Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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My Father

My Father\'s 50th Birthday \"Surprise\" Party


On April 23rd, 1958, my father, Joseph Andrew Musgrove, was born in Washington, D.C., and then lived in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a short walk away from Southeast D.C.  He was one of five boys born to Tom Hardwick Musgrove and Dorothy Hall Musgrove, as part of the Baby Boomer generation. Each of the brothers is two years apart in age and he is the second youngest. His father was in the Navy and he met my grandmother in Virginia at Colonial Beach by the Dahlgren Naval Station. My grandmother grew up in Washington D.C. but my grandfather came out of poverty in Newton, Georgia. That region is so poor that the Great Depression changed nothing for his family because they could not get any more impoverished. The first house my father lived in was a two bedroom, one bathroom triplex, undersized for seven people and a dog, so it’s understandable why he says, “I don’t think it ever crossed my parents mind to move because the neighborhood was going to change. I think it was just time. … We definitely needed more space.”

When he was eight years old, he moved to a more rural part of Oxon Hill, named Friendly, and two years later his old neighborhood was nearly completely black. The neighborhood’s demographics changed quickly. This seems most interesting to me because he grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, when race riots and the Civil Rights Movement were occurring. He described growing up in such a tumultuous time as, “Those decades, especially the 60’s were times of great drama, accentuated by the fact that most of it was brought into our living rooms by television. For me, it started with the Kennedy assassination. I was five years old and fairly aware for my age. I remember vividly the day of, and the days after the assassination. I particularly remember being upset that Saturday morning cartoons were disrupted by coverage of the funeral. Then the killer, Lee Harvey Oswald got shot, and that was also on T.V. It wasn’t too long after that when Herbert Hoover died, so I sat in front of the tube and watched another horse drawing a flag-draped coffin riding down Pennsylvania Avenue. It wasn’t long after that when I began to realize that the civil rights movement was gaining momentum and things were getting stickier in Viet Nam. My oldest brother turned 18 in 1964 so the concept of possibly being drafted also entered into the picture.” He was barely six.


His mother was a secretary for the Department of Agriculture and his father was a truck driver at the Washington Navy Yard. Living on the border of D.C. He explained, “My parents had to show papers to enter D.C. to go to work. My old neighborhood had soldiers with tanks and guns and jeeps patrolling the border. The skyline glowed orange from all the fires. You couldn’t even buy gasoline for your lawn mower for fear that you might be building Molatov Cocktails, which were little bombs that you made with gasoline and a rag in a bottle. That was all in the name of the civil rights movement and racial tensions in the U.S. The sentiment against the war was also escalating at a rapid pace during that time.” This was happening when there were the hippies and drugs on the news, increasing the generation gap.

My father’s family used to go to the Washington Monument every year to watch the fireworks. He describes one of these outings as not so pleasant, “When the big riots came in 1968, I had a front row seat… Not only were the fireworks spectacular, but there was always a potential that something would happen. I remember one year the Yippies, who were like militant hippies, were protesting and causing trouble and the Park Police tear gases them and got thousands of other people including me and my family.” I cannot imagine going to watch a spectacular show of fireworks and in turn being partially blinded. What a nightmare all of this seems like to me. Of course T.V. played a large part in all of this. My dad told me that, “The younger generation, who were already in a low-level rebellion in the early sixties, really got hot when the war was escalating. No one had a good explanation on why we were even there, and every night at supper time we saw the horrors of war on T.V.”

Presidential assassinations, race riots, the draft, and the war: at a young age, this all hit close to home with my father quite literally. Which is why it blows my mind when he tells me that he was still a pretty happy little kid, remembering the best historical achievements of those decades to be a man on the moon and the Beatles.  Music has always been one of his passions and it defines him throughout his transition from childhood to adulthood. He was not satisfied with the radio stations until they were more rock infused. “You would not believe the crap we were listening to on the radio. And I don’t mean our parents music. Guys like Frank Sinatra and Henry Mancini were big on the radio, and I didn’t pay much attention to that but it wasn’t awful. The awful stuff was like Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Singing Nun, the Monster Mash, Flying Purple people Eaters and a bunch of crap like that. Just horrible!” Still, he gave no complaints about his childhood.

Other than the terrible music, he didn’t mind growing up in such volatile decades because they brought good change along with the bad. Aside from the protests and war showing up on the news, my dad always seemed to see life in an optimistic light. He enjoyed the more positive aspects of television with great enthusiasm. He always seems to remember tunes from outdated commercials and old television shows, and “Going to the moon was cool…and I saw it all live on T.V.”

In the early 70’s, while he was still in secondary school, there were fewer assassinations, but still a lot of turmoil. “There were protestors everywhere. If not race riots, then war protests, or just those guys that wanted to protest the establishment in general. Early in the decade, there were the college students killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University.” The biggest disappointment my father felt, however, was in 1971, when the Washington Senators moved to Texas. As a 13-year-old baseball fan in Washington, it was devastating to my father, as well as to his family. On the brighter side, “That blow was probably softened a little by the Redskins getting better after decades of decline.”

Despite all these crazy on goings occurring during his childhood, my father does not complain, but instead, he embraces the positive aspects of where he was born, grew up, and where he later settled down. “Well, let’s see, you sure meet a lot of different people from different places. Almost everyone here is from somewhere else. Living in Virginia is kind of neat since it has so much rich history, being the birthplace of eight presidents and all. And the museums in D.C. are some of the finest in the world, and most people in America don’t realize that they’re all free! Then there’s the monuments and other cool Government Buildings like the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, the FBI. and Arlington Cemetery. It’s kind of neat filling out a form that asks what state you were born in and you can say N/A.

After the tragedy of the Senators leaving, and then the Redskins finally winning again, my dad began college at University of South Carolina in the Navy ROTC program.  Even though he was far away from Washington D.C. for the first time in his life, he still followed close behind his parents footsteps. He served courageously in the Navy like his father. His parents were both employed by the federal government, and he, too, married a government employee. In his life, among owning a baseball card and collectible store, he has also worked for the government and then as a contractor working with the government. Growing up near Washington D.C. has defined my father as a person and the decades in which he grew up have left an impression on him that still affects him in his interests and work ethic today.  When speaking about what type of work he does when I so often get confused by how he is either an engineer, program manager, or contractor, working for either the Navy, a corporation, the government, or all three at once, he often tells me that he is taking a step towards “Making the world safe for democracy.”