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Official Release Day and a Glimpse Inside 'Eisenhower Babies'

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

With Eisenhower Babies enjoying its official release date on Jan. 3, I thought it appropriate to provide a glimpse inside to give potential readers a taste of what they will find between those covers. What better way to do that than using this blog to share the book's preface, which lays out in detail what Eisenhower Babies attempts to accomplish?

Many childhood memoirs revolve around trauma: alcoholic fathers, clinically depressed mothers, a life-changing tragedy that must be overcome despite extraordinary odds.

I do not have that to offer.

Many tales set in Appalachia, as this one is, play on stereotypes: hillbillies with guns, hillbillies with moonshine stills, hillbillies baffled by the simplest of modern technology.

I do not have that to offer either.

Sure, in these pages you will detect an occasional hint of Kentucky’s hillbilly history, but even in the 1960s it was difficult to maintain much L’il Abner ignorance about the world when you were watching Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea on TV, following the exploits of Apollo astronauts, and reading 12-cent Spider-Man comic books.

Yes, pretty much what every other kid across America was doing at the same time.

Adults, of course, were appalled at us, especially with our TV-watching habits, which they worried would stunt our intellectual and physical growth, not to mention destroy our eyesight if we sat too close to the screen. It was as if adults of the era saw TV as a strange malevolent beast invading their homes, even though it was they who opened the front door and gave the beast a grand welcome. In 1968, a Time magazine article explored the TV addiction of 10-year-old youngsters like me and quoted one education expert who predicted doom for our entire generation: "Kids come into school today and they wait for people to tell them things. Without handling frogs or flying a kite, they lead less of a life. We're moving along in a mold that will produce people I can't even imagine."

His words could have proved soul crushing, but we were too busy handling frogs and flying kites to take notice. Of course, that educator was part of a proud apocalyptic tradition among adults fretting about the habits of wayward youth. A little over a decade earlier, psychiatrist Fredric Wertham wrote a book titled Seduction of the Innocent in which he swore it was villainous comic books that would lead to an entire generation’s demise. Around the same time, Rudolf Flesch wrote the bestseller Why Johnny Can’t Read in which he led the entire nation in mourning what a sad lot of illiterates schools were producing by teaching children to read through the “look say” method popular in Dick and Jane books.

Adults hyperventilated. We kids marched confidently into the future, which one of our TV shows, The Jetsons, promised would involve flying cars and robot maids. Adults really just needed to calm down.

So, if not family trauma or hillbilly burlesque that could have erupted from a Ma and Pa Kettle movie, what do these pages offer?

You will find various pinches and dashes of nostalgia, history, geography, popular culture, and everyday human foibles and heartaches. Perhaps you also will be reminded that the past does not represent more innocent times, as we so often hear, but instead that most of us were more innocent during those times. Adults bore the burden of worrying about assassinations, wars and labor disputes. We kids built forts, fielded fly balls with a Willie Mays signature glove, and pedaled furiously down neighborhood roads on psychedelically painted, banana-seat bicycles.

That some of us did this in California or Maine, while others did it in the back hills of Kentucky seemed to make minimal difference. This does not mean that all of our experiences were the same. I didn’t ride the subway and New York City kids didn’t watch mules plow fields. But in post-World War II America, and definitely by the 1960s, geography had lost some of its power to isolate us. Those who lived in tiny southeastern Kentucky communities like mine were no longer “marooned on an island of mountains,” which is the way author James Watt Raine put it in his 1924 book The Land of Saddle-Bags: A Study of the Mountain People of Appalachia. In Raine’s view, “passable roads” were our ticket to sociological progress, but the introduction of radio and especially television also played a pivotal role. Raine was just writing too early to know that.

At its essence, Eisenhower Babies is about a time and a place that are no more but that also never went away as long as any child can daydream about heroic exploits on horseback, scan Christmas Eve skies for evidence of flying reindeer, explore libraries for vicarious adventures, and wonder what new magic lies a day or two away.

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