Magic Carpet Ride by
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Prompted By 1968

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My high school ring, which I found and wore to my 50th reunion in June

1968. One of my favorite years ever, just seeing those four digits makes me happy. The prompt reminds me that many bad things happened that year too. But if I had to pick the one year of my life that had the greatest impact on me, it would definitely be 1968.

Actually, I have already written at least four stories for Retrospect that were about 1968. My high school graduation took me Up, Up and Away. My summer spent working on Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign was the Most Amazing Summer Job Ever. My experience at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago was a Universe ablaze with changes. And finally, starting college that fall I learned to Love That Dirty Water.

So, back to the beginning of the year. In January, college applications had been submitted, and it was just a matter of waiting for decisions. I had applied to five schools which were all in or near Boston, because I knew that was where I wanted to be. Socially, things were finally looking good. I had my first real boyfriend, whom I had met at a Chanukah party at my temple. Our first date was on New Year’s Eve. He was a sophomore in college, living in the dorms at Rutgers, but came home every weekend to see me.

In February, I had a stomach ache that turned out to be appendicitis. My oldest sister had had her appendix removed years earlier, and had an ugly vertical scar that was about six inches long. Did not look good in a bikini. So when my father (who was also my doctor) told me he thought I should have my appendix taken out, I said NO! There was no way i was going to have an operation that would result in a scar like hers! My father, to his credit, did not bluster and bellow at me in his usual manner. He negotiated. When he promised that he would make sure the scar would be small, it would be horizontal, and it would not show over the top of my bikini bottoms, I agreed to it. And he kept his promise, even though he was not the one to do the surgery (he never operated on family members). I ended up missing about three weeks of school, but it didn’t matter, because it was second semester senior year. The only sad thing was that they took the class photo for the yearbook while I was absent, so I am not in that picture.

On March 31st, LBJ announced he would not run for re-election, which was fabulous news to this budding antiwar activist. Four days later, on April 4th, Martin Luther King was assassinated. I’m sure I was shocked and upset, but I don’t seem to have any specific memories about it, the way I do about the assassinations of JFK and RFK, both of which I remember with crystal clarity.

About a week later college admissions letters arrived in the mail. The conventional wisdom was that acceptance letters were fat (all those forms they were sending), and rejections were thin. I had four fat envelopes, but my envelope from Radcliffe was thin, and I was afraid to open it. When I finally did, it was an acceptance. I was ecstatic! There were eight of us in my class who were going to Ivy League schools. (Radcliffe counted because it was part of Harvard. The others were Yale, Princeton, Columbia (2), Brown (2), and Dartmouth.) We formed the Ivy League Cutting Society (as in cutting classes, which we did, frequently). We were hot stuff, and the teachers and school administration couldn’t keep us down! I was elected by my classmates to give one of the speeches at graduation, and a boy who was going to Brown was elected to give the other one. Oh yes, somewhere along the line I went to my high school prom, which nobody remembers.

June 4, 1968 was my high school graduation. It was also the night Bobby Kennedy was shot, although accounts say that he was shot on June 5th, so it must have happened after midnight. I have already told that story in detail.

I spent the summer in Washington, D.C. working for the McCarthy campaign, and then went out to Chicago for the convention. If I were to make lists of the best and worst events of 1968, the Chicago convention would be on both lists. It was one of the worst because it was terrible for the nation, but it was one of the best because it was such an important and life-changing experience for me. I have heard it said that the Chicago convention and Woodstock were the defining events of our generation. Since I turned down an invitation to go to Woodstock, it’s a good thing I made it to the convention!

In September I started college, and that was everything I hoped for! Although there were some bad courses (lookin’ at you, Nat Sci 5),  roommate disasters (Linda #1), and boy troubles (not mentioning names), it was a fabulous, exciting time. I loved Cambridge dearly (still do!), and I met many wonderful people, some of whom are still my most treasured friends 50 years later.

In November, Richard Nixon was elected president. I didn’t care, because I hated Hubert Humphrey after what he did at the convention. If I had been old enough to vote in that election, I might have voted for Nixon, just to vote against Humphrey. Or I might not have voted at all. Although people were saying that Humphrey was the lesser of two evils, on the wall of my dorm room I had a silkscreened poster that said “There IS No Lesser Evil!” Ironic that in comparison to the evil we are currently faced with, 50 years later, Nixon seems positively benign.

