It’s funny the way life make it’s way through events. Much like a river, sometimes it bends and twists through rocks and hills and sometimes it just overpowers the obstacles in it’s way and just forces change. And change is something that my life knows all about. My life changed, the life of my hometown changed, and, really, the life of a nation changed. The sixties meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For me it was my coming of age and formed who I am today.
I guess every parent figures out their child’s destiny in their heads. I guess my parents were no different. They probably had me pegged for finishing up my high school studies and then working as a seamstress with my mama until I married some boy who worked down at the mill. They probably had me pegged for being a little old housewife with a bunch of kids running around by the time I was 22. In their perfect world I’d be on the PTA and attending church on Sundays. But like we talked before, life is like a river. Sometimes the current just draws you in and you just don’t know where you will end up.
When I was born in 1949 times were different. Dexter, Missouri was just a small hiccup in the road on the way to other places. Now I guess it is just a slightly larger hiccup. Back then it was just a small farming community. That’s what my parents did…they farmed. That’s what their parents did the generation before them. There was a general store, a pharmacy, a diner, a town hall, and not much else at the time but change would come (despite Dexter’s complete opposition to change.)
I was born one Samantha Audrey Baker on September 1, 1949. Even though my parents were not political, they thought it a good idea to name me after a former and long gone governor of Missouri…or maybe they just named me after the state park that took that very same governors name. Due to my name being Samantha and the fact that I grew up on the farm (giving me my tomboyish nature) I became known as Sam.
I spent the first ten years of my life living on the farm my parent rented and worked on the outskirts of Dexter. Life was climbing trees and picking berries and visiting folks and going to school and swimming down at the hole. It really was a simple time as I imagine most childhoods are. When I was 11 we moved into Dexter proper. My mama had gone to school to become a teacher and my papa had become a police officer. We were nowhere close to wealthy but a far cry from poor. Anyway we left the farm and bought a house in Dexter. By now Dexter had built up a bit. There was a Five and Dime, an ice cream place in the summer, and small movie theater. We were still just a small town – nothing like Poplar Bluff or Cape Girardeau – but getting bigger.
I suppose up until the point that we moved off of the farm I would have been content to stay in Dexter forever. I never knew anything different but the life I had lead already. Moving into town proved to be a turning point for me. Even though I still went to the same school things were different. The kids who used to be my friends now claimed that I was different. My mama and papa told me it was because their parents were jealous that we had managed to improve on our living conditions. Unfortunately, the town kids still thought of me as a country bumpkin even though I had become much more metropolitan by the circumstances of my relocation.
Anyway, the river of life had taken a bend and set my course in a different way. I suppose it wasn’t all that bad having moved. Eventually I made friends with the kids that lived on my street. My best friend was Donna May. She lived right next door. She was a year older than me but we were in the same grade because she flunked a year. We were 12 when we first started hanging out…much to my parents chagrin because there was no way they wanted Donna May’s flunking in grade five to wear off on me. It didn’t. I still maintained good grades despite befriending “that Donna May girl.” Little did I know how much Donna May would change my life. Well, maybe not Donna May herself, but our friendship would open up doors for me that would never have been opened.
Donna May had an older brother, Billy. Billy would have been 18 or 19 at the time and had found work in St. Louis. He would come home on the last weekend of every month to visit with his folks and get his laundry cleaned and whatnot. When he came back to town he always had brought with him a new rock n roll record. I am not going to say that rock n roll was banned in Dexter…but I am not going to say it wasn’t’. At the time, we will just say it was music that was frowned upon. So, needless to say, Billy sharing his music with us was quite a coup.
He told us stories of friends he had in St. Louis that were starting up their own rock bands. He seemed so old to us. He wore a leather jacket and smoked cigarettes and rode a motor cycle. My daddy hated him but I suppose Billy couldn’t have done much wrong because papa never arrested him. I guess, like a lot of small town folks, my daddy hated him because he feared the change that people like Billy would bring with them.