Tag Archives: 1960s

Coop’s Youth Part 7 – Limping to the Finish Line

Among other presents, my brother and I got the Beatles’ White Album and Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme for Christmas, both on our list that our mom had solicited from us. The tag on the wrapped gifts under the tree in our living room indicated they were from “Santa”. Our mom continued to believe in Santa Claus, or at least that her kids should continue to honor the myth of this jolly old avatar who loved children and spent his entire undying existence bringing gifts and joy to young people throughout an often child-unfriendly world.

Now that I had quit my paper route and no longer had my own money from it, Christmas gifts were an important source of particularly the games and record albums that were so significant to me developmentally. When we were little our mom and dad had done their best to observe our play carefully and buy us toys that would present a compelling “curriculum” for our play. In more recent years, our mom had taken to asking my brother and me for a list of the things we wanted for Christmas, and then tried her best, even collaborating with our dad, to get us those things that they could within their limited budget. I would put careful thought into our lists, because the toys, games, records, tape recorders and other stuff we ended up getting over the years continued to play the role of important self-directed developmental curriculum.

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Coop’s Youth Part 6 – Coping Mechanisms

Many of the events of the outside world came into our home on the little twelve-inch black-and-white TV in my mom’s bedroom. As such she tuned in to the 1968 Democratic Convention in late August of that year. As part of her continuing effort to connect with the academic community in our university town, she was getting into liberal politics, particularly around opposition to the Vietnam War. Often her companion watching TV, we both watched as events inside the convention hall were upstaged by the young people in the streets, protesting and battling with the police. I for one was struck by the courage of the kids in the street and felt a solidarity with them, though I did not know if I had the courage to demonstrate so brazenly like that and risk the wrath of the adult authorities.

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Coop’s Youth Part 5 – Baseball & Bookends

The cast on my right leg finally came off a week or so after the end of school. All was well with the healed wound and the function of my right leg and I gave up the crutches that I had been mostly embarrassed to show in public and had contributed to me being pretty much housebound the past six weeks during an otherwise glorious (as always) Ann Arbor spring. I was ready to try to put the trauma and stress of my second junior high year behind me and embrace the range of my own chosen activities that was my ten weeks of liberation before I would have to report for duty for one final year at Tappan Junior High.

Part of that stress was the difficult question that Grace Slick would continue to ask me from the rock radio stations from time to time…

Don’t you want somebody to love?

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Coop’s Youth Part 4 – Not Quite a Girlfriend

Second semester of eighth grade started in late January of 1968, along with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In on U.S. television and the Tet offensive in Vietnam. My mom worried about an endless U.S. involvement in that war that might eventually lead to me being drafted for military service in another five years. My hands ached from the cold even with gloves on as I lugged my saxaphone case in one hand and a load of books in the other arm the nearly mile-long trek to school and back. It always seemed farther than that because of all the twists and turns on the five different streets that got me to my destination, along with the fact that given a choice I wouldn’t want to go to school, particular this one. Though my American history teacher was entertaining at times and I still had some sort of a crush on my young female math teacher, I knew at some level that I could better spend my time doing activities and being around peers of my own choosing.

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Coop’s Youth Part 3 – Guides on the Side

I pretty much dreaded the first day of school in the fall of 1967. I was returning to Tappan Junior High now for eighth grade with the memory still raw of my first difficult and painful year in that institution. The intervening ten weeks of summer sojourn had helped me recover my self-esteem to some degree, but I really did not like the idea of going back to those packed classrooms full of other uncomfortable kids my age picking on each other to blow off the anxiety of being jammed into that unnatural situation. If it had been my free choice I would never choose it. I’m not sure I thought of it at that point as something that all us kids had to do. Or was it more like it was something that if you were not willing to do it, there was something really wrong with you, and if you missed that developmental train that society had worked so hard to create for you that you would be doomed to never being able to participate in the adult world.

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Coop’s Youth Part 2 – Summer of Love & Respite

I felt the profoundest sense of relief when the last bell rang ending the last day of my first year at Tappan Junior High School. All us students spilled out onto the big front lawn on the south side of the school overlooking Stadium boulevard, a part of the school’s campus that seemed rarely used during the school year. We had all been given our yearbooks and the idea was we would all mill around together signing each other’s copies with cute or poignant little memorable comments. One last exercise in social hierarchy. All the cool kids clustered around each other laughing, joking and signing each other’s copies.

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Coop’s Youth Part 1 – Puberty Pressure Cooker

A junior high yearbook picture

My 7th grade yearbook picture

Our mom, my brother and I returned from two long full developmental weeks of our vacation on Cape Cod, beginning to find some equilibrium as three still emerging human beings, without a male parent in the household, now in mostly positive relationship with each other. I was now pretty much transitioned from my childhood, where one fully existed in the orbit of their parents and their parents’ worldview, to my “youth” (as the term is now used to describe the years generally from age ten or eleven until adulthood), where one begins to achieve the escape velocity (to continue the astronomical metaphor) to leave that orbit and explore the greater solar system of a community beyond ones home.

But stressful challenges were ahead for all of us. Our mom still figuring out her persona now as a single adult woman, “divorcee”, and part of the progressive community that existed around the university. Continue reading →

Coop’s Childhood Part 6 – Childhood’s End

long nook beachMy mom rose to the occasion after the divorce with my dad. Though she continued to have a great deal of unresolved anger towards him, and ongoing worries about paying the bills, plus other disruptions in her life, it seems it was perhaps the first real opportunity in that life to be truly on her own, and not pulled and tugged by parents, fiancée or spouse. She was beginning to learn to navigate as a completely autonomous person, including as a single parent, and I was just beginning to become sophisticated enough about this sort of stuff to notice, now that I had started to move her down from the former pedestal I had previously elevated her to.

She was getting enough in child support each month from my dad so she could barely, just barely, pay the bills if we lived frugally. And though some of the couples that had befriended her based on her status as a professor’s wife now distanced themselves from her as a divorcee, her irresistible extroversion and heart on her sleeve emotional honesty was beginning to win her a new community of friends and comrades. Our little household, now three instead of four, was definitely becoming the “Jane Roberts Zale Show”, for better or for worse.

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Coop’s Childhood Part 5 – Burns Park & Divorce

1139-martin-plWhile the events of the U.S. civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were roiling the larger society, the first big event that I was privy to in our little family’s cataclysm was in early April of 1964 around my ninth birthday, bearing helpless witness to my mom having what later I would learn was a panic attack. I recall that I was in my room and heard her out in the living room pacing the floor and crying haltingly punctuated by gasps for air. When I came into the living room to see what was going on she looked at me with absolute terror in her eyes, “Cooper… I can’t breathe!”, as if somehow she was hoping I could do something about it.

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Coop’s Childhood Part 3 – In School & Out

Bach Elementary School

Bach Elementary School

Nowadays K-12 school has become such a high stakes endeavor that academically oriented parents like mine might do their best to “game” the system by letting their kid start school a year later than possible, thinking to give them some sort of developmental and competitive edge relative to other kids. But in 1960 when I turned five, judging me to be an intelligent and precocious kid, my parents had me tested to see if I could skip kindergarten and start public school in first grade instead.

I recall that I found the IQ test they gave me intimidating. Anytime adults focused on me, particularly in a more formal or judging way, I felt uncomfortable. All adults, including my parents, felt like another species entirely rather than simply older versions of us kids. They seemed like large all-knowing deities even, that had me at a total disadvantage.

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