Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Nostalgia Project, P-Mag’s look back at the years several of our writers turned 13.
Gas only costs forty cents a gallon. A first class stamp is eight cents. And a movie ticket is about $1.50. Although, we think that movie tickets are so outrageously priced, the previous summer the folks in San Francisco went on a strike, refusing to pay such exorbitant prices so, while we were down visiting family, we were able to see both Little Big Man and Paint Your Wagon as a double feature for 50¢.
Do you look back at your 13th year and think, “Oh, those were the days”? It’s hard not to get a little wistful, looking back. The friends, the fun, the music. Of course, we’d all want to take the knowledge we’ve accumulated over the years back with us. Oh, the things we’d tell ourselves.
If only our more experienced selves could teach our younger selves about life and love, about self confidence and survival. But, we cannot. And so those 13-year-old selves just muddled on through.
When our moms taught us about the birds and the bees, it all seemed a little boring. Perhaps, a bit too scientific? So, in 1971, we passed around copies of books at school, like The Godfather, reading THOSE parts. Ooh, wow. Really? (The movie wouldn’t come out for another year and we wouldn’t be old enough to get into the theater but, by golly, we knew what was in it.) We giggled in the hallways about cute boys, both “real” and celebrity. Who would marry David Cassidy and who would marry Donny Osmond? You? Me? (Oddly enough, a girl I went to grade school with really did marry Donny.) And I thought I was going to die because Mark R- didn’t like me. Then, I thought I was going to die of pure bliss, because Mark R- took me to his Boy Scout Christmas Party. Then, I cried all the way home on the school bus, because Mark R- didn’t like me again.
Those were the days? Not by a long shot. At least not when it comes to hormones and emotions and determining just who will emerge from that woman-in-the-making.
And, while we work through our own growing and changing, the world around us keeps spinning. As I look back, it almost seems as if 1971 seemed to spin more quickly than most.
1971 was the year that the voting age in the United States changed from 21 to 18, while women were finally getting the right to vote in Switzerland.
U.S. troops were still involved in the war that was never declared a war in Vietnam, although President Nixon repeatedly promised to get us out of the “military conflict.” And, the New York Times begins to publish sections of the Pentagon Papers showing the U.S. government had been lying to the American people (and to Congress). The impact of this was far reaching, forevermore changing the relationships between government, press, and people, and creating even greater awareness by the people that we needed to leave Vietnam.
For those of us who grew up during the Vietnam “era,” it is hard to dislodge those memories from our psyches.
Happy, peaceful thoughts of Flower Power and love-ins intermingle with the death counts that were given on the evening news. When the “greatest generation,” our World War II and Korean War veterans, of whom my father was one, had come home, very few of them had talked about their experiences, their nightmares, their pain. When the Vietnam vets returned, we made their pain worse. Many of them were vilified, even though the draft was in effect and 1,728,344 were drafted between 1965 and 1973. There were no parades welcoming them home, no yellow ribbons on trees or fence posts, no banners or bands. Instead, they were spit on and reviled, left to deal with the memories of what they had experienced in the jungles and rice paddies so far from home.
Yet, there were those who looked at the soldiers differently. There were those who protested in the streets, demanding that the war be brought to an end; those who attended the love-ins in order to show the world that we should “make love, not war;” and those who grieved over the Missing in Action and the Prisoners of War; those who did, indeed, welcome those soldiers home when they finally reached American soil, once again.
And then there were those who evaded the draft. Some ran away to Canada. Others stayed right here and were prosecuted. 1971 was the year in which Muhammed Ali, who had converted to Islam several years earlier and refused to serve in the military because of his religious convictions, won his appeal in the U.S. Supreme Court for “draft dodging.”
Bringing an end to another court case, Charles Manson was sentenced to life in prison for the role he had played in the 1969 deaths of seven people, including the actress Sharon Tate and her unborn child.
In the “small world” vein, my husband and I were watching a documentary about Charles Manson a couple of years ago. As we watched a scene of Susan Atkins (one of Manson’s followers), being led through a courthouse by a sheriff’s deputy, we did a double take and both blurted out, “Hey, that’s Thelma.” Sure enough, a dear friend of ours had worked the case and frequently escorted the prisoners from jail to court and back again.
It would be nice to think that education problems were new for our country, but schools were in trouble, even in 1971. That year the Supreme Court upheld the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg case, which meant that instead of improving our school system, we would bus some children from “racially imbalanced” schools to other locations, so that schools would then be “racially balanced.” Imagine being a child taken away from your neighborhood friends because some politicians somewhere decided that you were the wrong color and needed to be “balanced” elsewhere. As you can imagine, the plan did not go over well. We had unhappy parents, unhappy children, and excessively angry school administrators. The school system remained broken, but the bussing ceased.
