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  Monday January 26th, 2015    

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Lost in the ’60s again (12/03/2006)
By Janet Lewis Burns

I was the suppressed poet, jotting down idealistic masterpieces in tattered tablets, while doing my time in the laundry room or in a rocking chair. Years later I forgave my romantic aspirations, pursued prose, and found my niche in the world of writing. My poetry was lousy. I no longer subjected myself to rejection notices.

It was my reality back in the early 1960s that having a ball in high school, doing the Peppermint Twist, enjoying good grades, and raising heck on weekends, that I was living the ideal American "girl next door to our twelve grade school" dream.

After graduation in 1963, my ambitions hadn't improved much. Our folks couldn't afford college, but I used that as a good excuse not to work my way through. I was still having way too much fun for that! I found Lewiston's one factory convenient. I could live at home and pay my way. It was kinda "whatever will be, will be!"

To make a short story even more run of the mill, I was married at twenty and had three children by the time Pat and I were the ripe old age of 24. After five years of hard labor at Rush Products, I spent the next five doing daycare and bookwork in our home.

Mrs. Vatter's classes at good ‘ole LHS surely came in handy. Getting back to high school, we wet-behind-the-ears, small town gals were bombarded with advice from the likes of Betty Friedan, author of the 1963 "The Feminine Mystique."

In the late fifties and early sixties, teenage girls felt that the college campus was the world's best marriage mart. Many believed that college was a waste of time for women who merely wanted to marry well and have children. When one opted to postpone motherhood, planning a career caused friction in a young marriage.

I was oblivious to all that. My place in life had been charted. Those were my years of changing cloth diapers, Tinkertoys, no neighbors to relate to, plastic four-wheelers up and down cement sidewalks, baking cookies, shallow soap opera families, and miniature hands reaching. I regularly watched Captain Kangaroo, until I thought my mind would simply shut down. Mr. Green Jeans just wasn't my type!

Friedan, hot in the ‘sixties, lectured and wrote about what I see now as excellent advice. "America's new frontier is intellectual," she announced. The key was her warning that a wife may find that she needed the advanced education for a desired career after her children were raised.

Life isn't over at the empty nest. For many, life promises a fulfilling second half. Every woman needs to nurture her own identity apart from a husband and the children.

Forty years later, Friedan's advice has proven to be right on the mark. "Will you be able to share true companionship with your husband and children in the world that is conquering space, if you aren't excited about the life of the mind?"

"Will you be able to raise children to meet the intellectual challenges of our time without strong intellectual interests of your own?"

I viewed myself as the caboose in that train of thought. I didn't put much stock in the little engine that could. Lacking ambition to make it through four additional years of study, I settled for self-enlightenment. (Not exactly a bad choice.)

Robert Waller wrote, in "Old Songs in a New Cafe," "You have to get the school figures down, get ‘em cold, so you can execute them subconsciously." As you grow, life becomes more meaningful.

What would I advise a young person to do today concerning advanced education? In the following weeks, I want to revisit the sixties. Maybe the prudent answer will come from the bowels of my own formative years.

Someone in their sixties who says he or she has no regrets in life is either a cockeyed optimist or very forgetful.

Janet Burns has been a lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@earthlink.net 


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