Monday, August 06, 2018

Memories Part 2--The Suburbs 1960-1965


We moved here, and oh the streets of this suburb were so quiet. We could draw our favorite games of Four Squares and hopscotch right on the street. We could take our jump ropes and our bicycles and play and ride for hours. We met all of our neighbors, families like ours with kids we would be walking to school with everyday. (Some of those kids we are still friends with on Facebook!) My parents bought a barbecue and backyard furniture. We planted flowers and bushes and dreams right there. It was an unforgettable new life that summer of 1960.

I started 3rd grade at PS 25 that September. I remember when my parents asked me how school was on the first day and if I had met anyone I would be friends with. I told them that everyone looked the same. They asked me what that meant. I said they all had blond hair and blue eyes. I realized that my first three years of school in the inner city was as racially diverse as I would ever have it. It was here in the suburbs that people started to ask me where I was from. What? I’m from New Jersey, right here. No, they wanted to know where before this? Um… Newark? Most people asked me if I was from India. It was one of the most common things asked of me when I was growing up, even by strangers in department stores.

We settled into our new life. My parents bought an above-ground swimming pool for us (round, 4 ft deep and  24 feet wide). We practically lived in that thing all summer long. Our backyard was the family gathering place for barbecues and parties. Family Thanksgiving dinners happened around our dining table, and my father carved the wildest Halloween pumpkins every year. I remember though that I stopped waking up at 3:00 am to sit with him before he went to work. The kitchen was downstairs, and the light no longer woke me up. In the winters after big snowstorms, my brothers went around the neighborhood shoveling walks and driveways. In the summers they mowed lawns. My sister and I babysat the younger neighborhood kids. There was a sense of community there on that suburban street.

My family watched TV together every night. It's crazy to think about the things we tuned into: Ed Sullivan; Gunsmoke; Petticoat Junction; Dick Van Dyke show, etc. We listened to WABC radio every morning while getting ready for school. We had a newspaper delivered everyday. News and music were an essential part of our lives. When I was 11 years old, the photo of the Buddhist Monk who had self-immolated on the streets of Saigon had a profound impact on how I saw the world. In that suburban house on a quiet street, I learned again that the world was full of pain and suffering. In fact I struck this pose in the dining room of that house while my parents were hosting my uncle’s in-laws who had flown to New Jersey from California to meet the family.

When I think of this era I remember that 1963 was a year of so much upheaval and pain. In googling back to confirm the dates of things, I was eerily reminded that it was the day after the monk's self-immolation that Medgar Evers was murdered, and in September there was a bombing in a Mississippi church that killed four young black girls. In November President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. How does an 11 year old who is paying attention to the world process such a time? Seriously. This is what I was learning. This was the world I was growing up in. (I remembered that I wrote a long post about the civil rights movement of this era on the blog in 2005. Here is a link to that. It's really too bad all the comments are gone from those days.)

But then music balanced our world. My parents had a nice Victrola and lots of albums. Those first few years were filled with Motown. We loved The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations, etc. We did the twist and the hop. We danced and danced in the family room. Then the world changed for us. The Beatles came to America. I am not sure I can adequately express how much this changed everything. I was 12 years old and a new art form was emerging. One of my neighbors and I were so moved by them that we wrote a song when they went back to England. If I remember correctly these were the lyrics:

There they go
Back to Liverpool
In England so so blue
Our eyes are full of tears
The Beatles are not near
Oh no no noooo
What can I say
What can I do
I am so oh so very blue
Our eyes are full of tears
The Beatles are not near
Oh no no noooo.

I laugh as I type this, but I still love that song. LOL!

We were coming of age in a time of great music and lyricism, the Vietnam war was quietly beginning, friends were marching in the street for civil rights. It was a time of such wide engagement that it’s hard to convey the full sweep of it all. By the time the 1964 elections rolled around I was a 12 year old utterly committed to Lyndon Johnson and stood with a friend outside the polling place with signs to VOTE for LBJ! (Yes, I learned to really not like him shortly after.) It's hard to imagine being 12 years old and so passionate about the whole world and everything going on in it, but I was.

