Welcome to My Front Porch
If you’ve followed along with this series, you’ll know that this is a sort of time machine, my own version of Jules Verne if you will, a trip back in time, a time I hold dearly and miss something terrible. I don’t know how strange that is, missing the past terribly, but I do and there you have it.
Thanks for joining me. Let’s strap down in our seats and see where the machine takes us this time.
One moment my dad and I were laughing at Johnny Carson. The next moment, Dad was dead.
Now you see him, now you don’t, as the studio audience laughed at something Don Rickles had said, as my thoughts were jumping between Eva Bergstrom’s breasts and a test I had coming up that Monday at Seattle University, my Dad got up, went into the bathroom, and dropped dead, a massive heart attack, ending his life and changing my life completely.
I’m not here to rehash the past. I’ve done that in my memoir, and that was enough for this old man, thank you very much. No, there is a different reason for this trip through the past, a reason I’ll make clear in a few moments.
I loved my dad. Anyone who knows me, or anyone who read my memoir, knows this to be true. He was the most important person in my life, despite his shortcomings and his very obvious character defects, and his sudden loss was crushing, but . . .
As the weeks and months passed after that fateful night of his death, I was introduced to a freedom I had never known.
Dad was such a strong influence on me that, with his passing, I was released from the gravitational pull of his presence. I was free to experience life on my own, to form opinions on my own, and to determine what was important in life without his constant input. I hope that doesn’t sound like I didn’t miss him because I did, terribly; but there was no doubt that my life was a reflection of my father up until that night in 1969. When he passed, my mind expanded greatly, and my actions followed.
Vietnam and Civil Rights
Within two weeks of his passing, I marched in my first anti-war protest. A week after that I marched in a Civil Rights protest. I attended sit-ins, I attended meetings, I carried signs, I walked down the freeway with twenty-thousand brothers and sisters, and for two years I was an active member of the protest movement which spread across America and threatened to bring the country to a standstill at times.
It was all exciting and frightening and unsettling. Turn on the television and you could witness body bags loaded on transport planes, the latest victims of an insane war. Turn on the television and you could watch as city police and the National Guard turned fire hoses onto protesting crowds, and used their batons as weapons of counter-protest. Buildings burned, citizens were arrested, businesses were vandalized and looted, and no peace-loving citizen in their right mind would venture downtown, in any major U.S. city, after dark.
There was an incredibly controversial President at that time, Richard Nixon, and many of us believed he would lead us down a road of lost civil rights and dictatorship. Many of us saw Nixon as the personification of Evil, a lying, scheming, egomaniac who was only concerned with the power he could amass while in office.
2020 Déjà Vu All Over Again
Turn on your television and what do you see? It looks like 1969 all over again, does it not? It looks like the world has gone mad, like there is no hope for reconciliation, like we are all being swept up in the insanity of it all. The Vietnam War may be gone, but racial inequality is still front and center in the national discussion.
And if all that isn’t bad enough, toss in the COVID-19 pandemic.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, toss in Donald Trump, who reminds many of us of that President long ago, Richard Nixon.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so it seems to me. Fifty-one years have passed and yet here we are, same tv images, same tumultuous streets, and in many ways the same protest signs and chants.
And yet . . .
I think back to those months in 1969, and 1970, and I remember road trips to California, and rock n roll, and family barbecues, and luscious girls. I think of ice-cold beer, and tracking flyballs against the robin-egg blue of a summer sky, and beach parties. I think of waxing my first car, a ’69 Chevy Camaro, at the park, talking to girls as they drove by slowly, drive-in movies with my buddy Frank, and root beer floats at the A&W Drive-in. I think of saying goodbye to Eva Bergstrom’s breasts, only to say hello to Pam and Diane and Karen. I think of graduation and entering the workforce, sledding after a new snowfall, and fishing off the dock in the town of Steilacoom, pulling in the perch like they were unlimited in number, just there for my enjoyment.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
An Incredible Capacity for Pain and Happiness
We all survived the turmoil of 1969, and we will survive the turmoil of 2020. I firmly believe that because human beings can take a licking and keep on ticking, to borrow from an old commercial. This is what we do. This is who we are. We are loving and we are hateful. We are mundane and we are extraordinary. We are passive and we are aggressively energized.
We are woman – we are man – hear us roar!
I’ll let you in on a little secret: there will always be an important issue which will divide us as a country. If it’s not Civil Rights it will be the military; if it’s not the military it will be income disparity; if it’s not income disparity it will be health care or capitalism or socialism or high drug prices or abominably-poor education in poor neighborhoods or gun control. There will always be some issue for us to go toe-to-toe with our neighbors on, and that’s just the real of it.
This is who we are, plain and simple.
I do not say that to minimize the importance of any issue we face today. I say it to drive home the point that we will survive the current madness, and we will eventually return to our “normal” lives, until the next inflammatory issue arises.
The Bottom Line
Here it is, so pay attention: hold onto your asses and ride it out. As an old mentor of mine once told me, if you’re going through hell, keep moving and don’t stop to smell the roses.
Or, as they like to tell many in church, “This too shall pass!”
That is not to say these issues are not important, because they are. That is not to say we shouldn’t rail against injustice, because we should. I’m simply saying there will always be turmoil because our species will always create turmoil. As much as I want to believe in a Shangrila here on Earth, I doubt I could find a travel agent who knows of one.
What I have learned from it all is this: love is the single most important thing in life. It was the love of family and friends which gave me strength to carry on and stay sane in 1969, and it is the love of my wife and friends which keeps me moving forward in 2020. It is love which I can always count on. It is love which I have unwavering faith in. And it is love which will heal wounds and allow us all to find a way out of the current darkness.
Just this past weekend I met with a former student, now a man, a man I have not seen in almost thirty years, and we had a wonderful discussion. He looked me up, got in touch with me, and for an hour-and-a-half I was reminded of how much I loved being a teacher, how lucky I was to have worked with such great kids, and how important that connection was, and is, for us both. People needing people, people loving people, that’s it, that’s the basic ingredient for happiness in this lifetime. Love, baby, love!
I just expanded our porch at our Olympia home, making it about a third larger than it was, and Bev and I sit out on it almost nightly, watching the neighborhood do its collective thing, and the strangest thing is that the view we see from this Olympia porch, in the year 2020, is pretty much the same view I saw from that Tacoma porch of my youth in 1969.
Ain’t that weird?
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)