Back When I Wasn’t Old


Everyone is the age of their heart.
~Guatemalan Proverb

You know how it is–or, at least, I hope you do. While looking for one misplaced item, you stumble across something else–something long forgotten–and suddenly a switch is flipped, a memory is triggered, and what you were originally searching for is abandoned as irrelevant as you marvel at your latest discovery. Minutes tick into hours as one memory sparks another, and nostalgia transports you back to another day, another time.

That’s what happened to me yesterday. Really, to be completely honest, that’s what happens to me almost every day. I’ll be looking for a shoe that isn’t where I know I left it, the favorite pair of jeans that I know I hung in the closet, the one essential recipe ingredient that I know I bought yesterday–I will look everywhere, and then I will look everywhere again, and then I will look everywhere else. And somewhere in the middle of all that looking, I will start to sputter words that I’m glad my children are no longer around to hear. But then, before my ranting explodes into a full-blown hissy fit, I will be distracted by the discovery of that something else–the first drawing my oldest son ever gave me, the sweater that I wore on that special night so long ago, the blackberry cobbler recipe in my grandmother’s handwriting.

Yesterday I was searching through boxes of old papers, looking for a newspaper article I had written years ago, when there–underneath a stack of 30-year-old college research papers and one dead cricket–were four spiral notebooks, their tattered covers embellished with faded ink daisies, sailboats and smiley faces. I recognized them instantly. My high school writing journals. Keepsake gold.

And as I thumbed through their yellowed pages, not only did my mind carry me back to bell bottoms and Bee Gees and Love’s Baby Soft, but I also realized I had just uncovered irrevocable, undeniable proof that my husband has been wrong about me. For you see, he has been telling people for years that I have been an old woman my entire life, and I have allowed him to characterize me as such because I have been afraid it was closer to the truth than not. But he didn’t know me in high school! Even though we attended the same school, while he was busy pinning his opponents in wrestling matches and then doing a little illegal, underage partying afterward at Wolf Creek, I was presiding over meetings of the Library Club and then going home to study for the big history test scheduled for a week from Friday. Boring, old woman undertakings at such a young age? Yeah, I’ll admit it. But that’s not all I was doing!

Even I might have doubted it, but these inky confessionals proved it: I was once a girl–a foolish, fickle, dumb-struck, love-struck, star-struck teenage girl (with only occasional lapses into old womanhood). Don’t believe me? Then read on, Oh ye, of little faith . . .

I bought some Bonne Bell strawberry Lip Smackers today! Yummy! Now my lips are shiny AND deliciously kissable! Just in case . . .
–entry from Saturday, June 7, 1975

Ahh, the beauty regimen of that 15-year-old girl! I dreamed of having Barb’s figure, Lee Ann’s hair, Debbie’s smile–but I was stuck with me, so I had to make the best of what little Mother Nature had provided. Stridex pads stripped away all the facial dirt and oily residue, and then globs of Noxzema created a soft, rosy-fresh glow. Daily exercises of “We must, we must, we must increase our busts!” offered no visible signs of improvement, but I was still young enough to believe in miracles. And if it was summer, every spare moment was spent working on my tan, slathered in a mixture of baby oil and iodine, while the juice of one whole lemon worked to make my blonde hair even blonder (because blondes were supposed to have more fun, and I was anxiously waiting for the opportunity to test the validity of that rumor). We didn’t have a shower at the time, so after depositing the baby oil mixture in a slimy ring around the bathtub walls, I would tip my head under the faucet and then shampoo, rinse and repeat with Herbal Essence. With no hair dryer or curling iron to fluff it, my hair remained limp and stringy, but at least it smelled like a garden of wildflowers. Someday some boy would sniff my hair and fall madly in love with me–I just knew it!