By 1965 the first combat troops arrived in Vietnam, and students on campus at UC Berkeley burned their draft cards. My brothers grew their hair longer. My sister and I let our hair grow long too, and stopped curling it. We were passionately anti-war and utterly pacifists.

So as I type this more than 50 years after those days I wonder-- how did we know about all of this without the internet? We followed the news about music and politics as closely as we do now without crazy mind-deadening devices in our hands. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. We knew about rock concerts and political news; parties with friends and timely communication; major breaking news events and sales at the local stores... how did we do it? Do you ever wish you could go back to a time before this excessive connectivity? It may seem crazy to ask such a thing on a blog that only exists because of this connectivity, but would we all be writing in different venues had this one not taken over? And would we have still found each other? I wonder.

Next post will be 1965-1970. The world was rocked in so many ways.


44 comments:

  1. Lovely memoir. Yes the suburbs did impact my life, as well as the Beatles! And though I probably wouldn't have been reading your notes without the internet, I'd still be reading a book, or magazine, or seeing an interview on TV which would let me know your thoughts! I'm so grateful for the internet!

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    1. Barbara-- I am grateful for the internet as well. I just wish it didn't show me the worst of humans while I am enjoying the best of them.

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  2. Oh I love this! Your childhood us so vivid. What a compassionate and observant human you have always been. I adore seeing your mother at the table with bare feet. I realize how much I came to love her through your writing about her here. And she also reminds me in looks and personality a bit of one of my very favorite aunts. (How lucky I am to have had more than one favorite aunt but then my mom was one of nine.) Your musings on the internet are thought provoking. I honestly believe it has led to so much painful discourse but then, as you remind us, there was a lot that was intensely painful in the 60s too. Sad to think the progress made then has been so eroded. I think we stayed connected then by watching the news as a family every evening and reading the newspapers end to end. And magazines. Now we pore over the internet endlessly. But yes it has also brought its gifts. It brought me you.

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    1. 37paddington-- I was always very quiet and withdrawn. That helped me be observant. My siblings called me the party pooper. I love that you noticed my mom's bare feet. It's interesting looking back at this photo. Only four people in it are still alive on this planet. Time is such a heartbreak. I worry about what the internet has done to the extremely important legitimacy of journalism. Thank you so much for your kind words.

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  3. Enjoyed reading this post and that photo of you at the family gathering. I've just been trying to think of how I followed politics and music during the early 60s. I grew up in the burbs at first -- moved several times growing up and lived in a very quiet rural town for awhile - an almost Tom Sawyer type of existence. But by 1965, I was living in Montreal which was very cosmopolitan even then. I think I picked up a lot about politics from the newspapers and also from FM radio. CKGM FM (later to be CHOM FM) radio started up in Montreal in 1963 and over the next decade, that became the place to hear the latest music, listen to interviews about politics, social activism, the environment, new age mysticism. Politically, we were very aware of what was happening in the U.S. and the civil rights movement, but it was just part of what was going on around the world. The media was still pretty Canadian and also British and European focussed - but also world focussed, I would say - and not so dominated by the U.S. media as would happen in a few years. Oscar Brand had a tv show in Canada (Let's Sing Out) from 1963 to 1966. My mom watched it all the time and learned to play guitar and was singing a lot of the folk songs of that time -- which I also learned to play and sing with her -- a lot of the songs were anti-war, etc.. It's interesting - I was just looking for info on Let's Sing Out. It was filmed at university campuses across Canada and wasn't as subject to being watered down the way similar U.S. tv of the time -- anti-war songs were not being played on american tv shows. I think we were already becoming anarchists up here. haha.

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    1. bev-- Isn't it interesting to look back at the things that shaped our lives, what we focused on, what caught our attention. Radio and TV, music and newspapers. We found things that enlightened and enriched us, informed and amused us. I remember being focused on my country and the war. I remember being acutely aware of race politics, of what it meant to be brown-skinned. I love that your mom learned to play the guitar and played anti-war songs. Yes! The music of our youth was simply the BEST! I love your anarchist country!

