The River's Badge

Friday, December 1, 2017

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today



I didn't realize until tonight that 1967 was fifty years ago! My, how time flies.

Nineteen sixty-seven was a seminal year for me. We'd moved to our new home (or "house of horrors", as I prefer to call it) in December of 1966. As an almost twelve-year-old, I'd had a naive optimism that life in this new world would be superb. Just like me to act now and think later. Not that I was given a choice in the matter.

I was caught in that shadowy crevice between my old life and my new one. I'd left my very best friend behind, but my tiny mind discarded that reality in favor of the new, exciting life I'd conjured.

My brother was twenty years old and independent. He'd left someone behind, too, but he wasn't about to discard her. Thus, he traversed Interstate 94 about two hundred times that first year, to Minnesota and back, until he could bring his soon-to-be bride back with him permanently.

My brother was granted his very own room along the long back row of motel units; room number twenty, to be exact; while I shared a skinny cubbyhole and a set of bunk beds with my little brother and sister. My big brother was never around (see previous paragraph), so if I wanted (needed) a little me-time, I grabbed a pass key from the office and made myself at home in Room 20. It wasn't exactly like his room back on the farm. He no longer had a cozy nook for his albums; his new music center was a set of dark recessed shelves illuminated by a sixty-watt light bulb, directly adjacent to his bathroom. Nevertheless, I slipped "Pleasant Valley Sunday" on his turntable and performed my own version of the jerk in front of his vanity mirror.


I was careful to leave his room the way I'd found it. I smoothed out the bedspread that I'd sat on in between mirror performances. I placed his records back on the shelf in the exact order in which he'd arranged them. I'd had years of experience with this ritual; it came second nature to me.

Then I slumped back to the "house" and did my best to ignore everyone who lived there.

Adults who relocate to a new space in the world don't even consider the things kids worry about. Moving to a brand new school in a brand new town, I fretted about how lost I would be amidst the subject matter. I'd had a bit of exposure to a new school when I was nine and had moved with my mom to Lisbon, North Dakota for part of the school year. St. Aloysius had been woefully behind. I'd felt like a complete fraud when the nuns proposed to Mom that I skip a grade. I'd always been good at memorizing and that was essentially what made me look so smart to the St. A's sisters -- I'd already committed to memory everything they were teaching.

But, now, would the Mandan school system be far ahead of where I'd left off? What if I flunked and had to repeat the sixth grade? Add to that the reality that I would need to keep my head down and not make eye contact with a bunch of disdainful strangers. I was a jittery wreck.

Mandan was big on world history. A big fat textbook with crisp white pages of stories about the "Slovakias" and a study sheet crammed with foreign words. And science. A subject that made me question why God was punishing me. I'd been so good; had gone to confession every week just like He had decreed; had made up "sins" just to have something to utter to the priest dozing inside his little velvet-lined box. I'd done everything He'd wanted me to do -- ate fish sticks on Friday -- and this was my reward?

There was not one subject Mrs. Haas taught that gave me a sense of relief. My only saving grace was that I could spell. Mrs. Haas was big on spelldowns. Every week she'd line everyone up on opposite sides of the room and challenge them to spell words. I soared. My only real competitor was the other new girl who'd shown up in Mrs. Haas' classroom the same day I did. But I vanquished her, too. Take that, Becky Weeda!

I also had to endure the indignity of taking the city bus home from school. The Mandan School District didn't have bus routes that stretched out to the boondocks. Thus, I had to hike six blocks from the elementary school to the Prince Hotel in downtown Mandan to wait for Mister Paul to pull his big blue and white bus up to the stop to take me home.

Crazy people rode that bus. There was a guy who was always sitting in the front seat -- a guy who had some kind of neck stitch. He would crick his head to the right over and over and over again while he jabbered to Mister Paul. There was a seemingly sophisticated twenty-something girl who boarded the bus every day as I was wending my way home. One afternoon she had donned Jackie O sunglasses, and complained incessantly to Mister Paul that she'd recently suffered "snow blindness". I think all of these people were insane.

I sat in the middle row, far removed from the regular eccentrics. There were, at the most, five of us riding the route, and that included the driver. Mister Paul was always nice to me, though. He had a job to do, and I think he understood that as a twelve-year-old, these freaks freaked me out. I really liked Mister Paul. The following year, as I stumbled into seventh grade, I had an English teacher who was also named Mister Paul. He was a foppish dilettante who I was aghast to learn was the son of my kindly city bus driver.

I felt like I spent my life on a bus.

To my astonishment, somewhere between December and February, I acquired a friend. Mrs. Haas' classroom was a test of my memorizing skills. I couldn't really tell Glenn from Robert. I learned quickly that Russell was a big doofus, because every time Mrs. Haas called on him, he coughed up an inane response. As a sixth grader, I feigned condescension toward Russell, but today he would make me laugh. He was rather endearing in his naivete. A North Dakota Gomer Pyle.

