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The Sixties: Changing Times In Our Household
This article is dedicated to a friend of mine. Her name is Sonya L. Morley and she is a talented writer who lives in Scotland. If you would like to see her words you can find them at http://sonyalmorley.hubpages.com/.
Sonya asked me if I would write more of my memories of the 60’s and what Sonya wants Sonya gets. Since I loved growing up during that decade it took very little convincing for me to plod ahead and write this trip down Memory Lane. I should point out from the beginning that the statements that follow are only based on a small sampling of people who made up my little corner of the world. I make no claims that life in our neighborhood was similar to that in other areas of the world although I suspect that at least in the industrialized nations there were a great many similarities in lifestyle.
The first half of the Sixties was quite different from the second half, seemingly a split-personality or alter-ego of one being. There was a collective innocence during the early years that completely disappeared as the decade evolved. Imagine if you will a child of ten and the changes that occur as that child moves through the teen years and into adulthood. If it were a movie it would be called “The Flying Nun Meets Apocalypse Now.”
It was a time of great joy, great upheaval, great accomplishment and great pain and I was lucky enough to have lived through it all. Join me, then, on a trip back in time as we take a look at The Sixties.
FAMILY LIFE 1960-1965
By the time the decade began there were many households in our neighborhood that had both parents working jobs; the father worked full-time and the norm was for the mother to work a part-time job. Gone were the days of “Leave It To Beaver” where mom stayed home baking fudge, cake and cookies while the kids played and dad worked. War was not fueling the economy in 1960, good-paying jobs were hard to come by and for a middle class family like ours every penny was important.
It was just assumed that kids would go on to college because education and the benefits of it were held in sacred, high esteem. Many of us baby-boomers had parents who were raised during the Great Depression so a solid work ethic was instilled in us as was the importance of living a thrifty lifestyle. We had few extras; a big night out for the family consisted of dinner at a restaurant and that only happened once a month.
Those of us in our teen years were expected to get a part-time job in high school. I had my first job when I was fifteen and worked part-time jobs all through high school and I can say with all honesty that I was proud to have a job and to be carrying my own weight.
Families ate dinner together each and every night. I would be hard-pressed to remember this not occurring; no matter what was going on every member of the family sat down for the evening meal. The dinner hour was a time when we shared about our day and if dad was late coming home from work or if I had a ballgame, then dinner was delayed until we were all present. It was part of a tradition, handed down from generation to generation, and truth be told it was a tradition I enjoyed and respected.
The parental unit was greatly respected in the early part of the Sixties; a serious chink in that respect occurred later on as two generations discovered a gulf of ideology growing wider daily, but for the first half respect was earned and given freely. Even after my father and I began arguing over politics and the War there was still a mutual respect based on love; we just couldn’t bridge the gap that stubbornness had made.
There was always a sense of safety in those first few years of that decade. We would ride our bikes all over town and the only requirement was that we told our parents where we were going and what time we would be home. If plans changed it was expected that we would phone in the news. There were no bicycle helmets, no seatbelts in the cars, no airbags or other protective devices. More often than not we would come home with skinned knees and bruise bodies caused by our lack of common sense. Moms would patch up the kids and out the door they went again.
We did not live in fear. Nobody locked their doors at night; windows were left open on summer nights with only a window screen to protect you from the boogie man and no one really believed that he existed. Oftentimes we would play outside after dark or walk to the bowling alley at night and I’m pretty sure my dad never sat around fretting over the possible problems that could have happened. The average evening during the school year consisted of dinner with the family, homework and a little television with the family before bedtime. In the summers there was always dinner with the family but then we were too busy playing ballgames to consider what was on tv. In fact I really don’t remember saying I was bored very often. Somehow, without computers and video games, we still managed to amuse ourselves and each other night after night for years.
TIMES, THEY ARE A’CHANGIN’ 1966-1969
Boy, did they ever change! It was as if someone had lifted the curtain on a new scene at the theater. At first it was a subtle shift but then seemingly overnight subtle disappeared and in-your-face change occurred. In our neighborhood kids were heading off to college, filling their minds with newfound knowledge, becoming exposed to new ways of thinking and the end result was a collective questioning about the status quo. Make no mistake about it, there was a great deal to question as 1965 shifted gears into 1966. Television brought the Vietnam War into our living rooms and dorm rooms and it was fairly difficult to remain passive and clueless when napalm brightened the tv screen during dinner. Monks were setting themselves on fire, prisoners were being shot in the head, cities were burning and what once seemed impossible was suddenly live and in color each and every night, brought to you by NBC, CBS and ABC.
The War and Civil Unrest not only divided a country; it also did a hell of a job of dividing individual families and ours was not immune to this division. I do not blame my father and, if he were alive today I doubt he would blame me. He was a World War 2 veteran of five campaigns in Italy; he saw some heavy fighting, believed staunchly in the government and loved his country. I was doing what I had been sent to college to do: I was learning to think for myself, form my own opinions and defend those opinions with logic and fervor. The stage was set for some serious disagreements and as so often happens in families stubbornness and ego played decisive parts in the split between father and son.
My dad could not understand how I could speak out against the government when friends of mine were dying in the War; I could not understand how he could support such a senseless waste of life. He could not understand why the Blacks complained while living in the Land of Opportunity; I could not understand why all citizens did not live under the same Constitutional rights.
We still had family dinners when I was home from college but they were no longer lighthearted and carefree meals; instead they had become a forum for words that would only widen the gulf between two people who loved each other but could find no way to actually show it.
Of course it only got worse. As the 60’s progressed I took part in protests and dad hung more flags and dug his heels in deeper. My friends reported similar scenarios at their homes as the United States witnesses the greatest division since the Civil War. Each night brought more horrifying news; each day saw more civil unrest and the tension, at times, was palpable and oh so painful to experience. How would it all end? What would have to happen for peace and understanding to rise above the hate and sadness?
THE END APPEARED SWIFTLY
For our household the end came in spectacular fashion. As the final year of the Sixties unfolded my father suddenly died and the turmoil in our home died with him. 1969 would be one hell of a year for the United States and the world in general but for the Holland family it was a year of shock, slow recovery and finally peace. 1970 brought new responsibilities for me, a new reality for my mother and we both moved forward, getting on with the business of surviving and ultimately living. Just as the country slowly licked its wounds and began the recovery process so too did our neighborhood and family.
Our little speck of the world appeared to be the same in 1970 as it had appeared in 1960 but something had definitely changed. The innocence was gone, never to be re-claimed. No one who lived through that decade would ever again look at life in the same way. We were emotionally and psychologically bruised, battered and still standing but moving forward we would always be wary. Our new life came at a heavy cost and it may well be a cost we are still paying to this day.
I regret none of it! To regret is a senseless exercise, to assign blame where none is due. Life happens, we respond to that life and we move on. Hopefully along the way we learn a lesson or two that we can pass on to others. Oftentimes we need to be shaken to our roots to find out exactly who we are and more often than not we become stronger because of it. Is our country stronger because of the Sixties? I truly do not know. I know for a fact that I am and for that I am grateful.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
For a different perspective take a look at:
- The Beatles: How Their Music Affected My Life
My love of The Beatles and how their music spoke to me over the years.