I was graduating from high school, closing in on being 18. College was an impossibility and my boyfriend and I had broken up, so the future looked a little…unfocused. But exciting. I’d hated childhood and been an uncomfortable and awkward adolescent and I knew beyond all doubt that adulthood would be better.
And it has been.
I just watched James Taylor in concert (all together now, big sigh) and he talked about it, which got me to thinking of 1968.
Paul Schutzer / Time Life Pictures / Getty
Of that horrible day in June when another verse was added to “Abraham, Martin, and John” with the death of Bobby Kennedy. I’d seen him in person that April, when a tall guy wearing Eugene McCarthy buttons grasped my elbows and led me through the crowd to where I was nearly close enough to touch the train from which Bobby spoke, offering hope and fun to my generation. I could hardly grasp the reality of his death.
Of walking in autumn leaves in Rochester, a small nearby town. It was a warm, delicious taste of freedom. I had a job I had to go to, but my money—what little there was of it—was my own. My clothes didn’t have to meet my mother’s approval or fit my father’s wallet. If I chose to walk in the leaves all day long, I could.
Of stopping at the bookstore every payday and buying the newest Betty Neels, Sara Seale, Violet Winspear, Anne Mather, Essie Summers—more names than I can begin to remember. After reading a few hundred Harlequin Romances, I started to write my own. I didn’t finish one, not for several years, but 1968 was when I knew someday I would.
I got my ears pierced in 1968, wore miniskirts and peace signs and too much makeup. I got thrown out of bars not because I wanted to drink but because it was fun to see if I could get by with going in. I had my heart broken every time I turned around, maybe bent one or two myself.
I loved the music in 1968. Still do—did I mention James Taylor? I loved the cars—Camaros in particular. A boyfriend drove a GTO and I could hear him turn the corner at the end of the block. I’d run to brush my teeth and apply yet another layer of mascara at the sound.
Something else I loved was how romance novels heightened all the senses. I believe if I hadn’t cut my novel-reading teeth on romance, I wouldn’t be able to recall the smell of autumn in Rochester, Indiana. The first sharp political awareness that came to town with Bobby Kennedy would have dulled by now, but it hasn’t. James Taylor’s voice could be just an aging singer’s voice, but it’s more—I feel it all the way to my bones. I can still hear the needle going through my frozen earlobe when a friend pierced my ears. (I passed out then, my head jerked, and the hole is crooked.) I can still smell the bookstore downtown—it was also a tobacco store; what a heady combination for a bookaholic who was also a smoker!
I don’t read romance exclusively anymore, women’s fiction having taken over pride of place in my reading preferences, but I still write it and love it. It is because of romance that 1968 is more than a memory. It’s as living and breathing as though it were only yesterday.