Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Sister's So Cool/Anguished Bellyaching/60s

My beautiful sister, Marva, has a great ear for music, which isn't surprising because we come from a musical family and she and I both have music careers. But what gets me right now, and the reason I wanted to do a post, is that her music selections can make me practically travel back in time to the '60s, without making it seem like that generic acid-tinged day-glo poster everyone else attempts to conjure.

This is the '60s as I remembered them, when I was a boy, aware beyond my years but with a view that was limited in scope. I didn't know what a hippie was, and though sex showed up early, drugs were still a long way off. Men drank beer, or whiskey, and the women wore sun dresses. Black people were so concerned with their image we dressed up to go to the supermarket. "Funky" was a really bad word.

Martin Luther King was alive and many men wore coveralls as a uniform of the Civil Rights Movement. The insurance man was a "very important person", warranting the dispersal of children and displays of silverware. We hid in silence from Jehovah's Witnesses. We took naps to Billy Graham.

Collard greens were grown next to rose bushes. I thought an iguana was a dinosaur. There were 13 kids in the foster home, with 5 dogs, several chickens and ducks, and a rabbit. We caught an opossum, and stared at his ugly ass all day, but he "played possum" and escaped that night. My foster mother ran down armadillos skittering from the gutters. She caught snakes with her hands and killed them with a gardening hoe.

(I'm only including this song, above, because it's co-written by my sister's good friend Jimmy (OO Soul) Holvay.)

Everyone kept plastic on Living Room furniture, and kids were forbidden to enter there except on special occasions. My Auntie Bessie's was considered extremely glamorous because she decorated it in blue. It was rare that we'd enter her home through the front door, and when we did it felt like someone had died.

One of my sisters had a crush on Elvis which seemed very weird. My cousin Ricky, who was lighter than the rest of us, owned a 45 of The Beatles that nobody would let him play. The old man had nude pinups of white women in the garage. We were forbidden to look at them and thought they were very exotic.

Everybody loved Bobby Kennedy and there was a profile of Abraham Lincoln in every house. Jesus suffered, hauntingly, on his cross at the top of the stairs. We kids ran by him as fast as we could, just to avoid his gaze. It never worked because we looked.

The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, and I Love Lucy seemed to always be on television, interrupted occasionally by I Spy (with Bill Cosby) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Lawrence Welk. I don't remember when Petticoat Junction came on, but Bonanza came on Sundays. Cartoons started at 7AM, on Saturdays, and occupied a world of their own.

A family friend, Chester Moore, thought it extremely important that all the foster kids learn how to shoot pool, so he'd take us to the billiard parlor and teach us to aim. He got our Christmas tree cheap by saying we were orphans. He said he never saw a woman as beautiful as Cher. Chester drank too much, but he was the only one.

Momma R. made an outstanding peach cobbler, and, if you were going to McDonald's she'd ask you to pick her up some "hambuggies". Taco Bell sold "Tacahs". Jack In The Box just sold Jack In The Box.

My foster mother knew one dance, The Shotgun. She'd use her fingers to make pistols and when she "shot" us we'd laugh. She once fell off a Merry-Go-Round that had started moving while she was trying to secure me to a horse. I never got over the guilt and brought her gifts until the day she died.


  1. In my friends' living room you could see the furniture movers foot prints on the carpet a year later.
    Yes I can remember the 60's here in Texas. Didn't know alot of black people personally until the army, but I remember they had conventional communities businesses, churches,families,etc all destroyed by "programs to help".

  2. Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane, CMC. Although I grew up lower-middle White rather than foster/group-home Black, I remember a lot of the same things you mentioned, and also how quickly and totally things changed in just a few short years.

    Two REALLY old memories:
    1) Being two years old, and standing with a huge crowd at the railing on Santa Monica's Palisades Park, as my parents told me *The President* was below on PCH (JFK was in town, visiting brother-in-law Peter Lawford's beach house);
    2) A year later, when JFK was shot. My parents had the TV on all weekend and I begged for them to turn it off, since the news was making them cry.

  3. "Jack in the Box just cold Jack in the Box"


    You paint a nice, highly visual story with your words and music memories. Good stuff. I've been coming to this blog more frequently, and really like your style man.

  4. I keep coming back here, Crack, despite our many differences, because you are such a wonderful writer. Thanks for this piece.

  5. Great post - brought back memories for me too. Also lower-middle class white, large family, but we all have done well with our lives.
    Nice tributes to the ones who had a positive influence on your life.

    James makes a good point about the "programs to help". We were raised to put prejudice aside & wished for blacks to succeed like everyone else - integration & equal opportunity for all - rising tide lifts all boats, etc. What the hell went wrong?

  6. This is your sister who does not want the hassle of signing in through Google (forgot my password..lol) - Love your memories! Ahh..the crinkly sound plastic covered furniture made when one was allowed to actually sit on it..which was usually around Easter..or Christmas..or in the presence of "company." Makes me remember "shadow boxes." Seems every home had one back in the day..filled with little "trinkets"..I'll be back to read and listen more...