I was a child in the 60s. I turned 6 years old the year we welcomed that decade. The 1960s are portrayed as free wheeling, free loving and a wondrous drug fueled experience. For me, it was the decade I lived in the woods. Not the woods as I live in now, but the woods that divided one tract house neighborhood from another. The woods were cool when air conditioning was seldom seen in Ohio. The woods were quiet when the neighborhood was filled with wailing children and screaming mothers. There were no cars in the driveways during the days back then, unless the dad worked 2nd or 3rd shift at some factory that made something that had to do with the auto industry.
The woods were where I went when my mother took to one of her rages. The woods were where I went when I came home for school lunch (everyone had to back then). The door was locked and mom had taken too many tranquilizers to remember that I needed a bologna sandwich at 12 noon. There were berries and some green stuff in the woods that you could eat before you ran the 9/10ths of a mile back to school at 12:30. You see, not all the drugs of the 60s were recreational. A lot were freely prescribed for women who were unhappy in their new fangled modern existence. Electric appliances and modern farming had taken most of the heavy lifting out of a housewife’s job. She no longer hung clothes on the line, kept a garden, canned vegetables and fruit for winter, ironed white shirts (the advent of Dacron changed my mother’s life), kept chickens, skimmed cream, or any of those other heavy chores that Grandma did every day. And the 1960s mother did not work outside the home. Most did not even drive. So the 1960’s housewives often had “nervous breakdowns” and were heavily medicated to keep them happy in their role. They were given tranquilizers for stress, water pills and amphetamines for weight gain after their hysterectomies, and sleeping pills for the insomnia caused by the diet pills. So the cool,dark silent woods was a great sanctuary for an unattractive step kid.
It is not lost on me that I have spent 60 years trying to become my grandmother, not my mother. That, in spite of working full time for a lot of years, I have often chosen the hard way of doing things. Clotheslines, Mason jars, chickens, firewood, gardens, sewing, etc. These things fill out the corners of my life, these things-strangely enough-are my tranquilizers and sleeping pills. And the woods always welcomes me.