’69 Was a Very Good Year

I recently flew cross-country to attend my high school reunion.  Now is there a cooler year to be the graduating class of or WHAT? Well, not only is ’69 a great number, but I think it was the most exciting time ever to be 18 years old. Our country was going through a period of massive social change. Civil rights, assassinations, the war in Viet Nam, “power to the people,” demand for the 18-year-old vote, and, not quite known to us yet, the sleeping giant of feminism about to wake up. I feel the old excitement just thinking about how we were going to change the world. Well, we did! And we didn’t. More on that later. We were aware of these events going on around us but, still relatively helpless in high school, much of it was on the news. We mostly got the trickle-down effect, a big part of which was through music. OMG the music! Some of the best ever. We were from a small city in rural Pennsylvania, but we could get radio stations from New York and Philly. And dominating everything was Motown. The Temptations and Supremes were gonna make you love me, the Four Tops just can’t help themselves. Marvin heard it through the grapevine, Stevie said it’s alright, and of course Aretha demanded her respect. The music was sweet and soulful, hip-shaking and heart-aching, about love and longing and loss. To us mostly white teens, it only added to the evidence that people are people and equality is the right and only way to go. And soon the great crossover bands like Santana, Sly and the Family Stone and Parliament-Funkadelic would be making our expanding consciousness explode. This is the music we danced to at our reunion. Maybe not quite as energetically as in ’69, but still pretty amazing considering the extra pounds, medications, and 10 pm bedtimes that have laid many of us low. Saddest of all was the awareness of class members who have not survived this long, something every generation faces. But everywhere were the yearbooks, pictures, stories of high school and beyond. Some people don’t like to remember. They find the pain too great, or they prefer to focus on the future. But I believe in remembering, and here’s why. Ever notice how your grandmother, or great-uncle, or even you, can remember things like how long her first labor and delivery took, or that prank he played on his army buddy that time, or the goodbye letter you wrote to your first love – yet can’t recall what they had for dinner yesterday?! That’s because of how memory works. The more times you revisit a scene, the stronger the synaptic connection in the brain, hence the easier it becomes to recall. She’s remembered that childbirth many times, wincing at the final push and smiling through her tears about who emerged. He’s chuckled to himself over that prank whenever he recalled his friend, thinking, boy that was a good one! And who hasn’t wondered again and again if writing that letter was the right decision, or took from them the best thing they’d ever had? Whereas none of them has given much thought to last night’s dinner! Friends have long praised my memory, and I think I’ve honed it by returning to the events of my life. I revisit them to relive the moments of terror, jubilation and crushing sadness that have shaped me into the person I am. I re-evaluate them to question my actions and whether I want to make changes that will benefit me and my relationships. But most of all, I want to own my own life. I’ve lived my memories with other people, but each of us has our story – mine as unique to me as theirs is to them. As a writer, I want to tell some of it. And that requires that I remember. It helps to keep whatever physical evidence I can. Love letters, special cards. Photos of course. Concert tickets. Articles about people I’ve cared about. And I won’t let a jealous partner or even an unexpected house fire rip them from me! (Although both have almost happened – once.) I figure at the very least, they will entertain me when I finally do have energy for little but the rocking chair. But till then they also help me to remember and share my story. Back to whether we flower children of the ‘60’s, demonstrators with our Afros and peace signs, ever changed the world, of course I think we did. And I’m not alone; Prevention health magazine in its 50th anniversary issue listed our generation as having had the most profound impact on human health and well-being. We have our first African-American president (something I thought I’d never see in my lifetime), and we could have our first woman president (something I hope to see in my lifetime). We have laws against hate crimes, and rape and domestic violence are no longer considered a man’s ‘right.’ There was no revolution, just decades of excruciatingly slow strides – for every two steps forward, one step back and sometimes worse. So that in spite of the progress, people today who still live in poverty, parents who see that their dark-skinned children are still more likely to go to prison, women watching others nap while their reproductive rights are stolen away, it can feel like not a damn thing has changed. But I want to feel hopeful that progress is not just a memory. So I think I’ll go listen to the Impressions tell us to just keep on pushin’. Torn love letters

In my book in progress Licking the Spoon, I explore personal boundaries within relationships – and how only an insecure partner would expect you to throw away your memories and annihilate your own history.

74 thoughts on “’69 Was a Very Good Year

  1. Interesting view on our era. I know we had a impact on a lot, but I guess I never realized just how much. Being a part of that time I guess I have taken it for granted, thanks for reminding me. I loved the pkay on the song artist.

    • Thanks Diana! Yeah, sometimes I feel like progress fell far short of what we hoped for, but there’s also evidence for how much has changed. It’s kind of like glass half empty or half full.

