Charlie Brown and Me, Fifty Years Ago and Today

MTH in 4th grade

Me in the 4th grade

I’ve been fixated recently on what happened in 1964—fifty years ago—as 2014 winds to an end. Perhaps I should have focused on these events throughout the year, but I’ve only noticed occasionally when the media has reported on anniversaries of major happenings from 1964. I didn’t research 1964 events until this week.

What started my current fixation was reading last week that the first Peanuts television special, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, is turning fifty. I watched its first airing in December 1964, and I’ve probably seen about twenty of its annual reruns since that time (though none in the last fifteen years or so).

I remember curling up on the couch in my flannel pajamas to watch the various Peanuts specials during my childhood. But I couldn’t have told you that the Christmas special was the first one created, nor that it first aired in 1964. I do recall when various other Peanuts specials debuted—it was an exciting occurrence for children of my generation.

But look at what else was happening in 1964:

In our culture:

  • The top two hits were by the Beatles (“I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You”), but number three was “Hello, Dolly!” by Louis Armstrong.
  • The premiers of both My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins.
  • The first Ford Mustang.
  • Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali.
  • The St. Louis arch was under construction.

In world events:

  • Nelson Mandela went to prison in South Africa.
  • Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater in a landslide.
  • Three Civil Rights workers were murdered in Mississippi by members of the KKK during the Freedom Summer.

And close to home:

  • My sister was born.
  • A school friend of mine died of leukemia.
  • My fourth grade teacher made everyone call me “Mary Theresa” because there were three Marys and three Theresas in the class.

Other than the “close to home” events, only Mary Poppins had any major impact in my life in 1964, and I don’t think I got to see the movie until it reached my home town in 1965. I was aware of the Johnson/Goldwater election, but it didn’t affect me as a grade-school child. I wasn’t even very concerned about the Beatles.

1964_film_large_thumbAs I peruse the list of notable historical events now, I can see how much the world has changed in fifty years. For an amazing collection of photographs from 1964, click here. And here is the PBS American Experience list of major headlines that year.

These pictures and headlines make clear that 1964 was a pivotal year, politically and culturally. But at the time, my life was confined to home and school, with little awareness of the world beyond.

How do you think differently about past world events as you age?

Posted in Family, History, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , .


  1. My youngest son was born in 1964. It’s somewhat of a shock to have two sons in their fifties while both are still “my boys.” So obviously, I have a little wider perspective on the 60s. I was married to a military man and already we were hearing rumors and pieces from Vietnam. He went to Korea in the fall of 1964 for a year and by 1966, he was serving his first term in Vietnam. I’m saying all that to give a framework for how I’ve lately been viewing life in these times of turmoil.

    The 60s were a tumultuous decade. Which led further into the turmoil of the early 70s. In other words, looking back, while this time is chaotic, cities aren’t burning here in the States although they are in other countries, dogs aren’t being loosed onto people protesting although there’s an interesting correlation with the current unrest over what we might call the Ferguson effect to the number of young black men who were hung or killed during that earlier Civil Rights time. So dogs aren’t being loosened but bullets are. And there’s a renewal of calls for justice both for people of color and for women (I was an early founder of the Women’s Political Caucus). I figure what began in the 60s is reaching another evolutionary turning point although we can’t bring back the Beatles.

    In other words, I have suddenly discovered, in this my 70th year, that I’m viewing the current chaos as an elder (I’m reminded of my mom and dad who saw me through those earlier years) who’s seen it before. Which might be why I’m fairly confident that we’ll get through these times too. I don’t know that I think differently about those events, but I do think differently than younger people about these times.

    • Janet,
      Thanks for your perspective. For someone who was still a child in the 1960s, today’s events feel evocative of that era, but I know my lens was narrow. It’s helpful to hear your view of the differences and similarities.
      These times, too, shall pass, but something else will take their place.

  2. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is also celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. I never miss an airing. 🙂
    I guess as I get older, I’m more secure in the belief that we’ll weather the storm, whatever that might be. I lean on my faith a lot more than I did when I was younger.

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