Monday, August 20, 2018

Memories Part 3-- 1965-1967

It's hard to choose what to write about. So much happened in those two years on every level of our lives. My siblings and I went from being basketball and baseball playing, cheerleading, and Halloween trick or treating kids to peace marchers, concert-goers, world-changing dreamers. The teenage years had begun and we were in the thick of some of the most profound movements to shake our country. We were in the suburbs, but a mere 27 miles from New York City. Yes, we were living in a commuter town. We could hop a bus on the corner and be at Port Authority in the city in 1 1/2 hours. Our world was both big and small.

It was right around this time that I met someone in 1966 who changed my life. She was the upstairs neighbor of a friend who lived in an apartment complex just outside our little suburban tract-house neighborhood. BK was two years older and already going to high school. And even though we lived in the same town she went to a different high school than I would be in. She was a poet, dreamer, musician, intellectual. She introduced me to all of the music I fell in love with— Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, etc. The great lyrical poet musicians of our time. She encouraged me to write and to dream. We became best of friends.

It was also in this year that my older brother left home for college in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It was the first time our family had ever been separated in such a way. I remember when my parents came back from dropping him off at school, we were already so lonely for him. That first week without him we sent him letters and on Monday we mailed him the Sunday comics from the newspaper. We were growing up and learning the new ways of the modern world.

It was in 1966 that two horrific explosions of violence shook our world. Because I always paid attention to the news, I read the stomach-churning story of Richard Speck’s murders. Somehow I had not really grasped how humans could kill with such mercilessness. It made me afraid about being a young woman, learning that just by being a girl I could be the target of someone’s rage. And then, two weeks later Charles Whitman climbed the observation deck at the University of Texas killed 16 people and taught us the word “sniper.” Violence became a part of our culture from then on. My friend BK and I would walk from her house to mine and say, “Sure hope I don’t get sniped today.” Somehow the world was no longer safe. Boys in their cars would drive by and shout things to us like “Hey babe, wanna go for a ride!” And I would cringe in fear.

A year later in July of 1967 my father's wholesale produce business came crashing down. The move to big supermarkets and shopping centers changed everything, but it was the Newark riots that put the last nail in the coffin. It was a very difficult time for our family. My father was 49 years old, had four kids (one in college) and his whole world was crumbling around him. It was the first and only time I saw my father cry. But he picked himself up, got a job selling furniture at a fine store, and it became his profession until he retired. It was an interesting lesson watching both the larger financial interests put small businesses out of business, and watching how a week of riots in a broken city could change the lives of so many even people living far away.
But then 1967 the Summer of Love also bloomed. Oh the color of art, the sound of the music, the smell of incense and marijuana. It was as joyous a time I could have ever dreamed up. The perfect balance to the war and violence that needed our peaceful loving attention. The confluence of these movements was a profound thing to come of age in. I was truly naive but also firmly convinced of our utter goodness. I believed if I could be so opened up to the nature of oneness and the world, then it was possible for everyone to do so. It took me a long, long time to let go of that dream.  It was in that open-hearted summer time I went to Central Park for some rally of some sort with my friend BK. I remember hanging around with people chanting and singing for peace, having serious conversations about the war, looking around me and the thrill of being swept up in a movement bigger than myself. We shared food, drank from the same water bottles, and were grateful for our openness.

But soon the summer was over and I was starting 10th grade, taking my first school bus ride to high school. On the second day of school, while walking with my brother to the bus stop I felt sick. My head felt feet above my body. I think I had a fever. My throat hurt. My glands hurt. I went to school anyway and went straight to the nurse's office. She took my temp, called my parents and said "Get this girl to a doctor right away." I was sick sick sick. I had a severe case of mononucleosis. My parents had to make a room for me to sleep in downstairs away from my siblings. I was as lonely as I've ever been. For SIX WEEKS I could not leave that room. My food was brought to me on paper plates.  The school sent four faculty (one per day) for six weeks to tutor me in English, History, Math, and French. It was a sad time for me. I have thought over the years that I must have picked up that dreaded sickness from one of the water bottles at the march. While I was sick and feverish, I dreamed often of going back to school and falling love with someone I saw in my homeroom on that first day.

And so it happened. When I finally got back to school in mid October, I saw him. We looked at each other. And soon we fell in love. I'm not even sure I remember the details. We probably wrote notes to each other.  We started hanging around together in the giant entry way at school before the bell rang. There was only one issue about our love that I was going to have to figure out:  He was black.

Next post on love, loss, dreams, jobs, Woodstock, and graduation.