“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, No escape from reality.” Are you singing to me, Queen? Sometimes it feels like it. Sometimes I feel so alone, nothing but my books and radio to keep me company . . . 
–entry from Friday, April 9, 1976

All young girls go through periods of melancholy, and I was obviously no exception. And, no surprise, that melancholy was usually attached in some way to some boy who had stolen my heart (whether he knew it or not). But in those early years I could almost always pull myself out of whatever funk I was in by getting lost in the latest Stephen King novel (reading all day and then finishing by flashlight after my dad had ordered “Lights out!”) or listening to Wolfman Jack howling through the night on WLS radio out of Chicago. Eric Clapton would sing me to slumber with “Wonderful Tonight” or David Cassidy would declare “I Think I Love You” (I think I love you, too, sweet David!). And if no one else was around to laugh at my mechanical moves, I could crank up the volume on the living room television and dance my blues away every Saturday morning, compliments of American Bandstand and Soul Train. Those cute Gibb brothers would serenade me with “How Deep Is Your Love,” Wild Cherry would get me “movin’ to the groovin'” with “Play That Funky Music,”  and then KC and the Sunshine Band would have me gyrating madly with “Shake, Shake, Shake, Shake Your Booty.” It was hard to be sad for long when all my energy needed to be focused on vibrating, contorting and breathing. 

I’m too pooped to pop! I just got home from work–we were so busy! And naturally it was just me and Jim working. I ran my legs off! And some drunk college guy asked for some fries to go with my shake–yeah, THAT was original. I did make $5.82 in tips, though!
–entry from Saturday, March 19, 1977

My first job as a fountain girl and carhop at an A & W drive-in netted me a whopping $2.30 an hour (which would buy four gallons of gas back then). All decked out in my brown and orange polyester uniform, I served up coney dogs and teen burgers and frosty mugs of root beer to high schoolers and college kids who were much better at shouting insults (“Shake it, don’t break it!”) than they were at leaving tips. But even though I went home drop dead tired, ice cream sticky and french fry greasy every night, that job paid for the gas that fueled my car that allowed me the independence to explore my world (i.e., chase boys) away from my parents’ watchful eyes–and it also convinced me that getting a college education would take me a lot further than my aching legs ever would.

He said, “I’ll call you tomorrow.” Tomorrow was six days ago.
–entry from Friday, September 17, 1977

Wow! What a weekend! I finally went out with Leo Friday night–I think I’m in love! He was so nice, so sweet, and so good-looking! (And his mustache tickles!)
–entry from Monday, October 30, 1977

So many memories … only one broken heart.
–entry from Friday, November 11, 1977

Sunday I wore my new glasses to work. Rick H. (a regular customer–24, dark hair and eyes, big muscles!) said they made me look sexy! Needless to say, I haven’t taken them off since!
–entry from Monday, February 6, 1978

I still have to ask Eric to the senior dance. He’s got to go! And I’m scared to death his finals are going to be the same week as Prom. I’ll die!
–entry from Saturday, March 4, 1978

Oh, good grief! Was I really that ridiculous? Apparently so. Were all teenage girls like that, or did I belong to an elite class of giddy, love-struck fools? Maybe someone hijacked my journals and wrote fictitious entries on my behalf–yeah, that’s probably what happened. It was amusing (and horrifying) to read how rapidly my romantic interests fluctuated once my steady boyfriend of two years dumped me for the last time, especially since I can count on one hand the number of first dates I had, and it takes even fewer fingers to count the number of second dates. Love-struck and lucky in love weren’t necessarily the same thing.

In just one month I graduate from high school. I’m so excited! I know where I’m going to college, and I know what I want to do with my life–I just don’t know yet how to make it happen. I do know, though, that I can do absolutely anything! I want to be a respected writer (where do I begin?)–maybe have my own column–wouldn’t that be wild? And after I perfect my skills enough, maybe I can even write a book. Or two. Do you believe in miracles? I do.

“Karen has done an excellent job of dramatizing the internal warfare in a young psychotic … Her new novel is convincing and emotionally gripping, definitely the work of a true artist who knows her subject well.”–New York Times Book Review
–entry from Monday, May 1, 1978

Over 30 years ago, I wrote my own book review before I ever wrote a book. A little bit of that “cart before the horse” kind of thing, don’t you think? Ah, to be in the blossom of youth and brimming with excitement for the road ahead. Maybe I strayed a little from the path I charted back then, and my life didn’t turn out exactly as I had planned (and maybe it turned out even better) . . . but a dream postponed isn’t a dream forgotten.

