to remove Cuban missiles if American missiles are removed from Turkey. Attorney General Robert Kennedy continues unofficial meetings with the Soviet ambassador. A group of governors meets to discuss civil defense measures, although a large percentage of Americans believes that little can be done to protect them. Air strikes on Cuba have been ordered for Monday; federal government operations are set to move to the secure Mount Weather facility in rural Virginia. Tonight, the president tells administration officials who have been sleeping in their offices all week to go home. He seeks diversion by screening the movie Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

In college football, most of the top teams in the nation win their games today. Two who do not: top-ranked Texas, which ties Rice 14-14, and #5 Wisconsin, which loses to Ohio State 14-7 in Columbus. Advertisements in the program for the Ohio State/Wisconsin game promote the 1963 Buick Wildcat and the 1963 Super Torque Ford Galaxie. Fans are encouraged to munch a bunch of Fritos and to try New Era scientifically produced and truly digestible potato chips. Another ad ponders the question, “Should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a lady?” (Tiparillo cigars are available at the concession stand.) After the game, fans can send one dollar plus proof of purchase from any one of several General Electric small appliances to receive a limited-edition, high-fidelity, 33 1/3 RPM album of college fight songs.

In Bardstown, Kentucky, Herbie Phelps of Old Kentucky Home High School basks in last night’s accomplishment: he ran for 392 yards on 20 carries, scored 10 touchdowns, and kicked eight extra points in his team’s 74-6 win over Aquinas Prep. All are new state records. Four games are played in the NBA tonight; among them, the Chicago Zephyrs, down 16 points at halftime, come back to force the San Francisco Warriors to overtime. The Warriors win it, however, 129-126. Warrior Wilt Chamberlain plays all 53 minutes, scores 46 points, and grabs 23 rebounds.

TV schedules are disrupted today and tonight by news coverage of Cuba. Among the evening programs scheduled are The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (starring Fess Parker in the Jimmy Stewart role), the critically acclaimed legal drama The Defenders with E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed, plus westerns Have Gun Will Travel and Gunsmoke.

At KDWB in Minneapolis, “Do You Love Me” by the Contours is the new #1 song, followed by the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” the double-sided hit “Only Love Can Break a Heart” and “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” by Gene Pitney, and Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash.” (“Monster Mash” is in its second week at #1 in both Billboard and Cash Box.) Brenda Lee and Sam Cooke are new in the Top 10 with “All Alone Am I” and “Nothing Can Change This Love.” The biggest mover on the chart is “Popeye the Hitchhiker” by Chubby Checker, up 10 spots; the highest debut is “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by the Four Seasons. Also new is the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari.” The #1 album in the Twin Cities is Ramblin’ Rose by Nat King Cole.

Perspective From the Present: October 27, 1962, has been called “the most dangerous day in human history.” Sporting events and movies were lightly attended; streets were largely deserted as Americans stayed home to wait for whatever was coming. The next day, Khrushchev would announce his decision to dismantle the missiles in Cuba, although tensions remained high for weeks thereafter. Eventually, the United States would quietly remove its missiles from Turkey. Herbie Phelps went on to teach and coach at his alma mater, retiring in 2005.

My parents don’t remember much about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Focused as they were on the farm and the family (I was two and my brother was six months old), they say they went about their days as they always did. But like most Americans, they must have gone to bed some nights wondering if they would wake up the next morning, or what they would wake up to.