I guess news was happening in the late 1950's and early 1960's, but as a young teen growing up in a very rural area of Missouri, I was not very tuned in to what was going on in the world. I remember two national stories from the time I was in grade school. One was the election of 1956 where Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson for a second time. Our teacher told the class about the election and said to not go around the gym during recess because that's where people were voting. I headed straight to the gym when recess began to see what all of the fuss was about. Politics weren't a topic of open discussion in our home, but I instinctively knew that my parents were backing Eisenhower.
The other clear memory of national import that I have was when our third grade teacher, Melva Foley, told the class that we would have a man in space within twenty-five years. That was in 1956 or 1957. The Russians put Yuri Gargarin into space in 1961, and a few months later he was followed out into the last frontier by American astronaut Alan Shepard.
(Another educational memory from grade school - though hardly of the news variety - occurred when our bus driver pulled a group of us aside after we arrived at school. He had overheard us discussing what our teacher has said about the sun actually being a star. The driver was visibly angry as he corrected what the teacher had said. The sun, he informed us, was a sun, and definitely NOT a star! Today that bus driver's descendants, of which there are probably plenty, are members of the tea party who deny climate change and the intellectual abilities of women and minorities, hoard guns, and support Donald Trump for President. Another generation or two from now they will have devolved into H.P. Lovecraft characters who spend their lives burrowing blindly beneath the earth.)
But, back to my developing nose for news.
The news story that literally woke me up to life beyond Noel, Missouri, was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I was fascinated watching the story unfold on the relatively new medium of television, and I kept all of the newspapers I could find so that I could read and re-read stories about the awful murder and the grieving family and nation. As I followed that monster of a news story, other stories from the national scene began resonating as well.
The early sixties predated tabloid publications like People and Us, so if there was a celebrity news story of importance, it was covered in the national press. John Kennedy had been dead less than three weeks when a celebrity news story grabbed the nation's headlines. That was the kidnapping of Frank Sinatra, Jr.
Frank, Jr. was a nineteen-year-old fledgling entertainer performing in Reno, Nevada, when three men kidnapped him from his hotel room. The trio extorted $240,000 from Frank, Sr. for the safe return of his namesake and only son. The criminals were soon captured, found guilty, and sent to prison. One was later deemed to have been insane, and none of the three served very substantive prison terms.
Negotiations over the return of Frank, Jr., were conducted over pay phones, and Papa Sinatra was always fearful that he would run out of change at some critical point in the deliberations. As a result of the kidnapping and his worry about being caught without enough change for the phones, the elder Sinatra took to always carrying a roll of dimes on his person. He was also reported to have been buried with a roll of dimes in his pocket.
When Frank calls, it won't be collect.
Frank Sinatra, Jr. passed away two days ago in Daytona Beach, Florida, from cardiac arrest. The singer, songwriter, and music conductor was performing in the Daytona area at the time of his death. He is survived by his mother, Nancy, a grown son, Michael Sinatra of Japan, by his older sister, Nancy (once Mrs. Tommy Sands), and his younger sister, Tina.
May the boy who grew up under a long shadow of a famous father finally find his own place in the sun. Or, as his sister Nancy said, "Sleep warm, Frankie."