It was a long time ago, but yes, I was once young. I ran around with my girlfriends, I fought with my mom, I went on dates, I shopped and giggled and flirted and whispered sorrows into my pillow–I was a young girl with young-girl dreams and young-girl worries. I may have been on my way to becoming an old woman, but I wasn’t there just yet. And, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still not there.

me87

My senior picture. Check out the limp, stringy hair that would have benefited greatly from a hair dryer and curling iron.

me88

The barefoot hippie chick, circa 1977.

newspaperstaffMy senior year I was editor of the school newspaper. Here I am with the newspaper staff–can you tell which one is me?

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
This entry was posted in 1970s, Aging, Fears, Humor, Love, school, Youth and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Back When I Wasn’t Old

  1. emjayandthem says:

    Ah … back to the days of Bonnie Bell Lip gloss, Love’s Baby Soft and the Bee Gees. I still listen to the Bee Gees and keep a Bonnie Bell lip gloss in my car 🙂

    Been there, done that, girlfriend.

    I see you in the front center of your yearbook picture — smiling and lovely 🙂

    Cheers!
    MJ

    • Ah, someone understands! I can’t say that I “listen” to the Bee Gees anymore, but I do sing along every time I hear one of their songs on the radio. I remember “disco dancing” to their music at school dances–couldn’t do that now if my life depended on it! And I bought a bottle of Love’s Baby Soft a few years ago just for old time’s sake–it smelled just as light and fresh as I remembered.

      (And yes, that’s me. Thank you!)

      • emjayandthem says:

        ‘knew it.

        I have the BG’s greatest hits — it’s awesome. I highly recommend it … great for Sunday afternoons jamming in the kitchen while I cook 🙂

      • Funny–I can see how their music would enhance the cooking experience! And as soon as I read that, I was instantly bobbing and singing in my head, “Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk, I’m a woman’s man: no time to talk . . . Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.” 🙂

      • emjayandthem says:

        totally does! I get jiggy with the spice application 🙂

  2. jeanjames26 says:

    What a great treasure trove you’ve found. Though I didn’t keep journals as a teenager, I can so relate to being boy crazy, the greasy job, and the freedoms a car brought to a young girl. I love your pictures!! What an enjoyable read.

    • Thank you, Jean! So much of that previous life has slipped my memory, so it was wonderful to uncover that treasure trove to re-create those days of being a silly young girl. As a retired educator, I often lamented the behavior of young girls in my charge–it was good to be reminded that I was once one of them.

  3. RayEtta says:

    Wow, you were just like all the girls I knew, though I was a decade ahead. I was already a mom, but I stayed up late on the weekend to watch, what was it, the Midnight something? Loved the Bee Gees, Captain and Tenneile .( don’t remember the spelling of her name, you know who I mean.) I don’t have any true documented reminders even though I had a couple of diaries during those years. I was too afraid to put much in them, I just knew they would be read. Your young days are pretty darn cute. You weren’t old, just somewhat serious. I have learned a lot about myself in the last several years from girl friends of that time. The computer has put me back in touch with several. I thought I did not look good enough, was dull and boring, and they thought I was kind of a hoot and a free spirit. ME? Loved the pictures. I am still waiting for a book from you. I will be one of your first readers.

    • The Midnight Special? I loved Captain and Tennille, too–and Fleetwood Mac and Styx and Chicago and the Eagles–the list goes on and on. I was worried about my sister or especially my little brother discovering my journals and teasing me mercilessly, but my compulsion to write was just too great. It is funny, isn’t it, to find out how others’ perspectives of us can be so completely different from our assessments of ourselves (and usually much kinder, too).

      And I look forward to someday having one of my books in your hands. Thank you.

  4. Missy H says:

    I love this. Makes me remember being a kid in the 70s and a teen in the 80s. The best of both worlds. Not all good, not all bad. I had my share of Bonnie Bell lip gloss, Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo, heart breaks, fashion disasters, American Bandstand then MTV, ABBA then Mötley Crüe. I still feel like a 20 year old in my mind (better make it 21). Thanks for the memories.

