In our culture age is suppose to be a secret. How will we know what 40, 50, 60 or 70 looks like if we keep our ages secret? Those ages sound old but might that not be because we have not learned to associate them with healthy, fit and mentally active people? For people searching, for a job or a man or woman “who likes long walks on the beach”, there is certainly value in not biasing someone against us before meeting us, by revealing our age. An old woman in my town, a shopkeeper of a tiny old-fashioned toy store, just celebrated her 99th birthday. People in the community held a party for her in front of her store. In her thank you note to the community, she thanked everyone, and I quote, “hope that we may celebrate next year on my 100th birthday.” In the photo of her in the newspaper, she did not look a day over 85!! Seeing her filled me with hope that I may still be riding my bicycle at 99! A person of 99 years must look back to their 60’s as their younger years. I have looked at photos of my grandparents when they were in their 60’s and thought how young they looked compared to how I remembered them in their last years of life. I think of the sixties as being the infancy of my elder years. It is all a matter of perspective. A friend of mine just turned thirty and was feeling rather old. To me he is a young man, wise beyond his years. I do think it will be a bit strange to me when my children reach their thirties.
Age does not make a person a has-been. I am living history, just as we all are. Commercial television first made its appearance in 1949, the year before I was born and did not make its appearance in my home until several years after that, much to the dismay of my father. Universal polio immunizations were given in 1956. I knew that it was a big deal from hearing my parents talk about it.
In the town of Port Washington, New York, where I lived until just after I began first grade, I and every child walked to school independently, without a hovering adult. My grade school years were filled with total freedom of movement. I do not recall reporting my whereabouts to my parents. No one did. We knew what time to be home for meals and that seemed to be enough for every child’s parents.
During my grade school years, we had “duck and cover” drills, where we would crawl beneath our desks and cover our heads with our arms, and coats, if they were available. As an eleven year old I recall the concern from my father about the Cuban missile crises. A sixth grade friend of mine knew about the SALT talks (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty). My eleven year old self was blissfully ignorant of such things.
At twelve, I marched in my small town to the tiny African Methodist Episcopal church around the time of the larger march on Washington. In 1964, I was 13 when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. What I remember from watching the Beatles was my brother calling the family to come down to the playroom to see me hysterically crying along with all of the other girls that I saw on television. I understand mass hysteria having lived it! Marijuana had not yet reached my town when I was a teenager in the 1960’s, alcohol was the available drug and the drinking age was eighteen. I did not know anyone until I was 23 who smoked pot.
In 1965 I attended boarding school in New Hampshire. There was no school van. The expected transportation was to stick out one’s thumb. Once a teacher filled his car with kids and gave us a lift to a near by town. In addition to the three students and teacher on the front bench seat there were kids sitting on kids’ laps on the back bench seat and two or so kids in the large trunk. It was unusual for a car to have seat belts back then. I dimly remember being stopped by the police. Some of us had to hitch hike back to school. The school, of course, now has a school van.
I went to France in the fall of 1968
Having heard about the student protests in Paris in May of 1968 and coming from a small sleepy town, my eighteen year old self thought that Paris was the best possible place to be. To my parent’s relief it was quiet on the streets of Angers, where I first lived for four months, and Paris where I lived for two months. No cell phones back then so I was cut off from my family except for the one phone call I received from them while in France, letters that crisscrossed the Atlantic Ocean and a visit from my father on his way to Africa to gather material for a new African studies program at the community college where he was a professor. I intended to stay for the school year, but tragedy struck my family, and I returned home in March of 1969, after the death of my father. I was contacted by telegram to call my grandfather in the Netherlands because he had bad news. I made the international phone call from an available phone at the post office.
I took a dislike to Elvis Presley as a five year old because my parents did not like him. Decades later though, I changed my mind. I recall my sister, seven years older than me, listening to the popular music of the fifties. The music of the fifties, sixties and seventies is still played today. I consider it “my music”. I was there when the songs first aired! A steady stream of cars streamed past my town on their way to Woodstock, New York in August of 1969. My brother-in-law and a friend talked of selling water to the festival goers. In retrospect, I am happy that I did not go. Recently, I heard how dreadful the conditions were!
I experienced the eras of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford,
McCarthy, McGovern, oops, delete those last two, Carter, Regan, Bush I, Clinton, Gore, Bush II, Cheney/Bush II right up to President Obama. The Vietnam war and the specter of being drafted hung over every boy my age in the late sixties and the early seventies. All those young men being drafted were unable to vote, the voting age being twenty-one. The year I turned twenty-one, the twenty- sixth amendment changed the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.
I typed college papers on my typewriter or hand printed them if my professor allowed it. I reluctantly received from my brother, my first calculator when I was thirty. I did not want to loose my basic arithmetic skills. I am never without a calculator now, if only to check my arithmetic. Computers were not common place until I was nearly in my late forties. I had no answering machine until I was about fifty. We had phone chains to convey important information. Cell phones were not ubiquitous in the US until I was in my fifties. I recall in the early 1990’s having my car break down with my two small children in the back seat. I had no cell phone. I got lucky when a tow truck happened to drive by. He towed my car and gave us a lift.
To anyone reading this the 2000’s are modern history, so I will stop here. Most of my subsequent posts will not be nearly as long. I hope some of you enjoyed reading my first ever post. I would enjoy reading your comments. Thanks to Preeti and Riv for getting me started!