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August 15, 2009

A Lifetime of Memories

1969I'm having a bad case of the "elderlies."

I blame the media and the 24-hour news cycle. There isn't enough real news to fill the day, so they go looking through their archives for anniversary stories... and the last few weeks have featured a lot of them:

  • The Moon Landing
  • The Sharon Tate-LaBianca Murders (and subsequent arrest of the Manson family)
  • Woodstock
  • Beatles release "Abbey Road"

And let's not forget the actual news stories that launched a mountain range of remembrances: the deaths of Michael Jackson and Walter Cronkite.

All of these events occurred in 1969 - which was also a seminal year in my life, because I was then 13 (the same age my daughter is now), and newly aware of the world around me.

That was forty years ago. FORTY YEARS. That's a lifetime. I have friends who were not even born yet... no wonder I feel old.

You see, my memories of  those events are crystal clear. It's actually more than that. I carry them with me; they are as much a part of my personal history as the world's.

I may not have been with Neil Armstrong when he made that first small step for man -- but I grew up with the space program. I have fuzzy memories of John Glenn's orbit around the earth. I was in kindergarten and the school played the audio over the PA system - but by the time of the Gemini launches, there were televisions in the classrooms and everybody stopped to watch the rockets get up safely. We were in a space race with the Russians. Our teachers warned us of the terrible consequences that would occur if they made it to the moon first. So like everyone else in the country, I was watching Cronkite's live broadcast on TV and was jubilant because now we would be safe.

A few weeks later, I watched news reports of hundreds of thousands of young people cavort in the mud while grooving to the music at Woodstock. Most of the news reports were of the "look at these crazy hippies" variety... but I thought it was pretty cool. And then came Altamont - which was not.

I woke up on the morning of August 9, 1969 and read the grisly headlines describing what happened to Sharon Tate... and followed the crime investigation through to Susan Atkins' confession and the arrest and trial of Charlie Manson and his family. The lurid tales of life at the Spahn Ranch were frightening... and have stayed with me since.

I'm bracing myself for more anniversaries to come: the premiere of "Sesame Street" (which I watched along with some kids I was babysitting)... the My Lai massacre (until then, I was only vaguely aware of the horrors of war)..."Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (probably the first "grown up" movie I ever got to see).

I feel old because 1969 doesn't seem like it was so long ago. And I watch my daughter - who is now the age I was then - and I wonder what events she'll take with her when she's my age. Once again, we are living in a tumultous time. I can only hope that the memories she ends up with are good ones.

Original post for 50-Something Moms Blog and Los Angeles Moms Blog by Donna Schwartz Mills... who also chronicles the joys of living with a teenager at her personal blog, SoCal Mom.