PS-- The reason I'm writing this is because we sometimes make assumptions about people's lives without knowing really a single thing about them, except for what they write on their blogs and the pretty pictures they take. We have all lived long lives before these internet ones.

29 comments:

  1. I read somewhere that each person is an entire novel, and if we're lucky, we get to know a few pages of it. I really enjoy these memory posts!

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    1. Paul-- It's true, each person is an entire novel. It's been fun trying to piece together a few chapters here.

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  2. Reading what you have written about these years, my heart goes out to you and all of us of all races who were on the cusp of adulthood during that time. I am finding that I can, only now, this morning, feel an upwelling of the pain and confusion of those years in the pain and confusion of these current times as I read what you wrote.

    It is startling to realize that you were in 10th grade in 1967 and already so swept up in the changes of the times. 1967 was the year I graduated from high school and started college. Prior to fall of 1967, our high school dress code required that all female students wear dresses. My sisters wore jeans or cords to school for the first time in the fall of 1967.

    My best friend and I had gone to Candlestick Park in late August 1966 to see the Beatles' last concert with several other girls, one of whom met the Beatles as the result of having a father who worked for a newspaper. My best friend, whose parents were Democrats, was much more knowledgable about political issues than I was because politics were discussed at her family's dinner table, but our main focus in those years was the joy and exhilaration connected with the music of the times. We went to the Magic Mountain Fantasy Fair and the Monterey Pop Festival. We went to concerts in Golden Gate Park. We went to Winterland, the Fillmore, the Avalon Ballroom, and the Family Dog. Neither of us drank or used drugs prior to 1967. Like you, we lived in the suburbs. We were 25 miles south of San Francisco. We wanted to go to the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park in January 1967, but my father refused to give me permission to take one of the two family cars. He also refused me permission to go to San Francisco to see one of the first screenings of the Bob Dylan documentary "Don't Look Back." He had concerns about my safety and the direction he saw me taking and, as a life-long Republican, he was not at all open to the changes of the times that those events demonstrated so clearly. Those were painful years for him. He felt that he had lost two of his three daughters.

    My best friend went to live in the Haight-Ashbury soon after we graduated and, like many young women drawn to San Francisco that summer, soon lost every bit of innocence that she had. It was in December 1966 that I met and gave my heart to a young man on the beach at Half Moon Bay, never dreaming that in a few years he would be drafted, go to Vietnam, that we would attend a peace gathering organized by Joan Baez soon after he returned, that he would assault me a few months later under the influence of drugs and that many years of darkness were ahead for many of us as a result of that war.

    My mind just began playing an old song from 1968:

    "A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
    A time of innocence
    A time of confidences"
    (lyrics from "Bookends")

    However, now that I am almost 70, I feel so much younger than those two 70-year-old men sitting on the park bench like bookends that Simon and Garfunkel sang about in 1968 and again in Central Park in 1982. We have our memories and so much more to our lives. Those of us who are able are taking long walks, attending marches, writing, creating, taking photographs, making videos, doing what we can politically, blogging (!), experiencing the fullness of both joy and sorrow.

    Thank you, robin andrea, for writing down your clear and vivid memories and the feelings connected with them. This is a good time to look at our history -- to look at what formed us into the people we are now. I didn't expect so much to pour out when I started to write.



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    1. am-- I will always be grateful that we came of age in the era of which we did. It was a time that chose awakening, peace, love, and oneness. When I read the lyrics of Bookends it makes me wonder if those men actually may have felt as young as we do now. It's a nice look back through older eyes. Thank you for sharing your stories, am.

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    2. And I am glad that I was just a little too young in 1967 to get pulled into all of that. I would have lost my center in that crowd, at that time. I was so naive, I would've believed all the bullshit boys told me to get into my pants! Heartbreak would have ensued, big time. And probably STDs and drug addiction. Whew. Dodged a bullet.

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  3. Fascinating story. And hey, Leonard Cohen, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell were all Canadians!

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  4. I loved this! I've always felt like I should have been born about 20 years before I was. To be a teenager (or maybe a college student) in the Summer of Love would have been amazing! Instead, I was eight months old, and I got to come of age in the era of disco. (Which had its own charms, I suppose.)

    Everyone in New Jersey has stories about the legendary Newark riots and the way they transformed the city and the state. I can't wait to read what happens next!

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    1. Steve-- When I read your blog, I often think you should have been born earlier. You have the perspective and insight of the those days. I'll have to go and read more about those Newark riots. It really was quite a time.

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  5. robin,
    Really enjoyed this. Though I am older than you, the clear picture you painted brought me back to the fears, disbelief, pleasures and joys we shared in those days.

