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The Origin Story

Updated: Nov 12, 2022

About three decades ago my father-in-law, perhaps in a nostalgic mood, wrote a short memoir about his childhood to share with his children and grandchildren. He paid a local printer to print 25 copies in booklet form, ensuring that for a least a while after he was gone something would be left behind as a reminder that he had once existed on the Earth.

This seemed such a good idea that I approached my mother about doing the same and offered to help, but she had no interest. My father by then was many years dead, so any stories he might have shared were already lost. I made a note, though, that when I grew old, I would create something similar for my sons so they would have a record of at least a small portion of their ancestry.

One day I realized I was now probably older than my father-in-law when he wrote his memoir, so I figured I should get busy. Almost immediately I knew my memoir would be different. As a former journalist, I had no interest in simply writing several anecdotes from childhood. Instinctively, I wanted to include context about the time period, about the geography and history of the Kentucky community where I grew, and about how popular culture played a role in my life and the lives of others at the time. Yes, there would be personal stories, but with that broader picture woven into the memoir’s structure.

I also knew that the structure would not be chronological, an uninspired checklist of this happened, then that happened, then later this other thing happened. Instead, I would divide the chapters by subject, with each almost a standalone essay on such topics as school, religion, the town, holidays, or the coal-mining industry that dominated everything in southeastern Kentucky. This required research not only to help readers understand the place and the time, but also to help me make sure, as much as possible, that my memories weren’t playing tricks on me. Could tourists really buy baby alligators in Florida in the 1960s? Did it snow in southeastern Kentucky on Christmas Eve in 1966? What economic conditions caused my father to be laid off from the coal mines in the late 1950s? As I answered such questions, it became clearer than ever that this would be my story and my family’s story told in a larger context.

The result was Eisenhower Babies: Growing Up on Moonshots, Comic Books, and Black-and-White TV. It is my story, but if you grew up in the same time period, or were ever a child at all, it may also be yours.

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