There were so many incredible songs in 1968 that it was hard to pick a title for this story. I considered Piece Of My Heart, because I loved Janis so much, and tried to sing like her. But really, I concluded, that whole year was like a Magic Carpet Ride for me.

May 1968, Joan Miró

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Characterizations: been there

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Yes, Suzy, you have shared a lot of 1968 with us already, but I particularly applaud your taste in music. Magic Carpet Ride was one of my favorites as well. My class ring was stolen by a crazy nanny. Speaking of which, babysitters or nannies could be a good topic for Retrospect.

    Your comments about not voting for Humphrey or (heaven forbid) voting for Nixon out of spite, remind me of those folks who sat out this past election when Bernie didn’t get the nod and so we got the Orange Monster (with some help from Mother Russia). We should learn that lesson and think of consequences. The “lesser of two evils” can be a whole lot less evil when all is said and done.!

    • Suzy says:

      Well, my attitude about how to vote in the election of 1968 was the attitude of a 17-year-old, not an adult. But still, I had been tear-gassed by police who supported one of the candidates! I could not forgive him at 17, not sure if I could now. It is hardly comparable to the Bernie supporters who did the unthinkable and as a result gave us our current nightmare.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Really loved this story, Suzy — and not just because we met in the latter part of 1968, so I know a fair bit of that part first (or sometimes second) hand. And I think you picked a perfect song for the title since you so well captured all your own momentous experiences in that momentous year. It is hardly surprising that you have already written a good number of stories about events that took place in 1968, even if it could now be argued that maybe your prom never really happened. I even enjoyed reading about the negative parts — like reminding me how much Nat Sci 5 sucked. Thank you!!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks John. Yes, you and your crowd from Pennypacker were certainly an important element of the last few months of the year. And I”m still bitter that my freshman adviser didn’t steer me away from Nat Sci 5 and towards something less scientific, like Nat Sci 10 (aka Rocks for Jocks).

      • John Shutkin says:

        Suzy, your freshman adviser was not as stupid as mine. (A law student, natch.) He completely misunderstood the Gen Ed requirements and, as a result, I ended up taking a physics course freshman year which did virtually nothing to satisfy my Nat Sci requirement. Ergo, the odious Nat Sci 5. May I assume that you, too, can still map out the Krebs Citric Acid Cycle from memory?

        • Suzy says:

          Nope, never did learn or understand the Krebs Cycle. I was lucky to escape from that class with a D+. But since even with that grade it satisfied the Nat Sci requirement, I didn’t care. Still, it would have been nice to take a course I understood.

  3. Risa Nye says:

    Loved reading about this jam-packed year. Isn’t it amazing that 50 years seems like nothing in some ways, and a million years ago in others. That ring! I got one from the boyfriend I broke up with in the summer. (Did I ever give it back?? I wonder.) You were truly in the middle of things that year!

    • Suzy says:

      Thank you Risa. It’s true about 50 years – so recent and yet so long ago. The ring is mine, not from a boyfriend. I know it’s hard to tell the scale from the photo but it’s smaller and more delicate than it looks. I tried to take a picture of it on my finger, but it didn’t work.

  4. John Zussman says:

    They say “the personal is the political” and I love the way your story intertwines the two. You were so politically active in that highly political year and yet still enough of a teenager to worry about whether your scar would mar your bikini line.

    I wonder how you feel about the “lesser of two evils” now? As you know, there were many Bernie fans who would not vote for Hillary because they thought there was no lesser evil.

    • Suzy says:

      Well, as I said to Betsy, that was a 17-year-old talking. I do feel differently now. Since I adore Hillary, I can’t understand how anyone could put her in the evil category, but assuming arguendo that there was some evil to her, it was clearly so much less than Trump that I would have to say those Bernie Bros were damned idiots and I hope they are kicking themselves every day.

  5. Fabulous rendition of that year! What better POV than the unabashed personal to describe the scope and scale of 1968. Think of how Diego Rivera would have painted 1968!

    You do have a fine ability to paint large landscapes with a personal pen. Thanks!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Charlie. Speaking of paintings, Miró has a wonderful one called May 1968, which I will now post at the bottom of my story, since I can’t figure out a way to post it here in the comments.

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