Sixties

When I’m Sixty-Four

When I get older losing my hair
Many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four?

Greg turned 64 this past weekend: a significant milestone, especially for a child of the 60’s. The immediate association we sixty-somethings always make with this epic birthday is When I’m Sixty-Four from the Beatles’ 1967 Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

When we first heard this song (we weren’t together yet and would not meet for another two years), we probably thought that being 64, being that old, seemed as far away as the distant moon. Although, we should have known, with the moon landing only two short years away in 1969, that even the unimaginably distant can, with the inexorable passage of time, become very close: maybe much closer than we would ever want it to be.

Could we imagine then, in 1967, at the age of 17, who we would turn out to be, what we would witness, what we would celebrate, what we would simply survive? The future opens up before a 17-year-old like an endless and mostly empty highway running to a distant horizon where spectacles and miracles await, just out of sight and sound, to be discovered. At the age of 17, with his yellow Camaro and its racing stripes, Greg was ready to barrel full-tilt down the asphalt and look over the edge of the horizon, into the limitless future.

But now, at 64, many years from then, we’re peering a bit fearfully over the edge that was once so far away. The inevitable final horizon, looming darkly but indistinctly ahead, isn’t as inviting as the one we had imagined 47 years ago. We want to put on the brakes, let up on the gas, slow it all down. The endless days, the slowly turning seasons of our youth, rush by faster and faster now, with a disturbing momentum we are helpless to arrest and all too keenly aware of—the so-called wisdom of age we suppose.

At 17 the future waits eagerly for us, full of all manner of things that haven’t happened yet. Everything blooms with potential. Just leaving the cocoon of home and school, we haven’t had our first real jobs, haven’t gotten married—or wanted to; we haven’t bought houses, had our children, and met all of our once and future friends. We haven’t decided on and pursued our vocations and avocations. Everything is yet to be. Life fairly burgeons, bursting, like the swollen bud of a flower opening to the sun, the rain and the kiss of a butterfly. At 17 it is all springtime and the waning of the year seems far, far away; as the song says, many years from now.

But now, here, at the age of 64, careers are over or winding down. Houses have been bought and sold. Children have been born, have grown up, and are going, going, gone away. One dear boy crossed the final horizon before we will. Our friends, our peers, fellow children of the Sixties are beginning to fall away from cancer, heart attacks, and the sundry other visitations of old age, entropy and accident. There seems to be so much to fear, to rail against; the temptation is to turn our faces away from the future that we once leaned forward to embrace.

Yet, yet, at 64, with silvering hair and all the blemishes old age inflicts upon the face and body, there is a birthday gift, a consolation bottle of wine, a valentine. Over the years a lot was gained and much was lost, but we still have one another. We will have been married, Greg and Joan, for 42 of those 64 years; we met over 45 years ago. Those 45 years together, that is what those 64 years has brought us. The time together, the shared experience, the complex depth of the knowing that such intimate togetherness brings…it outweighs and outlasts the lamentations of our advancing age. And we know, finally, the answer to the question

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

When I’m sixty-four?

The answer is yes.

Soul for Sale

Rebecca-A-3

 

About 14 years ago while searching on eBay, we came across an auction for a human soul. The auction wasn’t for a generic soul, a one-size-fit all soul, but the unique and presumably immortal essence of a certain Rebecca Ahlberg.

We weren’t deliberately searching for souls mind you, or the meaning of life, or the Holy Grail or any other such intangible, but Ahlberg was Joan’s paternal grandmother’s maiden name. We regularly search on eBay for family-related items using a surname search. (This was how we managed to purchase a photo postcard of Joan’s grandfather from 1909. See our previous post https://sixtysixtyblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/grandpa-baseball-and-ebay/)

It was the summer of 2000 when we first saw Rebecca’s soul offered up to the highest bidder. The seller wrote in the eBay auction description:

I won it in a bet, never you mind over what, but I need some fast cash so I guess I’m willing to part with it, although I have enjoyed owning it. I am the first owner, after Rebecca, of course, so it’s had relatively low mileage, but TONS of wear and tear. Item is sold AS IS.

The winner will receive this original, suitable-for-framing one-of-a-kind document, and will also receive an auxiliary contract, signed by me, transferring Rebecca’s soul to the winner’s name.

The description went on to say that the document was written on the back of a printed list of the rules of backgammon.

Rebecca-A-2

Nothing in the description gives any real clues about Rebecca herself. A photo of someone, presumably Rebecca since there was a caption that said so, was included in the eBay listing. In the photograph we see a young woman who appears to be writhing in despair on a sandy beach.  The listing and photograph raise important questions.  We ask ourselves, does she regret selling her soul? Did she sell it to the wrong person or, worse yet, too cheaply? Did she get what she wanted in return? Most importantly, how did her soul become involved with a game of backgammon?

Rebecca-A-1

EBay is pretty clear on its long-standing policy banning soul-selling; it disallows items:

Where the value is placed on an intangible factor. For example, listings that offer someone’s “soul” or a container that claims to have someone’s “soul” are not allowed. Listings that have no item or service for sale.