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  4. Ah, the suburbs. It sounds very much like where I grew up. I always thought I was a fairly sensitive child, but you really did feel everything. I never watched news or was remotely interested in politics growing up. Then again, I think my parents tried to shield me from a lot, which is probably not such a great thing in the long run. I often wish we could go back to pre-internet times, which is odd for me to say since I use the internet for just about everything. However, as a whole, I think the ever-present online connection has been more detrimental to people than beneficial. But having said that, I'm looking forward to your next installment.

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    1. Sharon-- It is so interesting that your parents tried to shield you from the news. I understand that instinct. I do think this internet has been more detrimental than beneficial, but I believe there will be no turning back until the inevitable environmental crash happens. Then maybe things will unfold and evolve differently.

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  5. I enjoyed your look back in time from your sharp perception. At that time you got the news and nothing but the news. Today news is not only biased and twisted but outright lies. It would be interesting to read the views of today's teens when they are 60 years old.

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    1. Red-- I love your perspective. What will the teens of today say when they are 60 years old? I won't be around to hear it, but I think I'll ask the grandkids to say it out loud to their dearly departed granny. (It's what my mom asked of me before she died, to keep her informed of all that is going on!)

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  6. How odd, the minute I read you words about the monk who set himself on fire, I was right back in that time and remember the horror and disbelief I felt at the time.
    You are right, while we didn't have the tools we have today, we had newspapers and the evening news which would let us know the body count during dinner. Thank goodness we didn't have to put up with the random tweets. They were the best of times and the most trying of times. Each decade has its pain to live with.

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    1. Patti-- You are so right about not having to put up with random tweets back then. That we have a president who communicates that way is mind-blowing in every way. Yes, each decade has its pain to live with. This one is a doozy!

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  7. O my goodness. Your family's house in the suburbs looks so much like the one my family moved into in 1957. The dinner scene looks so much like that of a Thanksgiving in my family. Thank you for the link to what you wrote in 2005 about the Civil Rights Movement. That was from a few years before I began reading your blog. Coincidentally, before reading your post just now, I finished writing a post that ended with "Never again."

    I, too, was quiet and withdrawn, serious, and completely taken with the exuberances of the Beatles. So much happened between 1960 and 1965 that shook the world. It was not a peaceful time, but the music was extraordinary. I remember previously seeing the photo of you kneeling but had not realized that it was in the context of the monks setting themselves on fire or that it was in the context of a family photo. You look very much like my middle sister, except for the fact that you are kneeling.

    Thank you for taking us back to these years that you experienced as a sensitive and aware girl in early adolescence. Your mother has such a warm and reassuring presence.

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    1. am-- It was such an interesting time to come of age. The world was in such turmoil. Our country was in such turmoil. I like to contextualize our personal experiences in ways that show the impact of even the most distant things, even on the streets of a suburb in the middle of nowhere. I remember kneeling in the photo, I remember wanting to convey peace and unity and pain and sacrifice. It is heart-tugging to see my parents at the table.

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  8. I think I've seen that family photo before. Do you remember it being taken? What was going on? Were you engulfed in sadness and seriousness because of the news? While I was aware of the news of world and national events, I was also distanced from it by my very normal, white, suburban, middle class life. That "stuff" didn't touch me. Until I was 13 or 14 and began to understand the insanity of it all. I saved a lot of my high school essays, and they really tell the tale of my profound upset about the Vietnam war and race relations, poverty and political corruption. My teachers usually told me to "calm down."

    I love reading these memories you have. You capture the times very well. And because of the internet, you can share them far and wide.

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    1. Tara-- I keep trying to remember what year that photo was taken. I look older than Michael who is in the back standing next to my uncle. He looks like he's 12 years old. I think I look 14. A little weird for twins. I think it's the fancy dress and stockings that make me look older (a hand me down from the doctor my mom was working for back then-- he had daughters who had fancy clothes-- lucky me!). You were born five years after me, and that makes a pretty big difference in the context of current events. When you were 13 or 14, I had already marched in Washington DC, had been to Woodstock, and helped pack up the house in NJ and moved to California. Time is so interesting. I would love it if you would write your stories in the context of current events of the times.