National Public Radio broadcast for the first time in April 1971 and Walt Disney World opened on October 1, so named by Walt Disney’s nephew, Roy, honoring his uncle and the man who had started it all.
According to the Internet Movie Database, the top grossing movie of that year was Fiddler on the Roof. With Topol playing the lead as Tevye, audiences were charmed, heartbroken, and singing along. We still are. Sean Connery and Jill St. John starred in the ever popular James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever which came in second, with Jack Nicholson, Candice Bergen, and Ann-Margret’s Carnal Knowledge coming in third. But, perhaps, the most “important” movie to come out that year is the movie that truly captured our hearts, the movie that we all still quote and watch whenever we can. That movie is Gene Wilder’s Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Seventies music still tends to be my favorite and 1971 did not disappoint. Three Dog Night brought us the Number 1 hit, “Joy to the World.” If you don’t know about Jeremiah the Bullfrog, you need to download the song from iTunes immediately. It’ll get you moving. Carole King, with her soul soothing voice, wowed us with her #2 song, “It’s Too Late.” And The Bee Gees crooned and made us swoon with the #3 song, “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?” (As we’ve now lost three of the Brothers Gibb, we’re asking just that question.)
1971 was also the year that Rod Stewart was singing about “Maggie May,” John Denver was singing, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and George Harrison was singing, “My Sweet Lord.” And two little brothers leapt out of the beat-keeping, well choreographed footsteps of their older brothers to release their own records: Donny Osmond with “Go Away Little Girl” and fellow 13-year-old Michael Jackson with “Got to Be There.” I was in love with all of them.
Television had us laughing, thinking, and worrying. Edith and Archie had us laughing every week with All in the Family. Carroll O’Connor played sexist, racist Archie Bunker on this No. 1 hit. Why we loved Archie is still a question. Perhaps because we could laugh at how ridiculous he really was, knowing that we were superior in our enlightened ways. But, we did learn from him. We also learned from his ever loving, ever patient, though slightly naïve and simple wife Edith, who put up with Archie, no matter what he said or did. Tolerance and understanding never looked so good.
Coming in the second slot was The Flip Wilson Show, in which Mr. Wilson delighted us with his humor and his ability to cross a still wide racial divide. And the No. 3 top rated show for 1971 was Marcus Welby, M.D. Robert Young played a warm, trustworthy doctor who delighted us with his kindness and wisdom each week. He also turned us into a nation of hypochondriacs, as people soon began self-diagnosing and contacting their own doctors, believing themselves to suffer from whatever disease or illness had been portrayed on Dr. Welby that week.
For bookworms, 1971 was an interesting year for books. The New York Times Bestsellers for fiction led off with QB VII by Leon Uris, in which Uris fictionalized his own libel defense case against a doctor whom he’d written about in his book Exodus. The book reignited the pain and anger over the Holocaust, as Uris revisited the experiments conducted on the human “guinea pigs.” The biographical novel of Sigmund Freud, The Passions of the Mind by Irving Stone came in second on the New York Times list, with The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty third. I don’t remember any of my friends actually reading The Exorcist, but when the movie was in production, I do remember the conversations: “What kind of a mother would allow her daughter to be in something like THAT?” (And, of course, later on those same people couldn’t stay away from the movie!)
This was a time in which we were awakening and our literature reflected our awareness. In the non-fiction category, Sir Kenneth Clark gave us a beautiful, in-depth look at western art and architecture with his Civilisation. Dee Brown broke our hearts and helped raise awareness for the plight of Native Americans with Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. And Germaine Greer shocked the world with her examination of the oppression of women and her assertion that sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation, in her book The Female Eunuch.
Elsewhere in the world, Major General Idi Amin gained control of Uganda and soon became one of the worst and most notorious dictators of modern times.
A fatal stampede at a Glasgow soccer game changed the way we look at crowd management forevermore.
And, somewhere on Lubang Island, in the Philippines, 2nd Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was still hiding and even waging war against the locals. This Japanese soldier had been there since the end of World War II and would remain there for a total of 29 years, refusing to believe that the war had ended.
It’s 1971 and everything’s groovy. And a just a wee bit wild. We hope to look like Twiggy. We power up our lava lamps and sink down into our bean bag chairs. We decorate with avocado green, orange, yellow, and brown. And our view of the world is an odd mixture of newly enlightened and ready to challenge the establishment juxtaposed with naïvely hopeful and dreaming of love, peace, freedom, and happiness.
Yep. Pretty groovy, man.