A noteworthy feature emerged researching my book, River of January. Helen and Chum’s mementos, particularly the photos, depict style and class–a sense of decorum and politeness that seems as faded as the old pictures. I can’t help but wonder what happened to end the sense of self control and refinement in our social interactions. And the sad conclusion points the damning finger at my generation. We Boomers ushered in a coarsening of manners.
I won’t go into the brutality of the Vietnam experience, or the duplicity of Nixon’s Watergate escapades, but the era not only shaped my generation, but beat the hell out of us in the process. Contrary didn’t cover my resistance to conventional expectations during my formative years. If something was only done one way, I found another means. I can’t help but remember the old bumper sticker that read, Question Authority.
At twenty, Helen wore fitted suits, wool or linen, silk stockings, fashionable hats, netting on the front, and stylish heels. When she went on a rare date, (between her protective mother and working, her nights were busy,) the girl enjoyed going out clubbing. Her drink was bourbon, and she smoked cigarettes from a silver case. Her music was glamorous jazz, and her dances consisted of prescribed steps, face to face, and romantic.
I wore jeans. I wore sweaters from thrift stores, or flannel shirts from my dad’s closet. I liked Red Wing logging boots, and drank beer. I loved Bobby Kennedy and the Beatles. The lead guitar, especially in the magic hands of Hendrix, to me was the summit of music. And I hated conformity.
At the movies, my world changed when I witnessed a man cut in half in a scene from Catch 22. Our evenings out consisted of beer at the drive-in, and dancing at country-rock taverns. We hit the bars. We closed the bars down. Vonnegut was the visionary, and Lennon McCartney supplied the soundtrack.
I believe that the youth movement made the effort to right wrongs in America, but Helen and Chum’s time actually accomplished more, enduring economic depression and defeating Fascism. All the while looking and sounding, and behaving with grace.