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    1. Patti-- I so appreciate how you sum it up... the fears, disbelief, pleasures and joys... Yes!

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  6. I find this so amazing to read, like a novel come real.
    Thank you Robin!

    I started primary school in 1964, the German version of the student protests and the "summer of love" was way above my head. I came to it ten years later - with enough energy to make up for lost time. In my first years at uni in Heidelberg, I spent more time on sit-ins, boycotting lectures and marches than in a lecture hall (it showed). Sometimes I think I only went to uni for that.

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    1. Sabine-- Thank you so much for your kind words. I love that you participated in the boycott lectures and marches. Sometimes those really do teach us more than the planned lectures.

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  7. I was 9 in 1965. Tall tube socks, Joe Cool haircut, went every where's on my Sears Spider bike with butterfly handle bars and a sissy bar. Didn't watch the news and didn't have a care in the world.

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    1. Dave-- It was a whole different world for younger kids. Good to be out there on your Spider bike. If I were 9, I would have been doing the same!

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  8. Robin, what a series of stories! To think, teachers actually came to your house to tutor you for six weeks. Would that even happen now? You were a young woman at an incredible time in an unique spot in America. Knowing you as long as I have, some of this is new to me. I love reading about your young life. Can't wait for the next chapter. (I don't think I knew that your first crush in High School was black.) Keep on writing, woman.

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    1. Tara-- I have often wondered the same thing, what would have happened to me if I were a 10th grader now instead of 50 years ago. Tutors? I don't know. Oh yes, I fell in love deeply, the way a 15 year old does with such passion only song lyrics could describe!

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  9. Another thoroughly enjoyable installment. Looking forward to more.

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    1. Sharon-- Thank you. I'm already writing the next installment in my head!

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  10. I see I have some stories to catch up on here.
    First off, this is a great post Robin. Your family went though a lot of changes. Not just at home, but the world in general.

    I graduated from HS in 1968, so I'm a bit older, but equally in awe of what all happened in my world in the last half of the sixties and first half of the seventies. The world changed and we were part of it. I honestly think that our generation changed the world during that time period. I don't think anybody can argue about that fact. We changed the world...

    I might have told you this before, but a friend and I hitch hiked to San Francisco during the "summer of love." It was between my junior and senior years of HS. Strange as it sounds, I found myself in the Marine Corps a year later, and in Vietnam soon after.

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    1. Pat-- I find your story so intriguing, going from SF "Summer of Love" to the Marines a year later and Vietnam. What a transition. I hope you write about it someday. As a commenter wrote above, our lives are like novels. It's interesting to share the deeper stories.

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  11. Boy you have a good memory, I have been trying to put mine down from my working like and I will share a little bit of it on Our World Tuesday next week. 1967 think I wet for a job in the Police Cadets then but failed to get in then spent the 5th year at school. Spare time was spent working for the local blacksmith

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    1. Bill-- I'm working hard at remembering. Interestingly, after writing this post I remembered that my friend BK not only introduced me to the best music, she was the one who introduced me to the beat poets. Now that really changed my life. I would love to your story. I think it's good to share the bigger picture.

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  12. I am finding your story profoundly moving. I think I was shielded from a lot of what was happening in the real world. My parents expected me and my brother to go to college, and they expected us to do well enough in school to make sure we did, so most of my world centered around that. In some ways I feel like I missed part of what my generation was about. It's good to read an account from someone who didn't.

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    1. Mark-- My parents had expectations as well. I disappointed them at first by not starting college 'til I was 30 years old! Then, I made them very happy. I understand taking a different path at the time. I'm so glad you like these stories.

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  13. robin, i am on the edge of my seat reading this. i am so glad you are sharing your life in this way. it feels so rich and meaningful. I found myself sobbing at the part where you talked about your father's business going under, and seeing him cry, then pick himself up and get a job selling fine furniture. I was so moved. What a wonderful lesson in resilience and love that was, because there was no question he was going to figure something out for all of you. I feel such admiration for your father, reading your words. And you were living the dream I was hankering for from Jamaica, watching the peace movement in America, civil rights, all of it. I knew without question that I would one day move here, because of what I was seeing from afar in the 60s. What comes through in your telling here, more than anything, is how loving your family was, and is, and no wonder you are the large-hearted person you are.

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    1. 37paddington-- Thank you for such kind words. My parents taught my siblings and me to be there for each other. Our neighbors used to say that they wished their kids were like us. The Civil Rights movement touched me in such a deep way. I wanted to understand the whole world. Our lives are lived in the context of what becomes history.

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