Americans are a celebratory lot. Not only do we celebrate the customary holidays — religious and secular — with familial (and commercial?) ritual, we also observe, with considerable press attention, the simple passage of time.
If you turned on your television in the last week of May you probably heard that it was the 80th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. Those of us who produced pedestrian gridlock on the 50th — and stretched the cables to a frightening max — are now the Old in an Old Older game.
The Olders? They walked across when it opened, and are among the lucky ones now if they can still walk at all.
Time takes its toll, as do bridges.
You might also be asked to note this year is the 50th anniversary of the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee, the first Toyota sold in America. If you pay attention you will learn it has been 40 years since Settle Slew won the Triple Crown, “Roots” dominated our TV screens, and it snowed in Miami for the first time in history.
Some things noted and dwelt upon seem inconsequential at best, but there are others worth our attention. The 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love for example, currently being observed all over the Bay Area, is an important time in recent history, a flashpoint for subsequent changes in our society. There are plenty of those game-changers. We are 60 years out from Sputnik, the integration of Little Rock’s Central High, the first nuclear power plant in the U.S. and the publication of The Cat in the Hat. All duly recorded and observed.
Seriously, consider the “Little Rock Nine” — the courageous black teenagers who faced down vicious taunts and dire threats to walk, with U.S. marshals, into Little Rock, Arkansas’s all-white Central High School in the fall of 1957.
Melba Joy Patillo was one of them. I guess you are Old if you recall that, after completing their landmark year at Central, the students scattered, choosing to continue their education in calmer environments.
Joy, as she was known in those days, came to Santa Rosa. She joined the Melitta Road household of Kay and George McCabe and enrolled, without notice or fanfare, at then-new Montgomery High.
George was the director of the Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco State College, the predecessor of Sonoma State. Kay was active, not only in politics but in the Quaker community.
They had stepped up when they learned that these students were seeking temporary homes away from the troubled South. They invited Joy to join their four kids for the school year.
Central High was a flash point for the Civil Rights movement and Joy’s stay in Santa Rosa was pivotal for her. She remained in close contact with the McCabes, earned college degrees, settled in the Bay Area where, as Melba Beals, her name after marrying, she became well-known as a newsperson and personality on KQED-TV.
Later, she joined the faculty at Dominican University in San Rafael and retired as director emeritus of the school’s communications department in 2014.
Remembering Melba on Bay Area television may make you feel Old. Remembering Joy as a fellow classmate at Montgomery may make you feel Older.