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  9. I used to watch most of the shows you did as well and listed to the same bands. Might be one up on you though as I found out the Beatles were getting off the train in our Village but by the time I got down the Station the cars were drawing away, not even sure if I did get to see them through the window as the cars drove off.
    Think my biggest concern then was having a H bomb dripped on us

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    1. Bill-- You were so close to The Beatles! How wonderful and cool that must have been. My niece got to stand really close to Paul McCartney in Hollywood 2014 when he was coming out of a restaurant with his wife. There is a photo of it and you can just barely see her. My family loved it!!! I'm wondering lately if we're going to see another nuclear bomb go. It seems closer now than it has in my lifetime.

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  10. Robin, this is just amazing. The way you write makes me feel very much involved bringing back so many memories from my own suburban childhood and well, the music, the music. And the amazing freedom of growing up in suburbia.

    I envy you the family TV evenings and the dancing together. My parents had nothing but disdain for anything that wasn't proper (=classical) music and tv was not allowed for kids.
    They thought the Beatles were the end of the decent world and once when I found a music magazine with Elvis on the cover, my father spent weeks ridiculing this "silly looking clown".

    It also brought back memories of the Vietnam war which affected us because we had many US army families living around us and we played with the kids after school. There was talk we didn't understand but knew it wasn't good. I remember asking my teacher in primaray school what it meant and when she told me that it was a war I asked her to tell us how to stop it.

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    1. Sabine-- My parents loved music and they loved to dance. Music was a very big part of our lives. So, it was rather fortuitous that we came of age in such a time of musical creativity. There was so much turmoil with racial issues and the Vietnam war looming, it was hard to look away. I love that you asked your teacher how to stop the war. It's the perfect question.

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  11. I was unaware of the news back then. I can't even remember whether we got a newspaper--most likely my mother couldn't afford a subscription back then. It wasn't until I reached my teens that I began to find out what was happening in the world around me.
    I see the loss of local newspapers as a loss of democracy. It's a horrible development. Most internet outlets are at best hearsay crap. Actual investigative journalism online is rare as hen's teeth. I absolutely wish I could go back to that time, not to do away with connectivity, but to live in a world where being online isn't an addiction, isn't a capitalist's dream.
    Your accounts are so evocative of time and place. Maybe save your writing in a more permanent form and leave it for the grandchildren. (That's another problem with the internet: It leaves no meaningful documentation of history behind--will your grandchildren, as adults, have childhood photos they can share?) Your childhood was a very different life from mine, but I like to think if we had known each other, we could have been good friends.

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    1. CCorax-- You make me wonder what year you were born. What was the news back then? How did you learn about the music of your day? I am really curious. You so eloquently express what I feel about the loss of newspapers as a loss of democracy. To live in a time where the president calls journalists liars and the enemy is as chilling as it gets. We subscribe to the NY Times and the Washington Post. It's just as important to us as voting. Yes, how do we keep connectivity but not have it be an addiction or a capitalist's dream? I wish I knew. I like the idea of saving some of my writings and leaving it for the grandchildren. I have already decided though to burn my journals before I die. I think had our paths crossed we would have become friends, gone for long walks, enjoyed the fun of dogs running, and listened to good music together.

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    2. I was born in '56. I was oblivious in part because I eschewed human things and spent all my time outdoors with the critters that peopled my world, from horses, to ever-present dogs, to click beetles. For music, the two youngest of my three brothers (all older than I) introduced me to all kinds of music. Then when I was a junior in high school, I began to hang out at the Amherst College radio station, getting a show a few hours a week (my mother was a secretary on campus) and then I became the one introducing my brothers to great new music!
      I wouldn't be surprised if your children one day considered themselves uniquely blessed to have the gift of your memories in tangible form.

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    3. CCorax-- I love how you describe yourself eschewing human things. I so understand that. Lucky you had such a rural environment with lots of critters to grow up with. It's pretty profound how much of an impact music has on our lives. I can't wait to write the next post about 1965-1970. The music was great, the lyrics profound, the passion utterly beautiful.

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  12. wow this is beautifully touching story of your life
    knowing the facts and encountering with the crucial realities of life ,yes i too remeber when i found that out of the window world has different shades

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    1. baili-- Thank you for your kind words. The crucial realities of life in the world of different shades, we all learn these lessons. Sigh.

