“I wonder what it was like to be around in the 60,” he said casually, peering at me out of the corner of his eye. “I’m taking this history class . . .”
Not an active question. I tried to respond, but I couldn’t pull together a meaningful response.
So I started thinking about it last night. What was it like being alive in the 60s? There are, no doubt, as many answers as there were people alive then. For me, time is a jumble. I remember things that happened in the 60s as happening in the 50s and the markers in my own life that I use to remember when something happened do not measure up with the dates as recorded by history. Do not expect dating precision here. This is my life as I remember it. Be kind.
I was a kid when John Glenn orbited the earth three times in 1962. A teacher told my class about it and when we went outside for recess, I told my friends I was going to be an astronaut. Another little girl told me, quite matter-of-factly, that I couldn’t because I was going to get married and have kids.
I went home crying that day and my mother soothed me, saying, “Maybe most girls will, but you don’t have to.” And she went on to tell me that she was the first person in her family to go to college and if she could do that, I could be an astronaut. She reckoned without the mysteries of calculus. But that’s another story.
Until I went to live with my aunt and uncle in Michigan, TV was pretty much in the same category for me as the ocean: I knew it existed, but it wasn’t part of my life. Then, suddenly, I was seeing the news every night. Not necessarily watching it (unless they were talking about the space race) but it was present, and knowledge of events of the day were seeping into my brain. I knew about Kennedy and his beautiful wife. I heard about the ideals of the time and the rise of the youthful rebels.
Even in small-town Michigan we heard about war and civil rights protests.
Unconnected, except in my own brain, was my uncle’s story from WWII: He was riding a bus in Germany when the war ended, but he hadn’t been shipped home. The seats of the bus were all full when a pregnant woman got on. Having been raised a gentleman, he stood to offer her his seat.
He wasn’t the only American serviceman on the bus and the others began lambasting him for giving his seat up for a German. Didn’t he know we just fought a war with those people? He said, “I was ashamed then, to be an American. Weren’t we fighting for human decency among other things?”
That story got rolled in with the stories about lynchings and separate water fountains and the horrors happening on the other side of the world with American boys being used as cannon fodder and taking it out on the locals.
A Few Days Later:
I’ve now been working on this bit of history in the back of my brain for a few days. Here’s some of what’s bubbled to the top.
Discreet events happened in the 60s but they were an expression emerging out of a series of ripples that arose decades before. I was not aware of the history that led to the events of that decade. I was an observer from the sidelines for most of what went on, but the waves of change that radiated out from that time have resulted in alterations to society that blow me away.
People refer to the 60s as a turning point in history on many levels, but the increasing freedom for so many groups of people to live the way their hearts lead them to live is what thrills my heart. When I think of the 60s, I am thinking of the tide of change that led to that time and the cleansing waves that have come after.
My gay friends can now marry and refer to their spouses in public. A black man has been president. Back when the civil rights battle was going on the question kept popping up, “But can there ever be a black president?” Why, yes, yes there can. Multiple women are running for president currently—almost flooding the market. People of multiple genetic variants and genders have been to space now. Multiple nations are collaborating on putting more than a little footprint in the moondust.
We feel worldwide ownership of space.
Little by little we are becoming a global culture on a scale no previous society has been able to imagine.
As humans we seem to be going back and forth between our best natures and our worst demons as we seek to evolve into a species to be proud of.
Whew! Got that off of my chest.
Were you alive in the 60s? What was that time like for you?