1966

That’s the year I heard the gravel crunch in the driveway of our Pennsylvania farm as my parents drove me and a few worldly possessions to Eastern Mennonite College.

Today I’m suddenly curious about the world I lived in then and alert to the many other windows to the past currently online. Today I’ll share two visitations from the past that struck me this week.

The 1964 Worlds’ Fair

Two years earlier New York City had hosted a world’s fair full of optimism for the future (to listen to the fascinating Planet Money program, click the link).

The diarama of an undersea hotel from the 1964 World's Fair, from NPR Planet Money website

The diarama of an undersea hotel from the 1964 World’s Fair, from NPR Planet Money website

The makers of the 1964 world’s fair envisioned themselves as working on a project of historic significance. They tried to see past the twentieth century to project the kind of world we live in today. They saw undersea hotels, but were more entranced by Selectric typewriters than by computers. They overlooked the major social issues about to sweep the country — Civil Rights and the Vietnam War. It was a Jetson view of the future based on a Pat Boone image of the present.

Cover art for The Pat Boone Fan Club

Cover art for The Pat Boone Fan Club — link to Amazon below

Pat Boone: Icon for an “Anglo-Saxon Jew”

Sue William Silverman, one of my writing teachers at the Bear River Writers Workshop a few years ago, has written a fabulous memoir that unfortunately still sits on the table next to my bed. But I know I’ll read it because of this blog post and this quotation from The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew (American Lives):

Even though I’m now an adult, Pat Boone still reminds me of those innocent all-American teenage summers at Palisades Park, Bermuda shorts and girls in shirtwaist dresses, corner drugstores, pearly nail polish, prom corsages, rain-scented lilacs, chenille bedspreads and chiffon scarves, jukebox rock and roll spilling across humid evenings…. He is Ivory soap, grape popsicles, screened porches at the Jersey shore, bathing suits hung to dry, the smell of must and mildew tempered by sun and salt. He is a boardwalk Ferris wheel, its spinning lights filling dark spaces between stars. He remains all the things that, as you age, you miss—the memory of this past smelling sweeter than honeysuckle on the Fourth of July….

These vivid images from the 1960s dazzled me, too. They were part of the “glittering world” I wanted to learn more about when I went to college. I was curious about a lot more than these things, but I had not escaped their influence.

When I finally read this book, will I feel like an Anglo-Saxon Swiss-German Mennonite? Stay tuned. I’ll report back.

Were the mid-1960’s a time of innocence and optimism for you? Do they “smell sweeter than honeysuckle on the Fourth of July” now? Did they as you lived them? Do tell!

Shirley Showalter

28 Comments

  1. Lin Garber on September 24, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    How mind-bending is that quotation for me! In the ’60s I had left my honeysuckle childhood (which happened for me in the ’40s and ’50s) for the gloriously clangorous streets and subways of New York City. I first wore Bermuda shorts on Elkhart’s Main Street in 1957 and was mocked (and I believe secretly envied) for doing so.

    And Pat Boone was already, to me, a sapless vanilla crooner, of a piece with the pop idols that my contemporaries so adored. But I didn’t much care for Elvis as his replacement either.

    Back to my own memoirs!

    • shirleyhs on September 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      Lin, I love the thought of you as pioneer Bermuda-short-wearer on the streets of Elkhart. Isn’t it amazing what happens when a writer uses concrete imagery remembered from the past? Other stories pop right out.

      All best on writing your stories and on getting comfortable with Facebook. I admire your continuing curiosity and passion for learning.

    • shirleyhs on September 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      I forgot to say that I was not an admirer of Pat Boone either. His big grin and too-smooth voice seemed artificial to me even then. But I am very interested in what he meant to Sue Silverman. I loved the folk singers of the era much more and then also the Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas.

  2. Elfrieda Schroeder on September 24, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    My time of innocence and optimism was the late 1950s and early 1960s. I remember vividly the wonderful smell of lilacs in spring (right around my birthday), being madly in love and writing poetry about the boy on whom I had a crush (both of us were too shy to do anything about it). Elvis was there, but definitely in the background.
    After graduation from high school (1963) that innocent world disappeared as I left our small Alberta town for Winnipeg Manitoba and entered the work force. Shortly after this I met the love of my life and we married in 1968. Another adventure was about to begin!
    Thanks for stirring my memories, Shirley. I too must begin to write my memoir!