  2. Nice commentary on the time period. I was a child but remember the music and the general ‘feeling’ of the era.

  3. Thanks for the walk down memory lane and your great memory. Checked out the 69 list, now I’m going to go, put some Motown on and do a few of the things on that list……..

  4. It is nice to see someone from this times perspective on things. I was not even thought of at the time, my mother was still a child. I wish I could have seen the progress made in person though. I know so much has changed from then to now but even today we, as people, still have further to go. I just hope that I too can one day look back and see the progress my generation has made.

    • Your generation is the most color-blind so far. That’s something to be proud of, but of course, it wouldn’t have happened without the progression of the historical events that preceded it. I’m really glad I got to see that.

  5. I really enjoyed reading about your opinion on memories. I too think memories are big part of any individual’s life and keeping things to remind you of ANY memory is important. You mention that most individuals part themselves away from remember certain things due to death or loss; yet, if you choose not to think of those things then you’re choosing to forget. A memory, to me, is like a potato chip, once you have one you have to have another. Once you start thinking about that one time, or when you were with that person, or when that friend/family member died, it leads to limitless pile of memories we have stored in our brains. Remember and looking back on pasts is a story of our lives, once in which is unique to each individual and you could not have said it better, “Memories make us who we are today.”

  6. I completely agree with you in how we should at times go down memory lane. Memories can bring us good and/ or bad feelings but they make us who we are. One should not give rid of their old love card just because of a jealous partner. I am married, yet I still have a birthday card from my first boyfriend, because that was my first birthday card from anyone. Anyway, thank you for your experience.

  7. What an interesting period it must have been to live! I hope myself and the rest of my generation can change the world in a similar way as yours did :]

  8. It must be really exciting seeing your old classmates again! I could only imagine the anxiousness and excitement. I really like what you wrote about memories, because it is definitely true and can apply to every single individual.
    Also, I am pretty curious as to what your “fire rip” story is! Great post as usual!

    Sarah

  9. I feel like you give an interesting perspective of the generation then, compared to our current time. When you recall it, it gives a nostalgic sense of that time period.

  10. I like how you keep all of your concert tickets and letters and photographs to remember important events; I do the same thing. I have a drawer filled with concert tickets, letters and drawings from friends and movie ticket stubs and I like to flip through them and remember what I did that day and how I felt and I want to be able to look back at them many years from now and still recall what happened at my first high school dance or favorite concert.

  11. I really appreciate how great your detail from High School 69 to your last reunion. I also liked how the music at the time use to strike a note and that you guys danced to it at the reunion even though everyone is much older at least it wasn’t music you couldn’t relate to. I often too think about memory lane but sometimes these memories bring unwanted memories but I guess thats part of life.

  12. I always thought it was funny to see people explain a story in detail then after someone would ask, “So what did you do yesterday?” Then they have a blank on their face completely forgetting it existed until they remember. Good read thanks!

  13. i like how you said you were a amateur martini taster. (Im more of an amateur tequila taster) What an interesting period it must have been to live in was it as crazy as people say it was? I hope myself and the rest of my generation can change the world in a similar way as yours did with all that music :] I also like that quote you wrote, “an insecure partner would expect you to throw away your memories and annihilate your own history.”Because this happened to me and I have heard something similar things from friends.

    P.S.
    were there sexual connotations being from the class of 69?? was that a hip thing back then or was the vocab different from today?
    Also best of luck with your book, hope to hear more stories in your second book.

    • It was crazy, interesting, exciting – everything! I think your generation is already contributing to change because the first black president is mostly due to you! Yes, we used the term 69 and thought it was hilarious to have that as our grad year! Thanks for reading!

  14. It’s so amazing to learn about peoples actual stories of our history and not just another lesson coming out of our history book. I’m so glad we have progressed so far though, and I only hope my generation could do the same. Its very exciting!

    • I hated history in school because it always seemed like we just studied World War II, LOL! But now I have lived through some history and have a personal take on it. Glad you find the stories amazing! And I hope your generation continues the progress.

  15. I like how you went down memory lane it reminds me of my dad because he currently listens to that. it also is good how you talked about high school and they played the music you grew up listening to. It makes me wonder what my high school reunion will be like.

    • I hope they’re as fun as mine are! If you want yours to be good, join the committee that puts them on! They always need help, and then you get to have some say. Unfortunately, mine is too far away. I’m very appreciative of the people who put ours together every 5 years.

  16. I only wish I could have been in high school in that era and see how much everything has changed. Thanks for taking us all back!

  17. I completely agree, I belive the 60s were extrodinary. I sat through high school listening to the music, mocking the fashion and just in awe with those times.Even the art changed we look at the world today. However, I do believe America comes a long way, yeah there’s a lot of things I wish was different. But yet I’m allowed to walk out the door and allowed to be myself, a privilege I wouldn’t have in the 60s.

