As you might imagine, I did not intend to write a post called 46 to 60. It was supposed to be 50 to 60. But the days fly by.
And it occurs to me, as I pause to consider this approaching birthday by writing something about it, that in singling out these 60 days prior to turning 60 as a time to reflect, to appreciate all that has come before, I’ve created a microcosm of my life–each day potentially standing in for a year. I could have taken each day and looked back on a year.
But here we are already, 14 days in. And yes, I started my year of posts not on the first but on the 13th. So that sounds about right…
In my day-to-day living, despite being a writer, I so rarely pause to consider my life. After all, these days I’m trying to be present; I’m trying to live this life. During my year of posts, however, I did consider. And now I’m going to again. I’m going to look back for a moment before I begin to look forward.
my first 14 years
On the first of April in 1957, during a blizzard, I’m born in Rapid City, South Dakota. Three weeks later, my first trip–cross-country in a car to Atlanta, where we will live.
1958: Wearing a polka dot dress with smocking on the front and a bow in the back, I reach out to touch the flame on my birthday candle. I don’t cry, but from the expression on my face, my faith in the world takes a hit. I climb out of my baby bed in the dark, dropping to the floor. I wear my father’s dungarees and love our dog Lance. My sister is born in December.
1959: I receive lots of things for Christmas but what I do first is sit down at my new table to read a book.
1960: A new decade for the world and a new sister for me. In the photos I seem to do what people tell me to, but there’s a series this year where it looks as if I refuse to smile. My first memory comes somewhere around here–grown-ups drinking green drinks and the brick ledge around the fireplace.
1961: Long legs and short shorts, I turn 4 this year, amazed by my newly discovered older second cousins. I remember my father walking across the stage to receive his PhD from Georgia Tech.
1962: We move to the house where I will grow up. I start kindergarten and hear French for the first time–I am mesmerized. I remember watching John Glenn orbit the earth on TV.
1963: My 6th birthday is my first one at school, and no one believes me–the trouble with being an April Fool. But I want the birthday carton of milk. I remember being worried I wasn’t going to get it. I also remember answering the phone on November 22, 1963, and listening to my great-aunt tell me that the president had been shot, then looking down the hall but not seeing anyone.
1964: I play with dolls even though I have no recollection of this. What I remember is playing school with animals around a table, dancing to Jesse James at my grandparents’ house, playing ship on the gray steps out our kitchen door, playing something (explorer?) for hours in the small bushes that surround our back yard. Another sister is born.
1965: My grandfather dies. I go to the funeral, and right before my grandmother gets in the car, I say, “Pop never got to meet Beth (my new sister), did he?” My mother shushes me. I remember feeling stupid. I turn 8. My mother takes us out of school for the six weeks before Christmas, which we spend in Florida. My next oldest sister and I are allowed to walk downtown by ourselves to eat lunch at the drugstore. I remember pouring down rain and calling my mother to come get us and her saying, “It’s Florida. Wait five minutes and it will be over.” Again I feel stupid.
1966: My father drives us to see the hippies on Tenth Street. There are protests against the war and Walter Cronkite every night with footage of Vietnam–Hanoi, Cambodia, Laos, Ho Chi Minh are household words. I sit with my housekeeper in the kitchen waiting for news from the hospital–it has happened. I have a brother.
1967: Everything happened the year I was 10. I read Gone With the Wind and take friends to see the movie on my birthday. (I LOVE to read.) My grandmother takes me to Europe–10 countries in 14 days. My grandfather takes me to my first concert–the Monkees. I write my first novel with my best friend.
1968: In the spring is the My Lai Massacre. The total of American combat deaths reaches 22,951. Then, a few days after my I turn eleven, Martin Luther King is shot. I’m watching TV in the basement, and I remember taking off up the steps to tell everyone. Marty Jr was in my grade at Spring Street. Two months later, I wake up to my father sitting on my bed to tell me Robert Kennedy has died. Nixon is elected.
1969: And now I’m listening to the Age of Aquarius… I mean right this minute as I type these words. This was the year of Woodstock and Joni Mitchell. There’s busing and integration. We wear POW and MIA bracelets. I’m 12, tall and thin on my last day at my public grammar school, but during the summer, I stay at my grandparents’ house in Mobile and do nothing but eat and watch TV. I have no sense of my body and gain 25 pounds without noticing. I start 7th grade at a private school.
1970: Another new decade. I turn 13. Four dead in Ohio. That summer, for the first time, I head to New England–to a French camp in Vermont for 7 weeks. No one meets me in New York to help me change planes, and I do it by myself. In Vermont, the air feels right in a way I won’t understand until much later. I listen to James Taylor and Carol King. Camp is as magical as those first French words I heard at the age of 5.
1971: When the new year begins, I’m in 8th grade, which is when I get caught sneaking out a window to meet a boy–at a latin convention. I learn I don’t like how it feels to be in trouble, to be forced to say, “I’m sorry.” For too many years, not-getting-in-trouble will be the way I make decisions. The Apollo 13 astronauts arrive home safely, which I don’t remember, and the Beatles disband, which I do. I think you can’t disband, you’re the Beatles. During the summer I spend another 7 weeks in Vermont. I am less angry than I was at 13.