    • shirleyhs on September 24, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      I love reading a description that obviously poured out of you, Elfrieda. I know you are making notes for a future memoir. I plan to alternate between rummaging through my own artifacts and reporting on news of other sixties events and books. I’ll be looking for a rhythm in how to do this, so thanks for commenting. That’s an important way to gauge how to make the new direction useful to others as well as myself.

  3. Tracy Lee Karner on September 24, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I’m laughing, because the mid-sixties were definitely a time of innocence and optimism for me. I was just beginning my 9 years in a small parochial (Missouri Synod Lutheran) school, and I was enormously excited to have become a big girl. 🙂

    • shirleyhs on September 24, 2014 at 4:08 pm

      You are so young, Tracy! My youngest sister was just beginning kindergarten when I left for college. My mother felt bereft. I’m pretty sure I’ll find her poem written as a lament at the age of 40 when everyone has gone off to school.

      Thanks for the reminder that not all my readers were teenagers in the mid-sixties!

      Did you have any older siblings at the time? Or were you the oldest?

      • Tracy Lee Karner on September 24, 2014 at 7:09 pm

        I was the oldest. The “60’s” to me, consisted of: learning to walk, talk, count, ride a bike, add and read…See Spot run! Run, Spot, run!.

        I was very interested in the Humphrey/Nixon Presidential race for the sole reason that Humphrey was from my home state and my mom had once gone to a movie with his son, which made me feel incredibly important whenever anything about Humphrey cam on the news.

        I loved the NBC Peacock, when I finally got to see it in living color — it looked like a flower blooming. And I wanted to be Buffy on Family Affair, and have Mr. French walk me to school, and a big sister named Cissy to teach me how to be cool, and an Uncle Bill would would give me a Mrs. Beasly doll.

        Come to think of it, the 1960’s for me, was hugely about dolls. Thumbelina, Barbie, Chatty Cathy, Trolls…. So, you see, it really was a time of innocence for me. 🙂

  4. Marian Beaman on September 24, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    In the mid-1960s I left my innocence behind, married a non-Mennonite and proceeded to catch up with the rest of the world, pop-culture wise. I was never much taken with Pat Boone but can relate to chenille bedspreads and grape popsicles.

    You are on your way into a new era, Shirley! Are you wearing shiny red shoes?

    • shirleyhs on September 24, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      Chenille. Such an old-fashioned word and old-fashioned fabric. Probably it will make a come-back.

      You made a huge break with your past in this period, Marian, at least in outward appearance. Mine was more gradual change, just a few years later. We are each other’s doppelgangers.

      My red shoes are in the closet since Kansas. Maybe I’ll have to start wearing them as I write. How often do you wear yours?

    • Marian Beaman on September 27, 2014 at 11:53 am

      Your red shoes are in your closet since Kansas – ha! I guess you took them on your tour then. Mine are in my closet too not because I took them tripping, but because they are a tad tight. Besides they hurt my back if I strut around too long.

      And that’s my final (belated) answer.

  5. Jerry Waxler on September 24, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    I think of the 60s as having started in 1965 when I flew from my sheltered Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia to what turned out to be the war ravaged chaos of Madison, Wisconsin, home to some of the fiercest war protests, and for me a crucible of dark, existential philosophy. So if there was anything idyllic about the 60s, I completely missed it. From one point of view, the falling apart I did during that period instigated a lifetime of personal development and adult growing, so in a way the 60s were like the grain of sand around which the pearl of my life took shape. Best wishes, Jerry Author of Memory Writers Network

    • shirleyhs on September 24, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Jerry, isn’t it amazing that we have so many similarities in age and philosophy and yet experienced the time period differently? This is one of my greatest fascinations right now. As readers here will discover, I too participated in protests, but not because of dark existentialism but because I felt that my religious faith was newly relevant to the era I was just getting to know, from the sidelines, as my own.

