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.