Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Sixties - Part III

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy,
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.  ~Marcel Proust
My speed (or drug of choice) was racing with my sister, Mary.  She drove a Buick and I drove a Cadillac, both with BIG engines.  We wouldn't think of driving with only six cylinders.

This is my sister, Mary with her husband, who raced with me.

My mother, in front of the Cadillac I would use to race

We each had three children and after midnight, we would load the kids into our respective cars, leave our husbands at home, and find a lonely stretch of road on the far south side of Cottage Grove Avenue.  We would wait at a red light and at the first inkling of the light changing to green, we would literally push the pedal to the metal.  The first person to reach the next red light would win the race.  Our children, in the back seats, with no seat belts, would jump and cheer us on as we would race over 100 mph on a CITY STREET.  We were crazy and didn't even know it, but it was fun.  Can you imagine that happening today?  What was the most foolish thing you did in your twenties?

On all family road trips, I was the chief driver, and I was always trying to set a record. We didn't worry about gas mileage because a gallon of gasoline only cost between 30 and 35 cents. The children preferred my driving because they liked speed, also, and Daddy drove too slowly and carefully for them.

My mother had a large old-fashioned porch.  It was not unusual to find at least ten of us sitting on the porch on any given day. The children waited for the ice cream truck and we hoped that my Mom was cooking dinner.  As neighbors walked by, everyone spoke.  It was like living in a small town.

Once, and only once, I took Moody to the Opera House to see Boris Godunov.  Since it was our first trip to the opera, I borrowed clothes from my sister, so I could look like I belonged. He slept through most of the opera and I awoke him during intermission so we could go buy a drink.  In the lobby we saw his former ROTC Colonel and his wife.  Mrs. Ray was very elegant; she had a diamond pin on a sleek, black silk dress.  Every hair was in place and her make-up was impeccable.  Colonel Ray was tall, dark, and handsome in his black suit and stiff white shirt.  They looked like they belonged.

We exchanged greetings and Mrs. Ray asked if we were "patrons of the opera."  While I tried to compose some reply that didn't sound provincial, Moody responded.  "No," he said.  "We're just here because we have free tickets.  This dude started dying in the first act.  Every time I think he is about to die, he jumps ups and sings another song.  Will this guy ever die?"  Stunned, everyone just looked at him and smiled.  In 1989, when we traveled to Russia, we saw a statue of Godunov in a museum.  I pointed it out to him, saying, "Look, Moody, your opera."  "Well," he responded, "that guy finally died."

As popular culture changed so did the music. The music of Motown flooded the country and many teenagers formed groups, sang on corners, and waited for Barry Gordy to discover them.  Motown is credited, by many, with helping music to "crossover."  Before, Blacks listened to so-called race music on Black stations and white radio stations did not play Black music. Some Black music could only be played on white stations if the song had been "covered" by a white group.  The sixties changed that.

We loved our parties
The new music meant new dances.  Boy, did we dance during the sixties. The Twist started the rage in non-contact dancing.  You could dance with a partner or dance alone.  No one cared. There was the Mess Around, the Hucklebuck, the Fly, the Watusi, the Stroll, the Mashed Potato, the Hitchhike, the Monkey, the Chicken, the Jerk, the Stroll, and many more.

This is a picture from the Snowstorm of the Century, January 1967.  This storm provided the biggest disruption of the city since the Chicago Fire of 1871. A record 23 inches of snow fell, with drifts of over 6 feet.  The city was paralyzed with the airports, schools, and many business closed. Cars and buses were abandoned.  My husband could not get home from Evanston but I made it home. Evelyn Gay's husband brought friends and literally picked up our cars in the parking lot at our school and placed them into "ruts" so we could make it home.  The drive home was terrifying.  You didn't dare leave the ruts because you would get stuck in a drift.  A fifteen minute trip took almost an hour. Once I arrived home, neighbors gathered to determine what food each of us had and how we could share to make sure no one was hungry.  A few of us trudged up to 95th Street, looking for any open store and buying any staples we could find.  This is truly one of those times when you had to be there to appreciate it.