We are not theologians (and clearly eBay staffers aren’t either), but is eBay saying that souls exist, although intangible, or are they saying that they are less than intangible, indeed nothing at all?

We aren’t sure, but perhaps because documents, including the backgammon sheet contract, were promised the winner of this auction, the “Rebecca Ahlberg’s Soul Item #393563004” was permitted to be listed on eBay. Or, perhaps, this listing just slipped past eBay’s notice. Twice.

Poor Rebecca. Not only has she forfeited her soul, but now the machinery of auction comes into play and her eternal, intangible soul’s value is to be determined. Is one’s immortal soul priceless? The most precious thing we own? Apparently not. The first time Rebecca’s soul was put up for sale on July 26, 2000, bidding started at a penny, but a reserve was placed on the item. By the time the first auction ended on August 5th, fifty bids had been placed, with $1,525 as the final bidding price. Since a reserve placed by the seller had been higher than $1,525, the highest bidder for that auction didn’t win possession of Rebecca’s soul. The seller probably regretted setting the reserve.

We had once thought that only God might judge the value of a soul, but apparently we can do it via eBay as well. Ahh, the wonders of the modern world never cease to amaze!

This first, bumbled attempt at soul-marketing was, apparently, a learning moment for the seller. About a week and a half later on August 17th, our soul merchant put Rebecca Ahlberg’s eternal essence up for auction a second time. As before, bidding started at a penny, but this time there was no reserve. The seller added to the listing’s description:

This is a unique opportunity, for though the auction may last only 10 days, Rebecca’s Soul is immortal, an heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation through the ages.

That second auction ended on August 27th after the bidding reached a mere $73, with only thirty-two bids. Whether the highest bidder ever paid up, and the seller actually shipped Rebecca’s soul and the two contracts remains unknown. As does Rebecca’s apparently soulless fate. We have even more questions now. Does she miss her soul? Did she notice any difference at all?

“Selling your soul” has meant many things over the course of history. Sometimes we use it as a figurative expression indicating that we have given up something important. We old hippies from the Sixties now collecting pensions after years of stolid work in the establishment sometimes wonder whether we sold ours for the material benefits of middle-class life. Have we, like Tennessee Ernie Ford’s archetypal coal miner, sold our soul to the “company store” in order to accumulate the cars and houses and consumer goods that fuel modern America? In making that contract we fear we have given up something important and essential: the passion for justice, the search for equality, the belief in an America that once seemed possible in 1968.

Or is selling one’s soul a more literal act, an actual conveyance of human essence to devils, demons, or Satan himself, perhaps consummated at a crossroads like the contract Robert Johnson, iconic bluesman, allegedly made. Faust, Paganini, Agrippa, and other soul-sellers gave up their souls to devils and demons in exchange for something else they valued more: intelligence, fame, talent, money, sexual potency, you name it.

We don’t know. And as lifelong skeptics of things so numinous and unknowable, we wonder if, indeed, Rebecca actually had an incorporeal essence with which to bargain. In selling her “soul” did she simply participate in a meaningless exchange and sign a contract whereby nothing at all was conveyed and lost? And by doing so did she make a marvelous (maybe intentional?) statement about today’s America where everything and maybe everyone is up for sale?

Still, we think about eBay, a crossroads if there ever was one, and corporations, and other demons of a more real sort that are available to take us up on our offers to give up items of real importance: like privacy, civil liberties, freedoms of speech and assembly, and other intangibles as rare and precious as souls.

Barbie, Queen of the Prom

Barbie game cover

Barbie, the American fashion doll, was launched in 1959, but Joan never owned one herself. For some reason, however, in 1961 she got the “Barbie Queen of the Prom” game as a gift.  Once she outgrew the game, her parents shelved it away down in their basement until it was resurrected for grandchildren to play with. Now it is stored in our attic. As our thoughts turn back to the Sixties in this blog, the game has again been resurrected, this time for a reflection on what the game says about the “ideal life” of a teenage girl then and now.

The object of the game was to become “Queen of the Prom.” The cover promised “Shopping,” “Dating,” and “School Activities.” It declared itself “a fun game with real-life appeal for all girls.” To become queen you had to buy a formal dress, get a steady boyfriend, and become a school club president. According to the rules of the game, these goals could be achieved in any order.

Among the dresses you could buy, there were four possibilities: “Enchanted Evening,” “Solo in the Spotlight,” “Let’s Dance,” and “Silken Flame.” Each dress cost a different amount; to girls playing the game in the 60’s, the cost of the dress equated with its desirability. Everyone wanted “Enchanted Evening” which at $65 was the most beautiful and elaborate of the outfits. Second most desirable was the $50 “Solo in the Spotlight,” also long and elegant, with matching long gloves.

Prom Dresses-1

For a more contemporary take on the “Queen of the Prom” game, we asked three “millennial” members of our family about the dresses. All 3 rated “SOLO IN THE SPOTLIGHT” as their last choice. “ENCHANTED EVENING,” a Sixties top choice, was rated third. So, tastes in fashion, at least, have changed.

