Things are so different now from then; the world is not the place I remember or wanted it to be when I think back to the world I perceived as a child with my Pollyanna-like perspective. In some ways things are so much better and in other ways things are so much worse. When I grew up in the 70’s I remember life from several points of view. The world from the eyes of a lower-middle class child. Never having what most of the other children had but always having enough to not really notice, except for those periods when food in our pantry became scarce, and the constant search through the cabinets and refrigerator for something to eat, but even those periods never lasted very long because just when we (my younger brother and I) felt like we couldn’t stand it any longer my father’s military retirement check would come in and my mother would go shopping at the commissary, returning with enough food to not quite get us through the month but enough to make the memory of the “hunger week” fade into memory…at least for the next three weeks until we found ourselves searching for food again.
Now the periods of hunger have to be contrasted by periods of being content and comfortable in a reasonably loving family. I had two elder brothers and one younger and of course, my parents. We were never without dogs and lived in a comfortable Rancher style home…in general life was cozy. When I was very young Sunday nights would come and my mother would make both my brother and I have our semi-weekly (often weekly)bath so we could be clean and fresh for the upcoming school week. After our bath she would make us sprinkle baby-powder on our arms and legs and once rubbed in she would clip our fingernails with scissors (this hurt sometimes) and when nice and clean tell us to go “ask daddy if you smell good” and we always did and he always said “Yes, mmmm” and then the rest of the evening we would sit in the living room watching pre-cable TV “The Wonderful World of Disney” or the wild animal show sponsored by Mutual of Omaha insurance. Looking back, oh how wonderful those Sunday nights were. My father lying on the couch multi-tasking between television and his crossword puzzles. My mother in her chair where she would eventually nod off and we two young boys would hope that she would sleep long enough that we could stay up even later but she always seemed to rouse just when it was time for us to go to bed and she made sure we did.
We didn’t have central air-conditioning and I remember the summer nights being miserable, especially when it came time for bed leaving the only cool room, our living-room, with its small window wall unit. The family dog would come into my room and sleep between our beds (I shared a room with my younger brother, our older brothers had their own room) and pant the night away. I could hear the TV playing down the hall, my parent still watching or sleeping until a head bob or something disturbed them back to consciousness when they would make their way to their bed to join our suffering of the miserable heat.
Some memories even of laying in bed have never left me. Streaking became a fad in the 70’s and one night as I laid in bed I heard my mother screaming “What! I can’t believe they show that on TV!” Apparently the news decided to show it all and back then the technology to blur out faces or body parts did not exist so you saw what you saw and the news reported what it reported. I wanted to brave into the living room because it was clear to me that there were naked people of TV but I didn’t.
So overall things weren’t too bad and even those weeks when we started to run out of food was just part of life and I really didn’t know any different, this was all normal. We weren’t “starving”, just hungry…and being in my teenage years when I wanted to eat everything in sight the lack of food had to be even more exaggerated than it might have been in reality. My mother always seemed to make sure there was a dinner throwing together something out of nothing. I didn’t know then, nor could I ever imagine that in other parts of the world, or country, or Maryland some children really went hungry, I mean for days to the point of malnutrition. My husband grew up in such a household where he and his siblings went hungry while their mother coddled to their non-working abusive step-father’s every whim making sure if there was any food at all it went to him first. In my house my mother and father would have gone hungry before us, if they could. In comparison to what might have been I had a really great youth.
In those days life was all “On Top Of The World” and “Rose Colored Glasses“. I remember one of the most annoying things to me was the love of trucking that seemed to consume everyone’s thought like the pod of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers“. It seems like every movie and every song and every tshirt has something to do with trucking attached to it. From movies like “Convoy” and “Smokey and the Bandit” to music like “Teddy Bear” or that stupid saying that everyone seemed to wear on their glittery iron-on tshirt or poster hung on their walls “Keep On Truckin“. It seemed like everyone had a CB radio and a “Handle”. Even television shows couldn’t get away from it. The situation comedy “Alice” (remember the waitress Flo that was so into truckers) or “Good Times” when Michael Evans, as impoverished as his family was seemed to acquire an expensive CB, something that was so out of reach for my family’s budget. What a rut our society seemed to be in and I certainly did not look forward to things to come with the theme of trucking until the end of time consuming every aspect of life. It just seemed from my childish point of view that life didn’t hold much for anyone that wasn’t interested in trucking.
The first ray of hope for a better life, one without a flannel shirt, a CB, and “pushing the pedal to the medal” came in 1976 when my cousins Micha and Gela came from Germany. I was 13 years old and we (my family) got to experience the “rare” treat of going to an actual movie theater where we watched “Logan’s Run” starring Michael York. I remember coming away from that movie so affected and hopeful for a life in a future that I was too naïve to realize could never be and even if it were could happen I would be long dead. The story was one of a dystopic society where anyone over 30 was sent to something call Carousel in which they could be reborn and live life over again when in reality they were actually killed. But the best part of the movie was the hedonistic life the inhabitants of the domed-city were able to enjoy. Children did not have parents (they were all test-tube babies) telling them how to live and the adults dressed scantily in flowing and often revealing toga type outfits, lived in such lavish apartments that were stylishly furnished in what was the 70’s vision of how the distant future would be including a chambers (I liken this to today’s Grindr) in which people could be teleported from apartment to apartment to seek out sexual partners. The thing that impressed me the most about the teleportation devices was when Michael York asked his costar if she preferred women over men when she seemed to show no interest in him. “Wow!” I thought “If a woman could prefer a woman in that future then certainly a man could prefer a man. Imagine a future when such things as who you had sex with didn’t matter” knowing all too well that I was gay I so wanted such a concept to be real but at the time despite the fact that we were living through the sexual revolution such things were still very taboo.
