With apologies to the famed lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, who penned those words as part of the “book” for the Broadway musical Camelot, that phrase could be used to sum up our family life in the early 1960s. In 1959, our family had moved to northern New Jersey, allowing mother an easy commute to her new job in nearby Morris Township.
By today’s standards, our three-bedroom home was on the small side, at less than 2,000 square feet, but it was the perfect size for the three of us and our weekday live-in housekeeper. Having two parents with full-time jobs made the latter a necessity, rather than a luxury. (In retrospect, our housekeeper was a genuine saint, having to put up with preteen me, but her Depression-era definition of a sandwich comprised a single slice of lunch meat placed between two slices of white bread, seasoned with a touch of mayonnaise. Not exactly the sort of mid-afternoon snack a growing boy might have wished for.)
The Morris Plains Borough School was a short fifteen minutes from home, so I typically walked to school, carrying my books and lunch (usually containing the aforementioned sandwich) in a Bugs Bunny-themed lunchbox. There were more than a few children of the same age in our neighborhood, so the walk to and from school was a group affair, with the usual kid high-jinks along the way.
One particular late-November school day remains etched in my memory, however. In the middle of Spanish period, our teacher, Senor del Rey, was called away from the classroom. A few minutes later, he returned, visibly shaken, and announced that school had been suspended for the rest of that Friday, with no further explanation. I was glad to enjoy an unaccustomed early start to the coming weekend until I returned home to see our housekeeper wiping her eyes and staring numbly at our TV screen as Walter Cronkite related the day’s tragic events in real time.
Televised images over the next three days only drove home the realization that Camelot had been swiftly and cruelly replaced by an alternate reality, one which seemed to add a continuing somber subtext to our insulated suburban lives. It was only a few weeks earlier that Dad and I had paid a return visit to Laurie Ford, trading in mom’s ’57 Chevy for her early Christmas present, a new 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 two-door hardtop.
Raven Black on the outside with a red vinyl bench-seat interior, the Galaxie’s new below-the-beltline styling for ’64 suggested a more expansive view of mid-sixties possibilities. The rocket-tube character lines extending rearward from its outboard headlamps replaced the ’63’s more sober styling and placed the model designation in a prime front-fender location. The aero-designed fastback roof which debuted the previous model year remained for the ’64 season, and Ford’s characteristic large round tail-lamps were now surrounded by redefined rear end styling, framed by the trailing edge of the deck lid and a revised rear bumper, all contributing to the Galaxie’s more substantial road presence.
There’s been a lot of debate here on CC regarding the year-by-year design progression of Ford’s “big” cars during the 1960s, with some expressing a preference for the more restrained styling of the odd-year versions, while others lean toward the more, er, Rubenesque even-year models. I was smitten enough with our ’64 that I pestered Dad to drive it into our backyard so that I could take a decent photo of it with my Kodak Brownie camera.
Our Galaxie 500 was nicely though not extravagantly equipped. Starting at its base price of $2,674 ($26,106 today), its options included the 195-HP Challenger 289 V8, Cruise-o-matic, power steering, AM radio, padded dash and visors, pleated all-vinyl interior, full wheel covers, and whitewalls, for a total of $4,244 ($41,005 now).
Ford referred to their full-size ’64s as being “more substantial than ever, with more steel in their frames, huskier bodies, [with] more solid, road-hugging strength than anything in their field.” That solidity was apparent on the road when we would all typically “go for a spin” on Sunday afternoons.
With its Raven Black exterior and red interior, our Galaxie was mother’s pride, a real step up from her previous ’57 Chevy four-door. Sadly, she only enjoyed it for less than a year, and her passing in August of 1964 marked the end of our family’s own Camelot. Though more changes were on the horizon, the Galaxie will always serve as my reminder of that one brief shining moment…