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  13. I would definitely like to do away with the 24/7 "news" channels. I fondly recall the evening news, half an hour and it really was news. And we read "Newsweek," "Time", and "US News and World Report" and didn't know it all beforehand. And we read both the morning and afternoon newspapers.

    I love the Internet, but I am very glad it was not around when my children were growing up. In those days, our computers spit out only what we put into them, on floppy disks.

    I love reading your memories.

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    1. NCmountainwoman-- Yes, I would like to see the whole 24/7 news cycle stop. It seems to have had such negative impact on the whole perception of news and journalism. I love the internet too, but I worry about the aspects of it that keep us all in our own isolated, philosophy confirming realities.

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  14. Thanks so much for your memories Robin. Your childhood and youth seem almost novelistic now, in terms of sweetness and the good family you enjoyed. I'm glad for you that you had such a strong foundation at the beginning.

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    1. John-- The past is such an interesting thing and especially so when contextualizing a single life in the midst of it. Yes, family was our foundation. Thank you so much for stopping by.

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  15. Enjoy reading your recollections. Has me thinking about some of the differences between generations. I remember 1963 well, too. I was in my late twenties, working at a TV station as talk shows beginning, including ours. I wed that year amidst all the crazy stuff in the rest of the world. We could only afford a small apt., and began saving more money so we could buy a house in the years to come.

    Our corporation’s TV stations covering several states discovered more viewer eyes watched news, ratings went up, sponsors willing to buy more time when news included car wreck coverage. We hadn’t quite got yet to viewers responding more when entertainment items added and TV management gave the viewer majority what they wanted.

    Recalled from years earlier (‘50s) when Elvis was a nobody starting out in little burgs and southern friends went to hear him play basically R&B music that was now becoming acceptable in that part of country ‘cause he was a white boy. Then his music and that of others of similar bent, including even some of the black artists, crossed the Pond and we got the Beattles with some of their variations. Interesting to see how that music evolved as we developed a teen dance show on our station — danced The Twist. I never really cared for Beatles instrumentation, but liked many of the tunes arranged, lyrical messages (think Lennon’s Imagine) and performed by other groups with a different orientation — also some of other groups in time to come, like Pink Floyd.

    My earlier years WWII was raging — country coming out of depression when millions out of work — no TV then — very aware of fascism (and now how it develops) — innocence was being lost that WWI, the war to end all wars, hadn’t ended war after all.

    Each of our generations complements each other as we, hopefully, also learn from one another. Now, if we could just get news to be factual news without all the other distractions in it. :-).

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    1. joared-- I love reading about your time in the news field. I have always felt that our country's founders truly understood the importance of a free press. It is so interesting how viewer attention dictates what gets covered by the news. It shouldn't surprise me, but it does. I fear that things will just get worse, especially since each individual now with their own little devices gets to pick and choose what news they want to see. Confirmation of one's perspective always is a profound change. Thank you so much for stopping by. I loved reading about your time.

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  16. My childhood home was torn down and a McMansion sits in its place.

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    1. Paul-- Do you have any photos from back in the day? I hope so.

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  17. I love these reminiscences. Please continue. You're right, it's fun to backfill the pre-internet story.

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    1. Phil-- I am hoping to resume my Memories posts. I just need a little sunshine and inspiration.

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  18. I am loving this series so far.

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    1. Dave-- Thank you so much. It's so good to hear from you.

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  19. Robin, I really love these posts. This was most certainly an important part of our history. There was so much going on. Good, bad, and ugly.

    One of things I remember most is the cold war. Especially the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. I was twelve then and I remember feeling scared shitless about whether or not we were going to war with Russia. It seemed like we practiced the duck and cover drill almost daily.

    I really love your writing.
    "We planted flowers and bushes and dreams right there." I love love love that line!

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    1. Pat-- Oh yes, I remember the Cuban Missile crisis too. It was such a scary time. Thank you so much for your very kind words.

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  20. Oops! I forgot. Your pose (and why you did it) in the family photo is priceless. It really shows how deep and full of feelings you were (and still are).

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    1. Pat-- I paid a lot of attention to the world, which has its ups and downs.

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