November 7, 2016
By Arthur H. Gunther III
For a third grader on Nov. 5, 1952, the day after President Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected, the ordinary was still in place, in my neck of the woods anyway. We boys were wearing winter corduroys, and the girls still had to freeze in their skirts. We were learning cursive writing, and some of us day-dreamed, looking out the same South Main Street School windows our parents had. At 7:15, waiting in the hallway before class, lunch was hours off, but the thought of hot soup, school spaghetti and the great desserts made by the grandmother-like cafeteria ladies had our stomachs growling.
The day before we were off so the school could be used for voting, and Monday had been spent in the usual fashion: studying American colonial history and reading in the morning, arithmetic in the afternoon. Our teachers that day, as was the case since September, even in the third grade, had told us about the election, and how a famous military figure of humble origin and ways might become a peacetime president, or the job might go to a distinguished statesman, Adlai Stevenson. Either way, the idea was that the seat in the White House Oval Office was very special, and it ought to be filled by someone with character. America was a leader of the free world, and this was the dangerous moment of the Cold War and the Atomic Age, and we kids knew all about that, having practiced our air raid drills monthly.
I cannot say that most students thought much about the presidential election of 1952, however historic it would become, helping usher in the growth of a solid middle class and no war for the United States during the two terms of the Ike administration. Like I said, it was the time of the ordinary for us, and that meant playing in the woods in our huts, or the girls doing whatever they did together, walking to school in the rain and sitting next to the hot radiators to dry off, catching “Captain Video and His Video Rangers” on the new 13-inch RCA TV before supper and then sitting with parents as they watched John Cameron Swaze tell us all about Eisenhower, at least what he could mention in the short 15-minute broadcast.
Life seemed good, for us anyway. We were lucky. And we also held hope for our future. Our parents had jobs, they were beginning to buy homes in the emerging economy, and for many families, the thought of college-bound children was a growing possibility. We were removed from the Great Depression, from war.
Great expectation was evident, what we were taught should be rising enthusiasm. And, somehow, our teachers were relating that to the presidency, the person at the top. We had strong respect for that individual, for the office.
That was the gist of politics and the nation and the future for third graders in Spring Valley, N.Y., on the early fall morning of Nov. 5, 1952. Now we have the new dawn of Nov. 9, 2016. What will today’s young — the nation’s future — come to see?
The writer is a retired newspaperman who can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org