Now, dress in hand, a girl had to obtain another important accessory, one of four possible boyfriends: Ken, Bob, Tom or Poindexter.

Boyfriends

As Joan remembers it, Ken was always the players’ first choice, the handsome, fashionable boyfriend of Barbie herself. Bob came in second as a kind of athletic-looking alternative. Tom, looking the part of an intellectual—a nerd in today’s parlance?—came in third. No one, ever, wanted poor Poindexter. He provoked groans from the unlucky girls stuck with him as their prospective date to the prom.

Our three millennials were also asked to rate the boyfriends. They rated Ken lower than their compatriots of 50 years ago. Perhaps in these “edgier” times he has just gotten too boring? Or maybe it’s just the bowtie and checked sport coat! Tom, however, was second choice for one of our millennials and top choice for two of them. That seems like a positive sign, doesn’t it? Maybe after all these years of jocks ruling the high school halls, the “nerdy is the new sexy” movement is making headway. Even after fifty years, however, Poindexter still doesn’t seem to excite. He was the last choice for one of our millennials and third choice for two of them.

It wasn’t enough, however, to capture a boyfriend—you had to “go steady” with him before the prom. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s “going steady” meant that you and your boyfriend had made a commitment to date one another exclusively. Once a boy asked you to go steady (and it was the boy who always did the asking), he usually gave you some token of his affection, perhaps his class ring to wear around your neck.

The last requirement on the road to becoming queen was to become a club president. Again, there were four possibilities: Athletic, Drama, Music, and Scholarship. Joan’s memory is a bit dim on which presidency was considered the most desirable, but she thinks it was the Athletic Club presidency. The least desirable was Scholarship. Among our three millennials, Scholarship was still rated low, either a 3 or a 4. This seems to contradict their preference for Tom as a boyfriend. On the other hand, what exactly is a “Scholarship Club?” We don’t remember any such club in our schools, or in our childrens’ schools. This is a game flaw, we think! Drama or Music presidencies were the top choices of our three millennials.

If a player had collected a steady boyfriend, a dress, and a club presidency, they could then enter the path to the prom and have a shot at landing on the square marked with the Barbie Queen of the Prom “crown” before any other player could get there.

Playing the game is like stepping back in time. Gender stereotypes abounded. Boys were more interested in cars. The word “jalopy” is used on one of the cards—does anyone even use this word to refer to a car anymore?  Girls then were apparently only concerned with looking beautiful and pleasing their boyfriends. While that can still be true even now, unfortunately, at least many young girls today realize it isn’t their only option. Some game references are to things that are now anachronisms: typewriters, meeting at the snack bar or soda fountain. Here is a small selection of some choice, dated phrases from the game squares and cards:

“HE TALKS ABOUT CARS WITH DAD. WAIT HERE.”

“YOU ARE VOTED THE MOST POPULAR GIRL IN YOUR CLASS.”

“HE CRITICIZES YOUR HAIR-DO. GO TO BEAUTY SHOP.”

“YOU GET A TELEPHONE CALL FROM THE LADY IN CHARGE OF THE FASHION SHOW. ONE OF THE FASHION MODELS IS ILL. YOU MAY TAKE HER PLACE.”

“YOU ARE NOT READY WHEN HE CALLS. MISS 1 TURN.”

“TYPE LETTERS FOR DAD. GET $4”

“TOO BAD! YOUR HEM’S DOWN. GO TO DAD’S CAR AND PIN IT UP.”

The Queen of the Prom game is a snapshot of an era that seems long past. When one plays it today it provokes a lot more laughter than the creators ever imagined or intended. It seems dated, funny, a little bit ludicrous, and quite obviously sexist from a modern perspective.

As our little millennial poll indicates, some things have changed. Yet, sadly, much has not. Young girls may still be too caught up in fashion and clothing styles, in having the right kind of “look” and the right kind of body. They may find it difficult to be accepted if they show an interest in things intellectual (science, mathematics) or anything out of the ordinary. While the high schools of today are clearly more heterogeneous than those Joan and Greg attended, and tolerance for difference is more widespread, there are still many important battles for girls and young women of today to fight and to win. And we haven’t even brought up the fact that Barbie, her friends and their boyfriends in “Barbie Queen of the Prom” are all white and heterosexual.

Why Sixty-Sixty?

DSCF5245

Joan and Greg in Gettysburg, 2012

Our blog name captures two important facts about us. We recently entered our Sixties, an odd transitional time of life, and we came of age in the Sixties, a time of both tumult and change. Although we were both born in the early 1950’s, it was the 1960’s that defined us as individuals and as a couple.

This isn’t a blog about our past really. It is partly about how growing up in the Sixties has shaped our lives, but it is also about our subsequent life and times, a chronicle of how we got to be Sixty-something and lived to write about it! We will write about days long past, about more recent events in our life together, and about things to come.

We decided to blog as a couple because, frankly, we thought we might never blog if we didn’t do it together. Writing together also reflects the way we’ve come through our lives, as partners on a shared journey that began on June 16, 1969 when we had not yet turned 19 years old. Our journey together has now lasted almost 48 years.