1972, people. What happened in 1972? I mean, I know what happened, events-wise: that's what Wikipedia is for. But the flavor, the feeling, the zeitgeist? I was five years old at the time (pause for you to figure out my age) and I didn't get any of that. My culture-specific memories of the seventies are limited to butterfly patches on my jeans, and my mother complaining about the grooming of the students at the college where my father taught. Oh, and "Free To Be You and Me," of course. But the novel I'm currently working on needs a little more in the way of atmosphere than that, and so along with downloading a lot of music from iTunes I am hitting you up for help here. Were any of you alive then? Do you remember it? Can you tell me what it was like for you--what hit you, what missed you, what galvanized you and stayed with you? I'd be very grateful. And if you have music, or books, from or about that period that you particularly recommend, I'd be grateful for that too. Give me an inch and I'll take a mile.
Actually, I do have one more memory from around that time. My parents had just purchased a color television with a screen you could actually see (as opposed to the microscopic one one which I watched Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo when I was two and sitting on the yellow corduroy sofa in our NYC apartment), and I was watching what I assume was the news. I seem to remember I was watching with a babysitter, but I may be wrong. Anyway, I remember watching men disembark from a big-bellied military transport plane and walk across tarmac, with an announcer speaking over the scene. Memory paints the scene with harsh, night-time security lighting, and puts a chain-link fence in the foreground but again, I could easily be wrong.
What I was watching, of course, was POWs returning from Vietnam.
I wonder what memories my own children will take away from our current war? I am unutterably grateful that the chances they'll remember losing a parent in combat are very, very slim, unless they insitute a draft and start with internists over 45 and part-time NP's over 38 whose only combat-medicine skills consist of stitching up minor lacerations and slapping on 4x4's. But I wonder: what will my children come to know of Iraq? What will they study in school? (Probably nothing, if my own education is anything to go by: we always ran out of time in the middle of WWII and wound up hearing one garbled lecture about the Cuban missile crisis the day before school got out) What will the map of the Middle East look like when they're at the map-perusing age? Will they ask me about these years? And what will I say? "Yes, honey, there was a horrible war, and thousands of people died, and Mama sometimes looked at photos in Newsweek"?
The last four years of nonstop pregnancy and childbearing and nursing and child-tending have obliterated so much of the outside world for me--or rather, I have allowed them to do the obliterating. But now that everybody can walk, if not talk and feed himself and go to the bathroom alone, I am being hit over the head with the knowledge that I have to engage again, if I want to help my boys become the men they could be, and...oh hell, that sentence was about to go into "world a better place," territory, and since I'm not competing in the Miss America pageant, I think we'll stop there. But you get my drift.
I want my boys to be men like their father, who started Habitat on the Rez, who has been hauling ass around public health clinics for fifteen years, and who gives so much of his time and treasure to people he feels need it. I want them to have his thirst for justice and service. I don't want them to watch the major events of their time on television. And this means getting my own ass back out there--OK, maybe not to sub-Saharan African refugee camps just yet, but at least into the letter-writing, blogging, volunteering world. Because I can't make my boys want to help, to engage, to love. I can only show them the people who need help, and loving, and engagement, and give them some tools, preferably well-handled ones used by their father and me. If we're very lucky, those tools could be our family heirlooms.