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December blues (12/06/2009)
By Janet Lewis Burns
For those of us who are in our senior years, ready or not, what is it about our childhood flashbacks that cause us to trip over our own shadows as we attempt to follow our tracks back to places we’ve come from…to each his own.

It’s the little things – the freedom to kill time free of guilt and neglect, our spooky neighbors from the old country, when the abundant lilac bushes just beyond our backdoor screen filled balmy summer air with a heady ambiance, and how our lungs nearly burst with frigid gulps of winter as we tunneled through heaps of fenced-in snow. This had been a laid-back time for “small town USA”, daily life shuffling along in harmony and contentment. Those who romanticize about the fifties and sixties usually don’t choose to mar any portion of the experience by negative recall.

With recollections of those years in Midwest farming communities, modes of living described by terms like “halcyon” (peaceful,) “flower power,” “beatnik,” and “Age of Aquarius” seemed to have belonged to big cities and college campuses. Wrapping up the sixties, “Woodstock” was a “frame of mind” more than anything, a pot-smoking, acid-dropping, rock ‘n roll gathering of 400,000 young people, in Bethel, New York, a three-day escape from what they considered a stifling society.

Halcyon seems like an inappropriate word for an era when more than 200 race riots flared up in the South, from August 1965 to King’s murder in April, 1968. The rebellious, hostile generation sprang from the baby boom of the postwar 1950s, when marriage and job security flourished. Before the early ‘60s, nearly 3 in 4 American students graduated from high school and the number of college admissions soared. Almost 90% of all households owned at least one TV set by the 1960s.

Leading up to a time of technological advancements beyond all expectations has been a powerfully dramatic evolution for today’s senior citizens. Personal changes are more mind-altering now, as lax rules of society allow for questioning our religious institutions, longer life spans, turning scandal into everyday news, and conducting business dishonestly.

I’m not the same person I was in 2000, as I submitted my initial articles to the Winona Post. Our year-by-year changes reflect experiences and emotions we’ve lived through. I would not have hoped to remain the same, to cease to learn, to believe precisely the same things, nor to have sacrificed any of the poignant understanding I’ve accumulated through others.

By the time a person has cultivated adequate knowledge, sophistication, and confidence to travel far and seek worldly adventures, one is reluctant to venture beyond the security of their comfort zone with one foot on their doorstep. What we’d gained in years and experience we’ve lost to deteriorating health, vulnerability, and instability.

Sentimental saps like myself reminisce about memories from the past that warm our hearts and bring to mind those we love. Crackling flames from Dad’s stack of discarded autumn leaves mounted gusts of chilled winds that carried their acrid scent across neighborhood backyards. Raked to the garden’s west end, where Mother’s summer flowers had sacrificed their cheery colors to an early frost, a fanfare to another season’s departure billowed against a brilliant sinking sun, setting the sky on fire.

A special lady, who had a long career teaching at Lewiston’s elementary, Jeanne Olmsted, remembers former students with birthday cards and postcards to this day. I’ve been a delighted recipient! She has reminded me of the posters I made for her classrooms, and that’s been fifty-some years ago!

Ironically, it was laughter, naïve and muffled, that unleashed December blues. Since our 45th class reunion, I’ve dreamed of our beaming faces, beautifully young, free of embedded, telltale maps of adulthoods’ cruel realities. School pals – how we laughed back then! – a never-again, you-can’t- go-back togetherness. Restraint and conformity to aging need not be all there is.

As long as laughter stirs in the restless heart…there will always be someone to share it with. Bye-bye December blues!

Janet Burns lives in Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com.  


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