Summer's End 1977


Were you looking for me thirty years ago this week? No? Well it’s a good thing. Because if you had been, you probably wouldn’t have thought to look for a kid from Wilburton, Oklahoma in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico.

After graduating from high school in May (Senior ’77!) I spent a gloriously carefree Summer working at the local grocery store by day. By night, I dated as many area girls as I could juggle and played late-night/wee-hours tennis with my best friend. After all these years, it remains a serious contender for “best Summer ever.”

As this parenthesis of bliss nestled between the insecurities of high school and the complexities of college drew to a close I joined a group from the Baptist Student Union on a trip to the Glorieta Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico. There we and several thousand other college-age students from around the country heard inspirational speakers and attended breakout sessions.

In addition to the stunning beauty of the surroundings, one of the most striking things about the experience was the isolation from media. There were no radios (with 8-track tape players!), no televisions and, of course in 1977, no Internet. We joked about World War III breaking out without us knowing about it.

(Funny how we always assumed the next big thing would be “World War III.” Odder still that when it did commence on August 7, 1998 with the bombing of the U.S. embassies Kenya and Tanzania, few noticed. In fact, most still seem unaware that the battle for Western Civilation is on and we’re losing by default. But that’s another blog post for another day.)

Along those lines, I was speaking with a member of the camp staff about the isolation and he laughed. He said, “Yeah, it’s funny how college students get a little freaked out when they are cut off from all media. Every year without fail, a rumor starts flying around the camp that someone famous has suddenly died. Usually it’s Elvis Presley.”

Thus, I wasn’t surprised when, later on in the week, the camp started buzzing with the news that Elvis had died. “Hah!” I thought smugly. I’m not falling for that.” I knew better!

Except I didn’t.

I was never a fan. The Elvis my generation knew wasn’t the suave Rebel Elvis, but rather the cheesy Movie Elvis and then toward the end, the bloated Vegas Elvis. But none of that mattered. Elvis Presley was an icon THE icon of the postwar era. And we knew it.

And in a fleeting week of my life that I now know marked the dividing line between childhood and all that would follow, it seemed that the entire culture was crossing over, too.