    • Thank you, Missy. I was a kid in the 60s and a teen in the 70s–and what little I remember of the 60s was certainly not the best of any world. I think so often as we are living through those teen years we focus on all the tiny devastations–it’s nice to get beyond that time and be able to look back and realize how much goodness was there as well. I wouldn’t want to relive those days (good grief, no!), but I’ll forever be in my mid-20s in my mind.

      Loved ABBA–and still do!

  5. SUE says:

    As always, you keep us very well entertained!! Thanks for sharing your trip down memory lane and reminding us of our own trip!! It has been a fantastic ride. I’m a firm believer, you are only as old as you choose to be – at least in your mind. PS – you will always be in your 20’s in my mind too!

    • Thank you, Sue! It has been a good ride, hasn’t it? And I’d like to think it’s not even half over yet. You’re one of the few people who has known me that long, so if I’m still that young (in your mind anyway), then it must be so. 🙂

  6. Ah, what a sweet, wistful, nostalgic post, Karen. Thank you for sharing. As always, you captivate the reader. And let me state for the record, you were absolutely gorgeous back then! A true knockout. You really were, and still are. I recall being 15 years old and dying of agony, waiting for “the boy” to call my house…one telephone line, and my mom, my older sister and three brothers tying it up,,,oh, the drama! My brother’s read my diary, and would recite quotes at the dinner table…the battles that would occur!

    “We must, we must, we must increase our busts.” LOL! Oh, yeah, I know that 70’s mantra all too well.

    I found this lovely quote from Anne of Green Gables, or, as we girls named it in high school, Anne of Green Girdles, much to our very prim and proper female English teacher’s chagrin. Note: Queen’s is a university in Canada.

    “When I left Queen’s my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I am going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes – what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows – what new landscapes – what new beauties – what curves and hills and valleys farther on.”
    – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

    Tiger Lil

    • Here I go again with the boo-boos! “brothers”, not “brother’s”

    • Thank you, “Tiger Lil”! One of my most vivid memories of that time period is standing behind the curtain in the living room, waiting to see “his” headlights coming up the hill. Sometimes those lights never materialized (even though they were supposed to). Oh, the agonies of teen “love.” We also had just one phone, and I remember stretching its cord all the way down the hallway, trying (usually unsuccessfully) to get a little privacy behind my bedroom door.

      I love the quote–and may just have to use it sometime!

  7. Curtis says:

    On June 7th, 1975 I was 5 months old Mrs. Eubank, reality check. Great article as always!

    • Was that first sentence meant to make me feel better, Curtis? While I was succumbing to the misery of teen angst, you were still slobbering and squalling in your mama’s arms? Yeah, maybe that does make me feel better. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words, and thanks for stopping by!

  8. Gail says:

    I was a kid in the 60s and a teenager in the 70s too. Graduated high school in ’77. You certainly brought back some fun memories! I definitely remember slathering on the baby oil and iodine (never knew what exactly the iodine was for though, but I used it)! I also remember pouring lemon juice on my blonde hair to lighten it up. I remember Lemon Up shampoo (I think that was the name). It came in a tall yellow bottle and the top was a plastic lemon. Smelled delicious! Used Herbal Essence too! Those were definitely the good ole days! Thanks for the memories! I kept diaries back then too and they are hilarious to read. I can’t believe I was so silly and boy crazy!

    • Thank you, Gail, and you’re welcome! I had forgotten about “Lemon Up” shampoo–loved that smell! And although I’m not exactly crazy about being old, serious, boring, etc. (or at least perceived that way), I am glad that those silly days are a thing of the past.

  9. bronxboy55 says:

    I don’t think you’ll ever be old. And that hippie chick was a visionary — the NYT book review is proof of that.

    I remember when I got a raise to two dollars an hour. I thought I was rich.

    Great post, Karen. Did you show the journals to your husband?

    • Thank you, Charles. He has seen only those portions of the journals that I’m not too embarrassed to share–I think I prefer the old woman characterization over the giddy, fickle, ditzy blond characterization that the complete set would surely elicit.

      And as for the book review, well, somebody needs to get off her duff …

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