Sixty years ago this Wednesday something commenced that changed the world, and me. It was called the Sixties.
I was 10 years old when the decade began, 20 when it ended. Certainly the kind of growth and change that took place in my life during that span is no different from everyone else’s path through their teens. And while we like to recall the Sixties as something unique — social change, sexual freedom, the British invasion, drugs (“If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.” Ha ha.) — it pales in comparison to, say, the Forties (World War II) and the Thirties (The Great Depression). Still, the decade set in motion many of the changes, good and bad, that continue to reverberate today.
As I look back, the changes in me, and most likely you, during those ten years seem staggering. Not to mention hilarious. Thank God there are few photographic reminders of the plaid bell bottoms I thought the height of fashion, or the double-breasted Edwardian-look sport coats. Or, gasp, the black loafers with the white lightning bolts on the side that I desperately wanted in sixth grade but my parents could not afford. As least that’s what they said. They did go along with my Chubby Checker “twist” shoes though.
Ah, the twist. I learned to do the twist in the Sixties. And the mashed potato and even the watusi. But not the electric slide. That was a good 30 years away. I twisted in the aisles of the balcony of the American Theater in 1961 during the movie “Twist Around the Clock.” Don’t judge me. By then I had ditched the “GI” haircuts my mother made me get when I was 10 and 11, and slicked my hair back into a “DA.” “DA” stands for duck’s, let’s say, derriere. I actually put Vaseline in my hair to try to look like Elvis. And in 1964, washed it out to try to look like The Beatles.
Ah, the Beatles. They defined me in the Sixties. And still do, in some ways. In the early 2000s, I’d tell my college students the difference between me and them could be explained by our music. In the Sixties, The Beatles sang, “I want to hold your hand.” In 2002, a guy named Nelly sang, “It’s getting hot in here, let’s take off all our clothes.”
I held hands a lot in the Sixties. That’s because I fell in love at lot in the Sixties.
Well, maybe not a lot, but five or six times at least, most of them merely from afar. Hand-holding aside, I did lose my virginity in the Sixties, along with my faith and my innocence. Unlike my virginity, the other two miraculously came back.
Loss is part of any decade. During the Sixties I lost two grandparents, my dad’s mother and father, and two boyhood friends, Billy Kause and Ronnie Urbanski, in Vietnam. I also lost my interest in school. A valedictorian and “Boy Most Likely to Succeed” of the Pittston Area Class of 1967, I stopped going to college halfway through my senior year. I would go back and tidy that up a few years later, but at the time my focus was elsewhere. Namely, the newspaper business.
That’s one of the things – perhaps the greatest thing – I found during the Sixties: my future. When my former high school teacher Jim Gilmartin called me during the summer of ’67 to say he recommended me for a job as a sports writer at the local paper, he changed my life forever. As I begin my eighth decade on earth, I am still a newspaper guy.
As a 13-year-old in the summer of 1963, I followed the Pittston Little League All Star team to the state finals. As an 18-year-old in the fall of 1967, I wrote about those same kids as they won the Big Eleven high school football championship.
I made lifelong friends in the Sixties (they know who they are), drank my first beer in the Sixties (a Schaefer at Art Lussi’s café), called girls from corner phone booths in the Sixties (at home everyone would listen in), learned to speak a little French in the Sixties (thanks, Mr. Kolmansberger), bought my first car in the Sixties (600 bucks at Roy Stauffer Chevrolet), got my first paycheck in the Sixties (from a summer job at a dollar and hour at Duryea Woodworking), learned to bless myself in Polish in the Sixties (the things we do for love), and learned to type in the Sixties (on a Royal manual with two fingers, which I am using right now on a MacBook Pro. It’s amazing those two fingers aren’t worn to stubs).
My teams, the St. Louis Cardinals in baseball and Green Bay Packers in football, gave me seven championships between them in the Sixties. My mother gave me a baby brother in the Sixties. And my older friend, the late Bobby Luchetti, gave me a talking to on how to be a gentleman in the Sixties.
I may have learned more in the Sixties than in any other decade in my life. But what I didn’t learn was how fast time flies. That lesson came much later, and is just now beginning to sink in.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.