The year was 1969 and my corner of the world was a small front bedroom on the second floor of a white-shingled frame farmhouse. I couldn’t get away with much in those days. My parents’ slept in the room next to mine. But I did sometimes open the window and smoke cigarettes over the sloped tin roof of our porch. That and listen to records on my portable stereo. Its having a handle on top was about the only thing that made it portable. I remember the contraption being quite big and boxy. But it played records. 33s and 45s. Despite the dire conditions of my isolation, I fancied myself connected to the world beyond the fields. Music was my conduit. I may have been too young to hitchhike to Woodstock or protest the war in Vietnam, but I played my music. Loud.
Our house was anything but soundproof. Even voices carried. There were four rooms on the second floor built over four rooms on the first, with a staircase coming up in the middle. In order to make the house livable, my parents opened up the four downstairs rooms into two and turned one of the upstairs bedrooms into a bath. The kitchen was on the first floor, off to the side, in an addition built long before we ever moved in. Most all of my time was spent in my bedroom, though; a bedroom I had originally picked out because of it had the prettiest floral wallpaper. At least it did when I picked it. All my pretty flowers got torn down when the walls were scraped clean in my mother’s zealous effort to restore the place to some sort of early American masterpiece.
The walls throughout the house ended up chalk white. In all fairness, the paint color was “antique white,” but, antique or not, those walls were white. The dark ink-stained-to-look-like-wood woodwork created a stark contrast. The ceilings matched the walls, with a light fixture smack dab in their centers. Each identical: a tin plate-like thing with two flame-shaped lightbulbs sticking out. Cotton draw-back curtains hung at the windows and kept out about zero light. And the floors were the original boards. Sanded and stained. Partially covered downstairs with braided rugs and upstairs with rag. There was hollowness about the place. Underscored by my dad’s angry outbursts and the fighting that often kept me awake at night. Although my childhood was, in most all aspects, quite ordinary, I understood, even then, that my mother had thrown herself into the remodel to keep her mind of the sorry state of her marriage.
For my part, I tacked up posters of Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy. My mother had a fit about my putting sticky tape on her precious white walls, but I did it anyway. The pictures added some much needed color to what was otherwise an all-white nearly sterile room. An old three-drawer dresser with a white marble top. A twin bed adorned with a you-guessed-it white George Washington bedspread. And an antique upright fold-down desk completed my mother’s assigned furnishings. I kept my stereo on a comparably modern end table I salvaged from the stored remnants left over from our first house. A heavy beveled mirror hung over the dresser and, thanks be to God, a full-length one was screwed into the back of my closet door.
I studied myself in that mirror every morning. And, every morning, I saw the same face reflected back at me: that of an awkward young girl who was desperately uncomfortable in her own skin. I hated living on a farm. More than anything, I wished we lived in a house in a neighborhood within walking distance of my school. I wanted to be like other kids. Instead, for whatever reason, I was exiled to a farm in the middle of nowhere, along a country road with two lonely yellow lines that stretched in either direction for as far as the eye could see. I rode the bus. Every day. Same thing. I woke up in the same room and checked myself a dozen times in the same mirror, the full length mirror on the inside of my closet door. The one where I had, at some point, put bright little sticker in the top left corner. A sticker that would come to symbolize my teenage rebellion against almost everything. It read, simply, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
Many years have passed since then. I don’t so much mind getting old. Getting old is necessary. It is the price to be paid for my having been blessed to be alive in 1969. ‘69 was, indeed, the year that changed America. Or at least the year that changed me. 1969 was the year of the moon landing. The Stonewall riots. The summer of love. Anti-war protests. And Woodstock. The 5th Dimension promised it was the Age of Aquarius. Iconic peace signs were everywhere. And Monty Python’s Flying Circus first aired on BBC. My father wanted to annihilate North Vietnam. My mother tried to keep peace at the dinner table. And I decided once and for all and forever: I was not going to be like them. 1969 was the year I came into myself. The year I claimed a future far and away from the farm where I grew up.
Everything made sense to me back then. The “establishment” had nearly destroyed all that was good about America. My generation was about to inherit a corrupt and broken society, but we would do so with determination and grit. Everything was going to get better. We would undo what was and create a world of love and peace, with a rock and roll soundtrack and Peter Max scenery in every background. The stars were all lined up. My generation was going to make a difference. And I was part of it Part of change. Part of a psychedelic wave of wonder that would carry me to freedom. I knew everything. Could become anything. Was poised for adulthood with an energy and eagerness I never experienced before or since.
None of that happened, of course. I may have escaped the farm, but the world did not get better. Something went very very wrong. My generation ended up creating its own establishment. Tie-die was abandoned in favor of neck ties. A new cast of characters emerged. Characters the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. The same boys who had once been too shy to ask a girl to dance in a school gymnasium, grew into men who sent their own sons and daughters to war. Not to a jungle, mind you, but right into the eye of a desert storm. We had our own disaster on our hands. Terror reigned. Buildings crumbled. And public policy was being bought for a price. Hope somehow got lost along the way and no one ever spoke of peace anymore. The music may not have died, but something did.
I often think back to that little sticker on the top left corner of the full length mirror on my closet door: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” It’s true. You can’t. Don’t do it. By the time a woman gets to be my age, she’s seen more than one generation surrender the idealism of its youth. I’m afraid that’s just the way it’s always been. The Christians of the first century looked to a different future, too. Christians are still waiting. We all are. As much as I wanted out of my twelve-year old world, with its too white walls and warring parents, I so wish I knew as much as I thought I did when I was twelve. I may have been young and naive and ignorant about many things, but the world made sense to me in a way it never has since. Back then, all things were still possible.