      This is what drives memoir, as you well know. The quest for identity then and now. The way to connecting with many by describing what only you can know. So paradoxical.

      I hope readers here who are interested in memoir and in this period will hasten to your blog to check out the amazing resources you have collected for writers and readers there.

  6. Jerry Waxler on September 25, 2014 at 5:49 am

    “This is what drives memoir, as you well know. The quest for identity then and now. The way to connecting with many by describing what only you can know. So paradoxical.”

    I love this, Shirley. Nicely said. For some reason back in the 60s, while so many young people were thirsty to “find themselves,” for some reason, many in society thought this was a waste of time. Now, that search is out in the open and a source of creative pleasure for the growing number of people of all ages who want to write a memoir. The search to figure out how to become a character in one’s own story requires researching memories, and learning how to form them into a story. Many people see it as a writing exercise, but after one has been at it for a while, it reveals itself as a quest for identity.

    So there’s another memory from the 60s. This feels like a dig through antiquities. “Search for identity,” search for truth, that was my existential crisis. Did you notice us tortured intellectuals attempting that impossible task? 🙂 Now it’s fun and collaborative. We are all doing it together. Yay for the 21st century.

    Thanks for the compliments about my blog. The magic of the internet has allowed us to become colleagues in the quest. We might not have underwater hotels, but just as Marshall McLuhan predicted in the 60s, we’re working on the quest for identity together in our global villages.

    Jerry

    • shirleyhs on September 26, 2014 at 8:33 pm

      Helpful insights, Jerry. I will remember your interest in identity as I continue to unpack the artifacts from my own past. So much fun to compare notes and to hear each others’ perspectives. The more the better!

  7. Gerald Mast on September 25, 2014 at 7:36 am

    I was born in 1965, so my earliest sixties memory is the moon walk in 1969. We did not have a TV but my family went across the street to the neighbors to watch Neil Armstrong make the famous leap for “mankind.” I was fascinated by rockets and great balls of fire for quite a long time after that and still love gazing at the moon and wondering what it would be like to put my foot on it. But for most of my childhood the news printed in The Daily Record described a disintegrating world: Vietnam, Watergate, Energy crisis, Iran hostages, and Ronald Reagan promising “morning again.” The morning never arrived. But that’s the experience of a gen x’er, not a baby boomer.

    • shirleyhs on September 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      How helpful to have a Gen X generation perspective here, Gerald. Thank you! You are young enough to remember the period of my college years, but you lived those last years of the sixties as a little child. Hence less innocence and faith in progress by the time you got to your teen years and young adulthood. You had to face harsh realities at earlier developmental stages. How interesting to see how multiple generations were impacted by the same events. Thanks so much for this comment. Hope you will feel free to come back and bring your Gen X lens!

  8. melodie davis on September 25, 2014 at 8:54 am

    I was going to comment on the moon walk too as being a strong memory and a launch for me personally into another world as my family moved about 3 weeks later from my sheltered northern Indiana childhood to a new adventure in north Florida for my senior year of high school. I watched that moon launch on the living room floor with my steady boyfriend, (family present too!) knowing we would soon part, not knowing if it was forever. It was of course. And my senior year of high school in north Florida was amazingly and surprisingly difficult. … stuff for my memoir. 🙂

    • shirleyhs on September 26, 2014 at 8:51 pm

      That move must have been traumatic, Melodie. How far away and what a critical time to make such a change. Indeed moves are always turning points in childhood memoirs. Many writers endured a major uprooting in their lives. Sounds like an interesting chapter to write about!

  9. Laurie Buchanan on September 25, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Shirley – The sentence that really captured my attention was, “…a Jetson view of the future based on a Pat Boone image of the present.”

    Born in 1957, the 60’s were definitely a time of innocence and optimism for me. My biggest worry was how far past the geographic boundary my parent’s had set could I get on my bicycle and not get caught. The great outdoors beckoned, and I knew — just knew! — there were adventures with my name on them!

