A couple of years ago, I wrote this draft of my coming of age in 1968. I wrote it during National Writing Project and took it to my writing group for help, but they were unable to provide any insights to help me form this piece better. Today when I went back to it, I had added on a couple of paragraphs trying to relate it to teaching 13-year-olds, but I am not sold on that being the way to go with this.
I am looking for some feedback on what to do with this piece. It has sat here for over a year and a half, and I still have no ideas. I need a fresh perspective. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. I’m having trouble finding the voice here. Thanks in advance!
It was the summer of 1968. The airwaves were filled with songs such as “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors, “Dance to the Music” by the Sly and the Family Stone, and the Fifth Dimension warbling Laura Nyro’s “Stoned Soul Picnic.” Our nation had just been through another tragedy with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and by July 1st of that year, the turbulence had gone underground temporarily.
This was the summer of my coming-of-age – I turned thirteen that August. It was set into motion when Joanne came to visit next door.
She was taller than I and one year older, with short brown hair and a face that usually had some form of acne on it. She was from Albany, New York, and had been sent to live with her sister’s family in our safe little suburb of Cleveland. It wasn’t obvious to me then, but it is obvious to me now that she was probably getting in some kind of trouble, and they needed her to be removed from her environment.
Joanne usually spent mornings doing chores and taking care of her nieces and nephew, while I went swimming with my friends Becky and Eileen. About mid-afternoon, Joanne and I would meet under the cottonwood tree in my front yard. We would sit and talk about all kinds of things, but she did most of the talking. I felt horribly inadequate and sheltered compared to Joanne, who was worldly and wise.
She told me a few things I have never forgotten. She regaled me with tales about her friends Maria, Mary Beth, and Patti. (Yes, I remember their names to this day, always said in that order!) She also talked a lot about a guy, but I cannot recall his name, who at parties was always asking to hear the song “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett. I liked Motown music, and some soul music, but Wilson Pickett was dangerous and removed from the shy, Catholic girl I was. So, there was always this element of another world that Joanne brought to me.
Joanne knew how to prey on my fears and my naiveté. This was the summer I started walking barefoot, a practice may parents abhorred and my mother railed against. One day I got a little piece of glass stuck in my foot, and my mother would have nothing to do to help me. She said it served me right. Joanne assured me that the my skin would eventually just cover over the glass and I wouldn’t know it was there – that is, unless the glass broke free, got into my bloodstream and exploded my heart. Let me tell you, I spent some sleepless nights over that one!
Around the time of my birthday in early August, after the Rolling Stones had released “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” I remember an afternoon, lolling in the shade under the tree with Joanne, and she telling me how thirteen was a turning point. I really do wish I could remember everything she said. The way I remembered it was that she was waxing poetic about not being a child anymore, how the expectations would be different and they wouldn’t all be met, and that I had to grow up. I remember my stomach churning about all of this, but certainly she was right.
Now I teach children of 13, and they certainly don’t have the innocence I had. One of them likes to say she’s on the Twerk Team, often putting “#TeamTwerk” on her papers. They were upset when they heard Fifty Shades of Gray was on the banned books list for 2012 – they told me, “It’s just sex!” Two of my students have parents undergoing cancer treatments, and another student’s mother died over Labor Day weekend. And I had to stop another boy from dancing around around the room singing from “Blurred Lines” – You know you want it…
I suppose some of these kids have someone like Joanne in their life, but I wonder if it is just crazy stories or real things, like drugs or alcohol that is being shared.