Teri Orr: The Age of Aquarius — then and now
And so this is Christmas — that anti-Christmas song that really was an anti-war anthem. It has a depressingly haunting melody. The John Lennon and Yoko Ono song was released in 1971. We were still three years from Nixon resigning and young men were dying for no understandable reason in Vietnam.
I have been humming the song in a loop in my head for weeks now.
It seemed like we were in such dark days then. Nixon sure, Vietnam yes, but Yoko was changing John — we could all see that.
I had given birth one month after turning 20 in 1971 which made me just barely not a teenage mother. We lived in a rented house in Reno that year, we were going to college with two male roommates in the big house. We were all friends. One guy lived on the top floor — affectionately known as The Attic. One in the basement. I made dinner for the house each night — lunches and breakfast were on their own. But I grocery shopped for everyone. And everyone had different schedules at the University of Nevada at Reno — we Californians nicknamed it Yahoo U.
Basement Bob would leave in the fall and take a job working at Alpine Meadows ski area in Tahoe. First, as ski instructor and eventually he became the director of marketing. Attic Ryan, who had the most beautiful opera-quality voice, sang lullabies to my baby. But mostly show tunes. He would leave at the end of that summer to attend university in Boston. He explained his decision by repeating an insider student joke. “They say Be U or Be Jew or Be Gay … I’m not coming out- as Jewish.” The show tunes made more sense.
The house came with a feral German Shepherd we had to care for. We had a VW bus painted like the American flag — the white roof and red body led to the stars and stripes paint job by my authentically flag-waving husband. I had bought the bus — brand new — as a senior in high school. And we also had a ’47 Packard — deep navy blue. I had only paid $50 for that car. I had it fluffed up by the Harrah’s Car Collection folks for our wedding. My marriage at age 19 had unlocked a trust fund on my father’s side. He had died in Australia when I was 16. I hadn’t seen him most of my life. My mother saw to that. Years later when I decided to sell the fabulous car — I found the title didn’t work — the car was literally hot-fenced — which explained my steal of a deal. Sigh — wood-paneled dash, map lights, navy velvety seats and suicide doors in the back. God, I loved … that car.
When I divorced my husband at 26 was when I discovered he had spent most of the trust. Mine and Crocker Bank’s. In the ’70s married women needed permission from their husbands to have credit cards and bank loans. Men didn’t have to ask permission to order stocks sold or to take out a mortgage on a fully-paid-for home.
I managed to keep all the liabilities in the divorce. That included the children’s clothing store I had created in a tiny mall in Tahoe City. I loved that store and I had to sell it to finance my move to a funky ski town in the almost-Rockies — the Alpine Meadows folks had purchased — Park City, Utah. The store has sold about five times since now, I’m told, but Ruffles and Ruffnecks is still there, in the Cobblestone Mall, selling high-end designer clothes for children.
I loaded up the children — the second or third year I sold the lake house — and was living in a rented home in Tahoe. The dark green Porsche had gone by the way of the heated driveway. I was driving a trusted, rusted Jeep Wagoner. I decided what the kids needed was a trip back to my homeland to see the lights so I drove them down to The City. I had read in the San Francisco Chronicle, “The Tree is UP!” That declaration for City Folks meant The Tree — four-stories tall inside the rotunda of the City of Paris department store — would be fully covered in giant dolls and teddy bears and wooden trains and shiny balls. My children were probably 3 and 5 that year. … We stayed with my mother but kept ourselves busy enough that we didn’t have to really interact with Mean Jean. We drove back Sunday afternoon with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads.
The Jeep broke down about Grass Valley — just as we were hitting the blizzard. I called a friend — really, just a friend — a man named Micheal who I had nicknamed Norman Nice (don’t ask) from a payphone in a little gas station. He drove right down in two hours flat and somehow fixed the car and I drove it home.
Later Micheal said, “Now, do you understand why you need a man in your life?” He was what we used to call “well-heeled.” He wanted an instant family and we fit his bill. And I can remember being as clear as the sky became that night, saying, “No, I don’t need a man, I need a new car.”
Which I got — a leased Subaru. It was 1976. I have been driving Subarus ever since. And I found out I was right — as long as I kept the service up and had a membership in Triple A — I didn’t need a man, just the occasional mechanic of any gender to “save me.”
And for the record, Micheal really was a great guy — just not a great guy for me.
So this is Christmas — the first full year I lived in Park City, in December of 1980, John Lennon was murdered.
The radio — like the band — played on.
This year I have canceled Christmas — for the big family gathering. My son had made the tough call for Thanksgiving dinner — he knew his two teenagers had been good about all things COVID — just maybe not good enough. It is a month later now and all three Grands — from both families — are tired of quarantine life.
Yes, there will be driveway moments and Zooms but no giant meal or the politically incorrect whoosh! of wrapping paper tossed in the fire. Or multi-hour-ed board games.
And in a pandemic — this is an OK decision, I tell myself — and then I hum — So this is Christmas.
And it is — for all the upcoming next 12 Days, including this very Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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