Suddenly life didn’t seem so trucker drab. It was becoming much more “Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds” or “Yellow Brick Road“… “Hotel California“, etc. I dreamed of a future life not limited to the rigid structure of the heterosexual boredom and the dull routine of the masses I would envision. I know that I am being overly dramatic but I am trying to come at this from the perspective of a youth that has just realized that the world was available to him and his life could be an amazing adventure that held no limits, except those he created for himself and little did I know there would be so many self-imposed limits that my life would not be the adventure I had anticipated during this revelation.
The world seemed so logical and safe back then even with the cold-war raging on between the United States and the U.S.S.R. “Those were the days by friend, we thought they’d never end“…we lived with the possibility that one day we would be nuked by the Russians and would be reminded by such lessons as “duck and hide” and movies like “The Day After” and despite this big and constant fear things still seemed stable. Not like the chaos that seems to fill the world news today but unquestionably there were crazy things happening then that parallel a lot of what is going on today just in a different way. We had terrorists holding the Olympics hostage, we had Iran and the terror of what was happening at the U.S. Embassy in that country, the remnants of the Vietnam war, the oil crisis in which we would sit for hours and hours in lines on alternating days hoping to fill our car gas tanks, hostages held in the Entebbe Airport, the first Ebola outbreak, the Jonestown massacre, the Three Mile Island nuclear plant meltdown, and of course Watergate! Same stuff that’s going on now just in a different form…”same shit, different day”. But even with everything happening I feel now when looking back to those years life seemed much safer…all those things where so far away but now the world is so much smaller and it is all happening right in our own backyard.
My thoughts are certainly influence by the sense of stability offered me in having a mom and dad and the security that having such wonderful parents offers one at that age, at any age. For me this is no longer the case, no more parents and essentially no more brothers. There is such a divide in the part of my family that still exists, so much so the men I used to think of as my siblings are now just strangers in one knew and in at least one case a distant enemy. My only family now is my husband and sometimes I take that relationship for granted as I did the relationship I had with my family and I better remember that because one day he might not be here and I will feel the same regret that I feel when I think of my now gone family. That sweet woman that used to annoy me with her daily calls just to tell me she loves me. The loving tender man I used to call my father. My brother Kurt whom I remember as being the rock in our family, a good solid man with both feet on the ground. Gone is Norbert, the hippy brother I remember so fondly as being his own unique character, pot smoking, pets snake owning, room plastered with Playboy centerfolds cool brother. There was this time when my family was celebrating Christmas with another military family in the early 70’s when we lived in military housing and I remember falling asleep and while the party continued Norbert carried me home. I woke up a bit as he trudged through the snow with me in his arms…I felt so protected at that moment that I put my head back on his should and went back to sleep; the memory of that feeling has never left me. My opinion of that man has changed. (See: Mein Wundervoller Bruder). My younger brother was always the special boy of the family, despite my mother often telling me I was her “love child” the child she wanted to conceive so badly because she loved my father so much. My younger brother was the baby of the family and as such could do no wrong. I was the Jan and he was the Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. My elder brothers spoiled him and took him places they would never consider taking me. Bull roasts, crab feasts, cookouts, sporting events, fairs, movies, etc. I was often jealous of the special treatment Mike (my younger brother) would get but I learned to live with it, it was just the way life was, he was the special one and I wasn’t.
I always thought Mike would be something special, especially from the treatment he got. He was athletic, nice looking and very popular. I was an introvert and the complete opposite of him, I hated sports, never liked my looks, and was always one of those odd kids that other kids avoided. To this day I am largely still introverted, don’t really “hate” sports anymore but don’t really enjoy them either. And I am still part of the “odd” crowd… However Mike’s life did not go the route that I imagined it would, he fell into that boring heterosexual life I previously mentioned that I was all to happy to avoid. He has a wife and two children and works so hard only to be forever swimming with his head barely out of the water. He is further afflicted with head to toe psoriasis. He is no longer that special young boy and my older brothers have little to do with him anymore largely because their lives simply took them in different directions.
For the most part I like my life, I wish I were healthier, had more money, had more friends, etc. but all in all its not that bad a life. I just wish that I could still have those warm comfortable thoughts and feelings of safety and security that I had when I was young. Its so odd, when I started writing this post it wasn’t going to go in this direction. I was really going to write about my young nephew who recently came out to me as being gay. He’s slightly older than I was when I started acting on the feelings of being and knowing I was different. He’s slightly ahead of my “Logan’s Run” period but further along mentally in regards to accepting his homosexuality. I knew that I was gay at that age but also thought something was wrong with me. When I talk to people my age now they say the same thing, or they say they thought they were the only one that felt the way they felt. My young nephew has the Internet and he has the new “quasi-social” acceptance. He has a LGBT youth group in his school, the same school I attended where my guidance counselor said “I’ve never had anyone tell me that before” when I told him at 16 I was gay. My nephew told me that he met another young man his age at the 4th of July carnival and now they are dating. His new “boyfriend” is out to his parents as is my nephew. I told my husband (its still sounds strange to me, saying “husband”) what a wonderful world its becoming for gay youth (at least here in America) when two boys can meet at a fair of all things. I could never have imagined something like that when I was young and now it seems to be the norm. It really is amazing how different things are now… from a personal perspective (example: my family now gone) a national perspective (example: gay marriage), and even a global perspective (example: no more USSR, etc.)…
I envy the young gay people today, all the benefits they have that we did not have… I also fear for them because just as things changed for me and the country and the world from the 70’s to today they continue to change… and the world I envision for them based on what’s going on is going to be hard to endure (religion, economy, war, etc.) but at least for now they are very lucky and I hope they remember to enjoy what they have now because it is all gone so quickly.