All the girls were pale Germanic blondes, which made me stand out even more freakishly, with my Irish red hair. The blondest of the blondes was named Alice. I sat in the row next to hers, a couple of desks forward. Prim Mrs. Haas uttered something one morning that struck me as ridiculously funny, and I had no one with whom to share my amusement. I happened to glance back and saw the blonde girl grinning at me. Every friendship I've ever formed in my life was based on humor; a bond with someone who "got it". From that day forward, this girl Alice would be the best friend I ever had.

In the metamorphic stage of our friendship, though, I still had to deal with "home". Which essentially meant getting off the bus, tromping silently through the motel office, past Mom hovering behind the check-in desk, alighting in my shared bedroom and slamming the door behind me. My conduit for obtaining music was my transistor radio and a battery-powered record player. My latest '45's were the cloud-blue Turtles hit:




I even had this one (I don't know why):


Probably my favorite single at the time was on a yellow label with a revolver that shouted, "Bang":


Speaking of The Turtles, I liked this one even more than Happy Together, despite what Ferris Bueller might say:


Nobody ever mentions the Grass Roots, but in 1967 they were a phenomenon. This was my favorite:


I didn't have a lot of '45's. I had some miscellaneous Paul Revere and the Raiders singles. Paul Revere and the Raiders was a good band -- in concept -- but not an actually good band. I liked them because I thought Mark Lindsay was cute. At twelve, cuteness is of supreme importance. I tacked photos of the band (from Tiger Beat Magazine) up on my wall. The most nicely arranged archive of a band that I never really liked.

I did buy this one, but I don't know why. Roulette Records had a psychedelic orange label that would make one dizzy if they stared at it too long. This song was something my little sister could appreciate more than me, and yet I bought it:




As ashamed as I am now of the singles I plunked down money for, at least I can say I never dropped my pennies on the counter for songs like, "Up, Up And Away". So, in retrospect, this one doesn't look or sound that bad:






Those basically sum up my paltry record collection.  

My after-school schedule consisted of trekking my way down the driveway, pouting through the "family gauntlet" (which truthfully only consisted of my mom), burrowing behind the door of my birdhouse bedroom and reposing on the bottom bunk to the same six-pack of '45 records. 

In time, my little brother and sister would appear from wherever they'd been cavorting, and would sometimes expect me to let them in the room. This dispensation was granted only rarely. They got used to it. I did let them sleep in there, for God's sake. Depending on the night's TV schedule, I may give a cursory glance to my homework early, while the evening news was on the television in the living room. If it was Monday, I parked myself in front of the big TV -- directly in front of the TV -- to catch the latest Monkees episode. I was in love with the Monkees -- for the longest time, before I had an actual friend, they were my best friends. Of course, they didn't know that...or me.

TV was a hugely important part of my life. Ironically, television was basically awful in 1967. Laugh-In, The Dean Martin Show, Green Acres, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C, Petticoat Junction, Family Affair. Just awful, corn-pone shows. Yet I watched them. What else was there? Those bastard Hollywood producers really thought the audience was a bunch of rubes. Or they knew we had no choice, so they didn't give a damn. The best thing on TV in 1967 was on too late for me to watch, except for Friday nights -- The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Wednesday nights I had CCD, which meant I missed nothing except my pride. Sitting behind a long table with my fellow hostages in the church basement, pretending to pay attention to Father Dukart "teach" us things, thinking, hmmm...Father is kind of cute...not grasping why he paid so much attention to the boys' side of the room. After class the boys squealed like little girls about a stupid new TV show, some space thing they called "Star Trek". Yawn.

I remember 1967 as dark. Dark and gloomy. Wintery; cold. My only goal was to get through. Step by slogging step.

Music-wise, even the top hits were gloomy. Cynical. Sure I remember my poppy songs fondly, but my transistor droned on with songs like this one, over and over:


I have no idea what that song meant, if anything. But it annoyed the hell out of me. And don't even get me started on Jefferson Airplane.

If I'm going to remember the year, though, I'd rather remember the music that was good; not the craptastic Summer of Love twaddle. (P.S. The summer of love was a scam.)

So I like these:





(Sorry for the summer of love nonsense footage, but it's still a good song.)

I made some faux paus in '67. I badgered my soon-to-be sister-in-law to barter away some long-forgotten '45 for this one, which is an awesome song and a classic:


This song I danced to in front of my brother's mirror, and I stand by it yet today:



This song sums up 1967 for me:


I know what you're thinking -- Aren't you missing some songs, Shelly? Yes, but those songs are for another time, another post. No, I haven't forgotten Jim and I haven't forgotten Felix Cavaliere.

And I'm well aware of the Whiter Shades and the Judes, but the songs featured here are how I remember 1967. Feel free to do your own retrospective.

These songs got me through.

And that, after all, was my goal.













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