Go Ask Grandma, If You Dare

Recently I turned sixty. Suddenly, I’m realizing how my personal history fits into American cultural history.  At a recent writer’s association meeting, (Whatcom Writers & Publishers), the program was about researching historical fiction.  I went for the dinner, not expecting much enlightenment.  My novels aren’t historical. Then the speaker said stuff that happened fifty years ago is considered “history.”  The first ten years of my life! history!  Plus, at this age, I may as well prepare for my teens and twenties being historical about as soon as I can blink, or  as fast as I can get this junk written down!

As much as I think of myself as a quirky weird girl who had a wild young life, there are many thousands of us, now grannies, who “came of age” in the late Sixties or the Seventies, who had maybe two or maybe ten or fifteen years of freedom, singleness, roaring wild sex lives with lots of men and maybe other women. If it feels right, do it; love the one you’re with; what comes around, goes around.   We drank and smoked pot, didn’t shave, didn’t wear bras or make-up. We liked sex. We lived in farm communes and urban collectives, in boats and buses and shacks on stilts by rivers.  We weren’t owned or claimed by anyone and didn’t really give a fuck what the straight-laced world thought.  There were enough of us that we didn’t have to.

What happened? Youth melted away in the usual friction of life.   We gave up being wild, became mothers, found careers, married men who adored us but preferred to pretend we came without that scary history.  Certainly they didn’t want to hear our hitch-hiking tequila-drinking skinny-dipping group sex stories!  AIDS vindicated the hard reversion back to traditional American prudism. The sexual revolution became a joke.  In the 90’s, in a book group, I told some story from my tavern life; a younger woman said, “oh, so you were a slut.”  I didn’t know what to say! I never thought of my glory days that way.  I knew I was “promiscuous,” but never thought that was a negative thing (like being a prude, for example.)  Still, the new puritans taught me to keep my precious pearls hidden, safe from their nasty labels.

Widowhood is liberating.  I can say “before I married Will, before I was a Quaker, before I was a grandma, I had a different life.”  If people gasp disapprovingly, hearing that I worked in the tavern and loved it, I go no further.  Never mind that blessed day I spent alone nude, floating on an air mattress in a riverside pond, with only geese, the Goddess, and my own thoughts for companions, blissfully unafraid.  Why squander my best memories on people who would infect that joy with compulsive nanny fear?

Lately, I’ve encountered women who are talking (or writing) about this closeted part of our generational history. Several characters in my novels have wild time stories. When I bring that up, the floodgates open.  We aren’t ashamed, but we don’t want to alarm the children, or the men, or the grandchildren. Or, taunt them with what we had, or who we had, our historic years of sweet freedom. But we are finding one another. We remember, we celebrate, we marvel.  We have great stories to tell, if anyone cares to ask.


Go Ask Grandma, If You Dare — 6 Comments

  1. So funny how quiet people get about the most intense times in their lives! Have most people not found a way to integrate who they were with who they are now? The fact that the wheel of public opinion keeps slipping out of our grasp and returning to a judgmental setting doesn’t help. What a delight to hear you reclaim the stories! More power to ya! 😉

  2. If it feels good do it. That was the guiding principle in my youth. I still feel that way, but limit myself to “doing it” with my husband. I think he benefits from my youth, even if he doesn’t hear all the details.

  3. Ah, yes. I get this. I am afraid it I told my grandchildren, they’d say, ‘well, you turned out okay, so….’. Problem is; the world is a much scarier place….or so it seems.

  4. vivid and delightful description of you, and a world, and a time. I was there, too, but differently. I both envied and feared the lack of inhibition. not a prude, but not an experimenter, either. don’t like the feeling of drug-induced loss of control. hated smoke of any kind; hash brownies were ok. never could handle more than half a glass of beer or wine, or a one-night stand. never had the physical or emotional energy to handle constant change. it’s partly that I always was what they called ‘sickly’, and was being self-protective. but I did have a so-called ‘open marriage’ for a while. It wasn’t an honest one because it was to start with, a toxic marriage. monogamy and loyalty meant more when I found true love.

  5. Here’s to the grandmothers, mothers, aunts, girlfriends and sisters of the sixties; especially all of the sisters related and created. The memories are great; some I’d rather not share with my kids, grandkids or great-grand-kids – yet. They can read the book someday. Sometimes I wonder how I survived with all the risky stuff I did. But I’m still here and wondering where the time went. I woke up one day and realized I was forty-something. The next day was fifty-something. And day after that I was sixty-something. Cliche…but it really has been a wild ride. And it ain’t over yet. The wild woman is still in there. Only she’s more selective in her choices. Rock on wild women!

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