Monday, May 9, 2011

Growing Up American Part 2

We got our first TV, a black and white, when I was eight. I was already in love with Adam West who played Batman. Everyone else I knew was in love with Robin. Forgot his name...

As a middle-aged writer, I often feel a sense of loss that I started writing things down so late, even though I'd been writing in my head for years. Stephen King's "On Writing" encourages me as he reminds me that he and I are among the the final handful of novelists who learned to read and write before they watched TV. We have yet to see what a full generation of TV does to the world.

When I was in the fifth grade I remember making paper chains and glittered stars for Christmas decorations for the class, listening to John Denver sing "I'm leavin' on a jet plane..." Ironically, and unbeknownst to me, the first draft lottery since World War II had just occurred.

By the time I turned eleven, we'd walked on the moon, for the first time in History! WE, THE UNITED STATES had been the first country to do this! The Russians Sputnik had crashed, but we were literally on top of the world. We were the global big brother in every positive sense of the word.
The 'in' lipstick was white, as I recall. My father called it Fire Engine White. Needless to say, I didn't wear it.

As sixth grade ended, Ford introduced the Pinto and Jimi Hendrix died of an overdose. It was all lost on me because  in my family we didn't buy brand new cars, or listen to popular music.I don't remember any black children in my elementary school. Summer vacations were spent in the dirt lot down the street, or playing hopscotch and Chinese jump rope on my sidewalk, and the treat of all treats in the summer, swimming in 'the plunge'.

Pantyhose were coveted. I couldn't wear them until I was at least 12. My grandma bought me fishnets in psychedelic colors. My first bra didn't have any elastic. At all.

I didn't know anything about sex until we had the talk (separate from the boys) in sixth grade. As far as I know, not many others did either. If they did, they didn't talk about it around me.

None of my friends and I ever talked on the phone. The phone was used for practical communication, not hanging out. "Hanging out' wasn't invented yet. Letting your hair down was still a little suspect. (like the Russians) It wasn't done very often, but it didn't carry the connotation of anything immoral or illegal, but rather meant wearing more comfortable clothes for an outdoor outing, and maybe talking casually.

We ate dinner together every night. My mother cooked it. We ate out on vacations, and then we only ordered water to drink. There were no drive-thrus. No fast food restaurants. If you went on a road trip, you packed a lunch to eat on the way.

In the days I was growing up it felt like being American was more about the responsibility of being decent than being a superpower. It was who we were, not what we had.

Music, fashion, art, technology, and spirituality have all changed drastically since I was a child, and all of these now change more rapidly now than they ever did. The accumulation of more things that end up in the trash has escalated to an alarming rate.

As a child of the sixties, I straddled a chasm of cultural upheaval that few have the opportunity to experience. And, as a child of the sixties, I am expected to welcome, embrace, and even idolize the 'new' as superior to the old. Looking and acting old is the enemy. But - fellow baby boomers, we are growing old, and we cannot deny it forever.

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