  18. WOW! I always knew I grew up in the wrong era The Supreme and Temptations priceless!! You are very lucky to have experienced music, news, fighting for rights that much of our generations has forgotten.

  19. I believe that we have a great world nowdays. People are more liberal and understand more about life; however, we still need to make more people understand that we all have a different world. People are new and we have to appreciate all these changes and take advantage of them.

  20. That era must of been a great time being a teenager. Motown is still the best today as I grew up listening to Oldies, Motown because of my parents. i wish I grew up in the 60’s. Nice story

  21. Alright.. Alright.. Alright.. Times have changed and it’s awesome to have so many amazing musical influences at that age so I completely agree with you! I wonder what the the class of 96′ is like ;D haha!

  22. Today many people don’t realize what their parents or grandparents went through back then in order to reach equality. I bet you had so fun during 70s and the 80s. Honestly today one don’t need a high school reunion thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all that social networks everyone knows what others have for breakfast, lunch and dinner

  23. It’s truly is very nice to reminiscent the High School years. For me it was the most memorable part of my life. If only time could be rewind I would live into my high school years. We had only stayed in one class from 1st to 4th year, our class have been pretty close till today 20 years later still getting in touch with each other.

  24. I feel the same way about keeping the memories and not throwing them out for anything. Although as far as high school reunion goes, I wonder how it would be like for me since Facebook has kept me well updated with past classmates.

  25. Revisiting memories are wonderful. I often enter a state of reminiscence and evaluate why I act the way I do. I visit little memories– finding out more about me and why this is me. Although there is one thing I hate about my memory (and even memory in general): we romanticize them. Although I am very greatful about every agonizing stage in my life I can’t help but remember some of them in a good light. I say “I miss them” or “I should’ve kept in touch” or even “we should’ve never broken up” yet in reality these people that I miss so much were like onions! They made me cry every night! Our brains work in such mysterious ways… Romanticizing the things that hurt us. But I can never deny that I’m glad all those people hurt me. I would still be a spoiled brat 🙂

    Thank you for the good read Professor Hoggan

  26. It’s so great to have memories, its the only thing that keeps us alive. Remembering good times and bad times really allows us to choose a right path in life. I wish I could’ve been alive to see all the change going on in 69. Im glad to live in an era where we have a black president and a woman running president. Hopefully she makes history. Once I realized what year my grandma was born I was like “whoa she lived through everything!”

  27. I often remember memories from my childhood. Although i don’t revisit them that much I still remember them such as my grandmother carrying me as a baby. If the reason is that i revisited the memory several times then I probably think about it sub consciously.

  28. Funny title and great blog! I like the correlation between the year ’69 as well as the slang it’s related to in terms of sex.

  29. It’s amazing how everything changes over time. I would really like to see the first female president in my life time, that would be something amazing to see. 🙂

  30. Wow this is great stuff, i always wished that i could live in the 60’s, the times seemed so free. The only connection i have to the 60’s is my grandmother and I love her stories! Memories are a beautiful thing.

  31. 69 was an interesting year! I was born in 94 so i never really knew how much of an inpact past years had but your writting let me see how much your year had on our country! Crazy how things change and i bet you had much fun during that year!

    • I sure did have fun, but I’m glad you appreciated the deeper meaning as well. I hated the way history was taught in school, but now I’m really interested in looking back at how things have progressed.

  32. Interesting way to see how the year 69 was! I like what you had to say and not only is it a fun sex position but sounds like an amazing year!

  33. i often times think i was born in the wrong generation or time period. in many ways i am an old soul.
    the music and grassroot movements must have been amazing! i am envious. Once again your writing style bleeds through the article and i can get a sense of your passion. Its good that you got connected to writing, when did u offically begin dedicating time directly towards writing?

    • Yes, it was an amazing time that I grew up in, and I’m grateful for it! As for writing, I started publishing in my 20’s, but then I got side-tracked by the need to make a living. I started back about 4 years ago, published a couple little things, and that’s why I decided to retire – so that I could dedicate myself to it.

  34. Interesting memories , i actually wished i was born in the old generation specially because the different types of music and also because everything has change for examples relationships and families. Society has different values now

  35. I believe the music back in those days is better than the music now. I love the temptations, my mom always listen to oldie but goodies at home.

  36. Well sadly my year was relatively uneventful but come to think of it, it was different then most. I didn’t know any of my graduating class because I was in a charter school. Long story. I’m very intrigued at how much was going on when you graduated and slightly jealous. I would rather have been at 18 back then if I could.

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