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Big Chuck

June 7, 2010

I Was Just Thinking: Future as hard to predict now as in my day

— Recently I had the pleasurable experience of addressing a student assembly at the Sidney High School. I graduated from SHS in 1967.

When I asked what they were looking for as far as a message was concerned, I was told to keep it “motivational and inspirational.” After my introduction, I approached the speaker’s lectern and looked out over the large student body and it hit me. In an instant.

All of a sudden I was one of them, circa 1967. It was as if I had entered H.G. Wells’ time machine.

I used to love assemblies. It meant no classes that morning. We would be ushered into the auditorium and the lights would go down and some “old guy” would get up on stage and try as best he could to “inspire” and “motivate” us to make the most of our futures.

It would get warmer and warmer and cozier and snugglier in my seat. My eyelids would start to droop.

“Bueller. Bueller.”

Suddenly I realized that I was now that “old guy” and these kids were me, decades ago.

I decided to depart from my text and attempted to connect with them on a real level. I told of my struggles in school, of graduating with my “High C,” of my eagerness to get out of school and of the uncertainty I felt when I sat where they were sitting nearly a half-century ago.

In 1967, my future meant one of four things: stay in Sidney and work at Scintilla or the calendar factory; take over my parents’ grocery store; enter the military; or go to college. Well, factory work and retailing were not for me, and my monocularity kept me out of the service (I am blind in one eye). So off to college I went. And I was the first D’Imperio male to ever do so. Albany Business College.

From Sidney to Albany. I might just have well been going to France. City life was that foreign to me.

I graduated from ABC in 1969 and off I went, never looking back. I journeyed around the country and the world. That decision to go to college, that “big move,” that tipping point in my life back in 1967 is the key component in the total makeup of the man I am now.

I had lived in four of America’s largest cities before settling here in Oneonta in 1983, just 20 miles up the road from my old high school. And all the while I gained life experiences, knowledge, traits and a confidence that has stood me well since I last sat in a high school assembly.

As for talking to kids about the future, who can tell? Nobody knows. Life is moving so fast. The future came and went 10 sentences ago.

Speaking of the unknown, I was telling somebody recently that the theme for our senior prom in 1967 was “Saturnalia.” Nobody had a clue what Saturnalia really was. But I recall that the decoration committee went heavily into the “spacey” thing.

Space. What did we know? The moon landing was still two years off. I do remember the prom being adorned with our inchoate concept of what space was: cardboard planets, tin foil shooting stars and swirling tulle Milky Ways.

The “King and Queen of Saturnalia” were crowned and seated on a “regal planetary throne” covered with the fake grass carpet we borrowed from Charlie Landers’ funeral home. What I don’t remember is the guys and girls switching gender roles for the night, which is the real meaning of the Roman festival of Saturnalia!

My point is this: when some adult stood up in a student assembly in 1967 to tell us authoritatively about our future, the space race, global warming, civil unrest in our streets, Woodstock and the introduction of the drug culture, the women’s rights movement, the Kennedy and King assassinations, Watergate and a presidential resignation, and U.S. Marines fleeing from the top of the embassy in Saigon were never spoken of. It was all just ahead, but around the corner. Unseen. So to foretell it is impossible.

Today’s kids will be just fine, like we were and our parents were, no matter what we tell them about “their future.” Hopefully we as parents have filled their quivers with a wide array of moral pinnings, sound core values and enough inquisitive tendencies to set them on their own road to fulfillment.

Oh, and computers? The word was never even mentioned to us in those assemblies of my youth. There wasn’t a single computer in the whole Sidney Central School District back then. To my classmates of 1967, a chip was still something you scooped dip with, a mouse was something that ran around in your attic, a monitor was somebody who made sure you didn’t cheat on your Regents, and a hard drive was when we had to come up to Oneonta on old Route 7 and got stuck behind a milk truck!

I’ll catch you in two ...

‘Big Chuck’ D’Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.”  He invites you to contact him at wdosbigchuck@aol.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.

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