    • shirleyhs on September 26, 2014 at 8:47 pm

      Exuberant — that’s a good word for you at every stage of your life, Laurie. You’re nearly a decade younger than I am, but I know we would have had fun on bikes together.

      The great outdoors are a leveler among people at any age, no matter whether the external geopolitical events are peaceful or full of violence and fear.

      1966-1970 I would discover hikes in the Blue Ridge mountains and walks up the hill on campus while you were roaming the streets as a younger child. I like thinking of other people in other places as I remember my own. Thank you!

  10. Elaine Mansfield on September 25, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    “It was a Jetson view of the future based on a Pat Boone image of the present.” What a terrific sentence. My brother brought Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis home from college in the mid 60s, soon to be followed by Bob Dylan, so I wasn’t enamored with Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson. Still, I remember those bright times filled with anything is possible hope. The world was out there for me to taste and explore. I did, although my first year at Cornell in 1963 was a lonely time where I questioned everything, mostly myself. I went to the World’s Fair in NYC. It was full of a promising future, and I had my Cornell legs by then and felt a sense of personal promise, too. Thanks, Shirley. So interesting.

    • shirleyhs on September 26, 2014 at 8:58 pm

      Thanks, Elaine, Your brother had better taste in music than the typical teeny boppers around you. I always wanted an older brother to guide me. You had one!

      The three years difference between our entry points into college will be interesting to watch as time goes on.

      You are my only reader so far who actually visited the 1964 World’s Fair. Do you have any momentos from the visit. Did you go with college friends? You would have been a first-year student during the Kennedy assassination. That must have made a deep impact on you, especially when you were lonely and questioning. Thanks for sharing!

      • Elaine Mansfield on September 26, 2014 at 9:59 pm

        I don’t have a memento from the World’s Fair. I went with a college friend and her family for a day. I was struggling at the time and lost in my own world of depression and confusion, but I remember a feeling of magic and lightness there.

        Kennedy’s assassination is a different story. I was a freshman at Cornell and not thriving after being an independent high school girl. My mother had left for a teaching job in Europe and I hardly saw her for four years. (She was trying to restart a shattered life after my dad’s death, so I understand now, but then I felt abandoned.) My big brother was a graduate student at Stanford and tried to be there for me, but in 1967 that meant one short phone call a week. My grandparents didn’t step in to support. I was in my dorm room when I was told the shocking news by my roommate–and then all the girls huddled around the TV in the lounge (no one had a TV in their room then). I remember stunned disbelief and a sense that anything–absolutely anything–could happen. No safety anywhere. So many assassinations followed, so I was right.

  11. shirleyhs on September 27, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    I see you in my mind’s eye, Elaine. The first year of college overwhelms many students. What I remember is mostly positive, a little like the world’s fair. I must have been lonely sometimes, however. I wonder if I’ll find any evidence of those feelings in my letters and journals? To be discovered. . .

    You have material to write about in your college years also, Elaine. Perhaps I’ll discover that when I read your book.

  12. Tina Fariss Barbour on September 27, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    My memories of the mid-60s are a little different. I was born in 1963, so I was a small child at the time. My oldest brother is 11 years older than me, and I remember listening to his music — somehow Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Don McLean, Simon and Garfunkel –worked themselves into my psyche, and I ended up knowing the songs when I got older without really remembering learning them. If that makes any sense. I started school in 1969 (first grade–we didn’t have kindergarten in schools then) and it was the first year of full integration in the public schools in my county. I didn’t know that fact until years later.

    • shirleyhs on September 28, 2014 at 8:05 pm

      Tina, you and Gerald, above, experienced the sixties as children, which makes your perspective very valuable to me as a teenager/college student in the same time period. Your brother, born in 1952, was four years younger than I, so he graduated from high school just as the decade was ending.

      Sounds like you got in for a lot of the folk revival music that I too loved. And that your church was more important to you, also, than it was to many more secular Americans.

      I love knowing these parts of your story and hope you will come back to visit in the future, bringing your own memories. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Tina Fariss Barbour on September 27, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    And I can’t forget Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins!

    Church (our country Methodist church, which became United Methodist sometime in the 60s)–was the center of most of my social life.

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