I watched an interview with Sully co-star, Aaron Eckhart. He’s working on a movie based on his mother’s memoir about her hardscrabble life growing up on the Montana plains. It got me thinking about my memoir and whether my daughter would appreciate the grueling torment that embodied growing up in the ’60s in the unforgiving San Francisco suburbs.
- Hygiene horror. The one and only bathroom option in our cracker box domicile consisted of an indoor toilet, small wash basin, and a tub. Sparse at best. That’s right. One lavatory for five people. Oh, the humanity. When dad had to go, he grabbed the sports section of the Oakland Tribune and announced his intentions to the rest of us. His attempt to fend off the requisite pounding of the door and caterwauling of my older brothers and me to “Hurry up!” was, alas, futile. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the 19th century claw-foot tub had – wait for it – no jets. Imagine wallowing in flat, motionless, non-jetting water. Oh sure, we had bubble bath, a pathetic substitute for a frothy whirling whirlpool.
- Playtime pathos. No Xbox, Nintendo or Wii for me. With only four TV channels on the Zenith’s dial, options for entertainment were limited to the drone of a soap opera, the mind-numbing monotone of a PBS documentary, the gyrations of exercise guru Jack Lalanne, or on a good day, morning cartoons. Failing the latter, I was reduced to literally knocking on doors to find someone willing to join me in a spirited round of kickball in the street. Pre-planned play dates? Ha! Mom just chased me out of the house with a cursory, “Go play!”
What about your older brothers, you ask? Useless. By the time I was out of diapers they were in their teens. Their idea of fun involved subjecting me to ever more sinister forms of torment, until I broke free and fled crying to mom. Years. Of. Therapy.
- Bunking down. I slept on a cot-like bed, crammed into my parents room until 4th grade. Not a typo. When my eldest sibling, Bill, married and moved out, I commandeered the only other bedroom, the one he shared with Gary, the middle child, soon to graduate high school. I shed no tears when Dad moved his bed and dresser into the dining room. Hey, it was every kid for themselves back then. Besides, I’m pretty sure my parents figured that, at seventeen, it was high time he started thinking about making a life of his own. You know, college, trade school, sugar mama, whatever. Times were tough in the olden days.
- Communication gap. When I reached my teens, I finally got my own phone. No, not a cell phone. Please. Those were the fantastical gizmos of science fiction TV series, starring Captain Kirk and the Robinson family. I’m talking about a tethered white rotary dial phone which rested on my headboard next to my framed photo of Peter Noone. I didn’t even have a dedicated line. When the phone rang, it could be for anyone in the household. And God forbid one of my parents should answer a call intended for me. I remember, before stepping into the tepid water for my evening bath, giving them strict instructions.
“If anyone calls, DO NOT SAY, ‘She’s in the tub.’” Ugh. So unsophisticated. “Tell them I’m ‘IN THE SHOWER.’” Let my caller envision me in a Breck commercial, sensuously lathering my golden tresses, then rinsing them under a steaming waterfall from the shower head.
Imagine my crushing disappointment whenever I heard the familiar brrring, and sprinted to my bedroom and grabbed the receiver only to hear Aunt Inez’s twang on the other end. “Hi, Hon. Is your mama home?”
It’s important to note here, no personal ringtones in historic times. They all sounded alike, in every home and on every street corner. And no caller ID. That’s right. No clue as to who might be on the other end. It was a crap shoot every time. Couldn’t you just let it roll to voicemail, you ask? So naïve. Voicemail wouldn’t be invented for another decade.
Yes, we children of the ’60s endured unimaginable hardships growing up. But I hope, by sharing my heart wrenching tale, that Kristen can read between the lines. Maybe she’ll recognize that despite the nearly insurmountable suffering, her forebears managed to find happiness and fulfillment despite our simple ways.
By the way, Jennifer Lawrence would be perfect for the lead role. Aside from the obvious resemblance, she starred in a popular saga reminiscent of my harsh upbringing.
“My name is Katniss Everdeen. Why am I not dead? I should be dead.”—The Hunger Games