When you look at images of the 1960s, it doesn’t look all that different from the present. Well, clothing and hairstyles look kind of weird. But there are cars - funny looking, BIG cars - highways, TVs, telephones, refrigerators – plenty of modern conveniences. Still, looks can be deceiving.
I’ve been on a virtual field trip to the 1960s while writing my latest novel, which is due out in November. It’s set in 1966. So I had to re-familiarize myself with what everyday life was like. Here are a few memories that brought the Sixties back to life, reminding me of how very different that decade is from the present day.
1960. A long drive from North Carolina to Georgia. Mom is driving. Dad is overseas. We’re driving south on a two-lane highway and a big tractor-trailer in front of us is slowing us down. (My mother does not like to be behind a slowpoke.) So she eases over the center line, takes a peek to see if there’s room to pass, and floors that big 1956 Pontiac with the V-8 engine. But just as she does so, she notices there are three big trucks in a row, not one, that she has to pass. She makes a split-second calculation that there’s enough room to make it around all three trucks before that oncoming car hits us head-on. My sister, brother and I watch, our hearts pounding, as Mom puts the pedal, quite literally, to the metal, roaring past all three semi’s, reaching a hundred miles an hour before swooping back into the southbound lane as that oncoming car zooms past. We cheer our fearless mother, who surely must’ve wondered whether she made the right decision. That, friends, is what it was like in the early Sixties before interstate highways were completed all over the country. Making a long trip included a lot of those calculations about whether to pass or stay behind a slowpoke for miles and miles. If my dad had been driving, he would’ve stayed behind those big trucks and bided his time. But we children sided with Mom, because the faster you drove, the cooler the car, since none of our cars had AC until Dad bought a giant 1968 Buick LeSabre.
Mid-1960s. The telephone rings. A real ring, not some silly chirp or beep or some rock song. It’s a black rotary dial phone – the only telephone in the house – and it sits on a telephone chair in the hallway. (Sort of like a desk – a chair for you to sit on with an attached table for the phone, sometimes called a “gossip bench.”) I answer. It’s a boy calling for my sister. She hogs the phone for an hour until Mom tells her to get off. No one else can use the telephone while she's on it, you see. If we hadn’t been at home, the phone would’ve continued ringing until the caller gave up and tried again later. Because we had no answering machine.
Sep. 8, 1966, 8:30 pm. The premier of the brand new TV series, Star Trek, is coming on. We’re seated in front of the TV by 8:29, with the television tuned to our local NBC channel. There are no DVRs, no VCRs, no way of recording the show to watch later. Star Trek is broadcast in color, but we have a console black and white TV in our living room. (My parents didn’t buy a color TV until after we kids left home.) We sometimes argue about which program to watch because there’s only one TV. If I don’t want to watch what’s on, I can go in the bedroom and listen to the radio, play records on my little record player or read a book. There are no computers or smartphones, no tablets or iPads. No such thing as texting or email. No social media. We love “Star Trek,” although its special effects seem kind of hokey, even by 1966 standards.
The entire decade of the 1960s. All movie theaters have one huge screen. The auditorium is enormous. There’s no such thing as a multi-plex. I’ve never heard of a mall. Drive-in theaters are popular for second-run movies. I see “Planet of the Apes” at a drive-in. In the winter, you leave your car running to keep warm. (Or snuggle with your sweetie.) When you go to the movies, you dress up. No one would be caught dead wearing flip-flops in public, unless they’re at the beach or the pool.
Girls have to wear dresses or skirts to school. Boys are routinely sent home from school if their hair is too long and covers their ears or their collars. Nobody plays soccer, except in PE.
You can travel back to the Sixties through my new novel. It's a coming of age story about a teenage girl facing some challenging Sixties issues. If you want to be notified about publication, you can sign up for occasional author newsletters here. I also sometimes give out Amazon eGift cards to a random newsletter subscriber! Till next time… it’s been a gas, man!