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WAVES OF LIFE: Memory Lane

Updated: May 31, 2022


I recently reached out to Jon Kinyon, the owner of the Facebook site "Our Town of Palo Alto" (my hometown) to discuss my new autobiography, WAVES OF LIFE, a Grateful Man's Journey. My mother, two brothers (Tom and Brodie Hamilton), and I were raised in Palo Alto, down on Hamilton Ave., and graduated from Paly (Palo Alto High School).

Jon and I agreed that this group would appreciate the following excerpt from WAVES and thought you might, as well.

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THE SWELL

In August of 1955 at Stanford Hospital in California, I started my journey. To say I had a perfect childhood might be an exaggeration, but I think not. In the late fifties and sixties, Palo Alto, California, was the perfect suburb of San Francisco, something straight out of the Leave it to Beaver town of Mayfield. An interesting coincidence is that when Leland Stanford created the town of Palo Alto in the late 1800s, he did so because the city leaders of the neighboring town of Mayfield, California, refused to accept the conditions Stanford placed on building Stanford University in their town. Their refusal was due to Stanford’s requirement that alcohol be prohibited within the Mayfield city limits. At that time, Mayfield was known for the many saloons within the city limits. Mayfield was eventually annexed by Palo Alto, agreeing to the social requirements set forth by Mr. Stanford.(1)

In the early 1960s, the simplicity and relative safety of life in Palo Alto seems eons ago when compared to today’s world. At the time, we didn’t appreciate the value of leaving the house on a weekend or summer’s day after breakfast and having a standing instruction to be home by dinner; lunch was had wherever you were around noon. Play dates didn’t exist as we simply walked down to a friend’s house, knocked on the front door and played. We would play whatever sport was in season, imagining ourselves to be competing alongside the stars of the local sports team, e.g., John Brodie (San Francisco 49ers football), Willie Mays (San Francisco Giants baseball), Rick Barry (San Francisco Warriors basketball). Other times we just explored the hidden corners of each other’s back yards, the numerous city parks and all of the insects, frogs and other interesting wildlife in the coves and corners of San Francisquito Creek. Wherever we were, there was always some form of game we would create to add to our entertainment. That was our world and it was fun.

In the real world, the decade of the Sixties was a period of great change. From the relative innocence of the early part of the decade through the assassination of JFK, through violence of race riots and anti-war demonstrations, the United States and particularly Northern California was evolution on steroids.

A quick trip down memory lane:

The top songs according to Billboard in the early 1960s were “A Summer Place” by Percy Faith and “The Twist” by Chubby Checker. American taste in music evolved to “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones, and “Let It Be” by the Beatles.

The Nielson ratings for 1960 showed The Andy Griffith Show as the highest rated television show. By the end of the decade, shows such as Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-in, The Mod Squad, and The Flip Wilson Show, reflected both the evolution of society and expansion of self-expression within the country.

1960 started with Dwight Eisenhower as the President of the United States. He was followed by John F. Kennedy, perceived to be a young and charismatic leader who would change the direction of the nation. His assassination in 1963 not only shocked a nation but also precipitated the loss of innocence in society and a social reckoning. Racial unrest and the Vietnam War along with Richard Nixon’s election to the presidency in 1968, marked a clear end of the acceptance of what we were being told by the media, the country’s leaders, and our parents. Hence, it was the beginning of significant change in American culture.

In the late 1960s we experienced quite a change to our perfect little community. Northern California and its two major universities, the University of California, Berkley, and Stanford University, were a hotbed for the demonstrations against the Vietnam War. We lived about three miles away from the Stanford University campus and our high school was across the street from Stanford Stadium. As a result, we were very aware of the marches and sit-ins protesting the war. Our parents were liberal in their political views, yet did not participate in the civil unrest. Many of our friends and schoolmates did and as a result, what others were seeing on the evening news, we were seeing on our streets.

Along with the anti-war demonstrations were protests against the requirement for young men to register for the Selective Service, also known as the draft. Both of my brothers had received medical deferments from participating in the military, but it was still a very sensitive issue for everyone, particularly those who did not have any education or medical deferments.

It was a time of change and loss of innocence in Palo Alto and the quaint little town would never be the same.

(1)The Meeting on the Corner: “The Beginning of Mayfield’s End” PaloAltoHistory.org.

Excerpt from WAVES OF LIFE, A Grateful Man’s Journey, ©2022 by Jim Hamilton

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