The Summer of ‘69

Father David Epps's picture

It was 40 years ago and I was looking to a summer like no other. Ever since the summer before the eighth grade, the hallowed time between the end of one school year and the beginning of the following school year had been cut agonizingly short. In the 1960s, summer vacation was a full three months long — 13 weeks in which to bask in the reality of no school. Until the eighth grade.

That’s when I began playing football for Ross N. Robinson Junior High School. My first year was as an alternate third-string tackle. But whether third-string tackle (alternate) or first-string center, the position I played my ninth-grade year, one-third of the summer was lost in the heat, sweat, humidity, pain, and blood of wind sprints, monkey rolls, push-ups, jumping jacks, the tackle drills, hitting the dummies, straining to push the machines, live, full-contact scrimmages, and a hundred other ways to suffer during the single and two-a-day practices in August.

It was hard not to think about friends lounging at the American Legion swimming pool, boating at Warrior’s Path State Park, or fishing near the Holston River Dam. Some of my friends went to the beach and sported a tan all summer. That was before “tan” was deadly and “cadaver white” was healthy.

Movies at night? Too sleepy. Dates? Too tired. Chores at home like mowing the lawn during the hottest month of the summer? That was still there.

High school was more of the same, except the competition was much tougher and the physical and mental torment was accelerated. All this torture to be a football player, which, at Dobyns-Bennett High School, was akin to being a rock star. Even the scrubs who warmed the bench and held the dummies for the seniors to attack were likely to have hot girlfriends.

And, by my senior year, I was a starter, a first-teamer, one of the gods (Okay, maybe too strong a word — substitute “elite”) of high school.

To be a DBHS football player, even a center — which I was — was to be a winner because the school had, and still has, the most football wins in the history of Tennessee high school football. There is not a trophy case at D-B. There is a trophy wing.

During the summers of 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968 which the cool crowd spent at the lake and the would-be valedictorians were sequestered in the library, the alpha males were preparing for war.

But the summer of ’69 would be different. I would lie around, sleep late, go to the pool, the lake, the river, or wherever else free people go during the summertime. And then all my dreams were shattered.

My father announced that, since I was 18, was graduated from high school, and was “waffling” about college, it was time I did “real work.” (What did he think I did for five summers?) Nevertheless, thanks to his construction connections, I would spend the next three and a half months working for a general contractor and, later, an electrical contractor in a chemical plant that employed 15,000 workers.

While the cool kids were going to the beach, the heroic kids were off to boot camp, the rebellious kids were protesting the war or learning how to smoke dope and transmit STDs, and the smart kids were in an air-conditioned library preparing for the university and another shot at being valedictorian, I was under the blistering sun, eight hours a day, 40 hours a week, doing back-breaking work for $1.60 an hour for work none of the senior people on the work crew would do, and getting yelled at and cussed at by my foreman and coworkers.

That was 40 years ago. The Summer of ’69. Thanks for the memories, Dad.

[Father David Epps is the founding pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He serves as a bishop to the Diocese of the Mid-South and is also the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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