Our life has been filled with contrasting images. One benefit of the '60s (for us) was the rich man we met who used to fly us first class across the country to integrate parties and dinners. We stayed in fancy, five star hotels and had a driver at our disposal.  He lived in a fabulous home in the Bay Area Hills and he introduced us to a life we only knew about in the movies.  Riding in a limo after being shot at in Mississippi can jar your senses.  Which is real? Having cocktails in a home that overlooked the bright lights of the city before being chauffeured to a five star restaurant to eat foods we didn't even know existed can awaken your awareness.  We had no idea how large the gap was between the rich and the poor. It strengthened our resolve to do more for others, especially in the field of education.

Husband with two of our children, 1961

L. to R. -  Sisters Mary and Evelyn, Betty, and Valjean

During this decade we began a soon to be life-long experience of bringing other children into our home and working with young people on an individual basis.  They call it mentoring now.  I wish I had kept count of the number of children who call us Mom and Dad. We wanted to adopt a couple of my eighth graders but were told that we were too young and already had three children.  So, we did the next best thing.  They just came when they could and we helped when we could.  We didn't know that our mentoring would increase exponentially in the next three decades.

Article in paper when I worked in Park Forest
On June 20, 1969, we took the children fishing with my sister, her husband, and their children.  It was a relaxing, carefree day.  In early evening, we rushed home to sit in front of our television to see something President Kennedy had asked Americans to do.  We watched with disbelief as Americans walked on the moon.  It was riveting. The entire country was enthralled as new heroes were born. My mom, and she was not alone, refused to believe that they were on the moon.  She said they were televising this from Wyoming or Montana.

One of the most dynamic decades was winding down.  We didn't realize it but our time in Chicago was coming to an end.

Bookends of the '60s:
Kennedy and Nixon;
cold war and real war;
segregation and integration;
black and white television and color television;
talking about space travel and traveling to the moon;
back of the bus and anywhere you want to sit;
colonialism and independence;
race music stations and music on all stations

Relationships are all there is. 
Everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else.


  1. Very interesting, as usual, Christella. I love your memories. They take me back, too. You've had a wonderful life.

  2. Do you have plans to publish this? It's so interesting and you make it so real. How did you feel being placed in settings to impress the rich man's associates that he was more integrated than the true reality? It's so admirable that you took from that situation that you wanted to be of help to other people, but at the time, did you have mixed feelings?

    (by the way, I'm going to march right over and buy that jacket if it's still there - you talked me into it - thanks)

  3. Yes, buy that jacket and put a picture of your wearing it on your blog. I still long for a dress that I saw in 1960 and didn't buy.

    We knew we were being used but we knew we could help others by continuing our association for we learned so much from them . We've gotten a lot of help from rich people for our programs, including one who gave millions when we were working in South Africa helping to integrate the schools there in the 90s. There will be discussion of that in future blogs.

    Thanks for caring about our feelings but this was truly better than being ignored and someone had to help with the integration.

  4. Christella - check out the Oct. 6 post on my blog - I walked over to Jolley's Corner today and they only had ONE jacket left. All the others had sold. I have only bought things at this specialty shop for my daughter and daughters-in-law. I always thought the clothes were too young for me. I would like to see any really old clothes that you have kept, especially if you also have a picture of you wearing them. It would be fun to have a blog of collections of these pictures - kind of like Post Secret. There's a blog of peoples' book shelves. I'm going to post a reference to that now, so look for it.
    Thanks again,

  5. Christella, so glad you found me. Your post is educational and full of wonderful memories. The people in the pictures look beautiful and happy. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Christella... wonderful stuff. Makes me want to post my own sixties reflections. I will include a link to yours from my blog and send you a link to mine when it is posted.
    It was an amazing time, but we knew nothing different....
    best to you.

  7. Chistella, came here via Sylvia's blog. My gosh! There are atleast a hundred stories in this one post. This is just so wonderful. What better way to learn about something than hearing it from someone who went through it all? I hope you continue writing. Coz I'll keep reading. Some day very soon I'll have my 9 year-old read these too.