It would be easy to believe that 1967 brought a memorable August for me because of what hadn’t happened. Martin Luther King was still alive. Hundreds hadn’t been critically wounded at the hands of the Chicago police during the Democratic convention. Richard Nixon hadn’t announced his run for the presidency. The Tet offensive had not begun nor had Robert Kennedy yet succumbed to the horror of an assassin’s bullets.
Still, I’m certain it wasn’t an innocence that made that month so bright, but rather what passed for sophistication in the mind of a 20-year-old. Having survived The Death of a President (the title of 1967’s No. 1 best-seller in non-fiction) in high school, there was a sense of being tapped by history. The blooming of the hippie culture and the clear revolution in music also helped buy my generation a ticket on a very particular power trip.
Strangely for me (a dedicated non-dater at that point), a sense of importance came from the Homecoming Dance, just two months away at my Ohio college. I was the chairman (not chairwoman — feminism hadn’t reached me yet) and I was determined to outdo any collegewide event that had happened in the long history of my school. That spring we’d chosen the theme, “A Most Unusual Trip,” and I spent the month of August pretending I had any inkling of what psychedelics meant or did.
My best friend (newly engaged, planning to marry the minute she graduated in June of ’68) and I decided we were owed a pre-Senior Year treat and so we took a room with a balcony at the Jersey shore. This was decidedly not the “Jersey Shore” of MTV. This was the seaside with the puppy pulling at the Coppertone kid’s bathing suit. The one where you walked the boardwalk in anticipation of a sausage and pepper sandwich followed by real Italian lemon ice. The shore that meant, for us, sleeping till 10, overdoing the “tanning” (read that crisping ourselves till we knew our skin would peel when we got home) and reading, reading, reading.
I had brought lots of craft supplies with me. I experimented with crepe paper and glue to make the most garish flowers I could devise. I strung beads till my eyesight blurred. I sketched a plan to drop balloons from the ceiling of the gym at midnight.
I was the crafty big frog about to return to a very small pond. But that summer, before so many bad things happened in the months that followed, I found part of my voice. It didn’t come from trying to speak in the lexicon of Timothy Leary, but from trying to visualize a different environment from the one at hand. I truly believed I could transform a small-town college from the tweed-wearing, bridge-playing campus it was into a locus of the new world order.
That August a seed was planted for me. I took a leap of faith in myself — faith that what I imagined could actually come to be. I won’t bore you with the tales of how that played out again and again in the years that followed, but I will say every job I ever had called upon the confidence that was born of the glue and glitter that I worked into trifles while Jane read brides’ magazines and announced her preferences in wedding hors d’oeuvres.
It would be seven years before I married (at an age considered spinster-ish by my family) and 17 years before I realized I was continually being counted on to make much out of very little.
Resourcefulness is a trademark of the generation of many Women’s Voices readers. Children of the children of the Great Depression, we learned to make the most of what was at hand. August 1967 was about making more of what one young woman had at her disposal and making a kind of magic in the process.
I can look back to October of that year and see her today. She’s supervising the stringing of fish nets filled with balloons. They will fall from the ceiling at midnight and she will jump into her true calling at the same time.