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The 40th Anniversaries of Apollo 11 Moon Landing and Woodstock Offer Baby Boomers A Great Opportunity to Reminisce: Where Were You During the Summer of 69?

July 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Anne Holmes, Blog, Living, Travel & Leisure

Summer of 69 was outta sight

woodstock-1969
Image by raymaclean via Flickr

As a Baby Boomer, What Impact Did the Summer of ’69 Have On You?

Recent retrospective news stories have reminded Baby Boomers that the summer of 69 was a three-month time period few of you will ever forget. It’s probably one of those “litmus test” time periods. You know, the ones where everyone remembers exactly what you were doing at the time you heard.

Like…

  • November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas.
  • February 3, 1959, the “day the music died” – when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a plane crash in Iowa.
  • Or 9/11

Those are all negative events, however. For Baby Boomers, the Summer of 1969 generally presents a more upbeat image of thrills and chills…

Where Were You That Summer? What Do You Remember Most?

Personally, I was 17 and spent the summer in Europe with 29 of my classmates, all from Madison East High School.  Most of us were looking forward to enjoying the summer then returning for a triumphant senior year as the “Class of 70.”  Our group had been together since junior high, and some of us had known each other since grade school. We were so psyched about that trip…

The idea came from the fact that we’d been studying French since the beginning of 7th grade. With five years of French language and culture under our belts, somebody came up with the great idea that we should actually practice our skills in France, among the natives.

You know, show off our linguistic skills while we enjoyed:

  • Site-seeing along the Seine (Of course we would spend time in Paris. What trip to France would be complete without the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower? No to mention the shopping?)
  • Bicycling high in the Alps (No, we didn’t expect to qualify for the Tour de France, but we loved the idea of tooling around Grenoble on rented “velos”)
  • Lounging beside the Mediterranean Sea (We weren’t bold enough to seek out a nude beach, but that didn’t stop us from wanting to sunbathe on the sands of Nice)

Next thing we knew we were all preparing for the trip of our young lifetimes.

After all, few of us had ever left the country before, and none of us had previously lived apart from our families for more than a few weeks of camp. We spent the entire school year in anticipation:

  • Attending weekly in-school meetings to prepare us for the trip
  • Working after school jobs to save up our spending money
  • And perhaps most importantly, planning our wardrobes

Thankfully, Our High School French Teacher and Her Husband Agreed to Be Our Chaperones

“Madame” was young and fun, and we knew she wouldn’t cramp our style. With her help, we selected a study abroad program that allowed us to spend time touring London, Paris, Rome, Geneva — plus studying French for a month at the University of Grenoble. ” Quelle idee!”

For most of us, the summer of 69 would be our first time spending any length of time away from home. And back then, calling home if you ran into problems was a lot harder, of course. Neither cell phones nor the World Wide Web had yet been invented.

So short of expensive trans-Atlantic calls placed from a phone booth, our correspondence with the folks back home was limited to letters send via air mail…

The Trip Was Fantastic and We All Did A Lot of Growing Up That Summer

I know I was not the same person when I returned… After all, during that trip we experienced so many new things. Among them:

  • Learning to ride London’s underground railroad – the “Tube. ” (And Paris’s “Metro” too.)
    • We didn’t have subways back home…
    • My best friend Jenny and I felt so adult when we left our classmates for the evening and took the tube to visit family friends in a London suburb.
    • Even cooler, they served us beer and lasagna for dinner! (Have no recall of whether or not it was Guinness, but I do know they mixed it with lemonade and called it a ‘shandy!’)
  • Personally experiencing the artistic masterpieces at the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre, Versailles, Buckingham Palace even touring the Coliseum in Rome.
    • I loved seeing the Mona Lisa, though I was surprised how small it is.
    • For me, the colorful Swiss Guard in the Vatican City was even more impressive than was the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace!
    • However I believe going underground to experience the cool and spooky catacombs of Rome impressed me the most!
  • Taking French cooking classes – conducted in French!
    • These were even more challenging than the language and culture classes we took at the University.
    • And we got to eat our work!
    • I recall creating an apricot tarte that was “to die for”…
  • Shopping at wonderful London department stores, like Harrod’s, Fortnum and Mason, Marks and Spencer.
    • I bought some fantastic patchwork silk fabric in shades of peach, cream and lavender that I stitched into a smashing maxi skirt. Tres chic!
    • Of course, being teens, we didn’t miss the boutiques of Picadilly Street, which was so trendy back then!
    • Remember Mary Quant and the British “mod” fashions? If not, here’s a memory jogger for you: some say she created the “look” of the micro mini skirt and tights…

Budgeting was one of the life skills forced on me by this trip: I spent most of my money our first week out, in those fabulous London shops. (This was before we even got to France.)

I still cherish my purchases, many of which were gifts for family back home: including a piece of Limoges crystal in the shape of a deer and a beautiful hand hammered copper bowl.

Why do I say that? Well, had I not run out of of money,  it might have been years later before I discovered my true entrepreneurial self.  But how I raised money to keep myself supplied with Cokes and snacks for the rest of the summer is the stuff of another post…

Strangely Enough The Most Memorable Things I Learned On That Trip Did Not Happen In the Classroom Nor On a Site-Seeing Tour

No. Forty years later I know that the two biggest things I learned that summer are to take responsibility for myself and my welfare — and to be proud to be an American.

Both of those lessons came as a result of being away from home, from “losing my comfort zone.” Especially through the experience of seeing life back home through the lens of distance – and from the point of view of a foreign press.  You certainly recall that the events of the summer of 1969 were pivotal. Both for Boomers – and for all Americans.

A lot of big news happened that summer. And it took place during a time when a lot of Americans — especially Boomers — were very unhappy with our foreign policy and our presence in Viet Nam. In fact, it would be safe to say we were not at all proud of our country at that time.

But it was very different to be experiencing what was happening back home via the filter of British and French newspapers and French TV. Strangely enough, learning about what was going on in my country while I lived on foreign soil had a galvanizing effect.

Instead of  deciding to “tune in, turn on and drop out,” as Timothy Leary had suggested a few years earlier, my living abroad experience enabled me to see what is wonderful about living in the United States, and actually caused me to became quite patriotic.

Fact is, patriotism was really not something I had experienced before the trip. I’d just taken my American citizenship — and it’s perks — for granted…

Among the news highlights  which so impacted me:

  • Man walked on the moon for the first time. For a week in July the world focused on NASA and the flight of Apollo 11, carrying astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr.
    • Their goals: land on the moon, perform some experiments, collect some rock samples, take some pictures, get home safely.
    • The trip which began July 16th lasted eight days, though they spent less than a day on the surface itself and only 2-1/2 historic hours actually walking on the moon.
    • Soon, the whole world knew that “The Eagle Has Landed,” and that “We Came in Peace for All Mankind.”
  • While most of the world avidly watched the action in the skies, Mary Jo Kopechne and the rest of Robert Kennedy’s former campaign workers – who’d been dubbed the “Boiler Room Girls” – took time out to attend a party on Chappaquiddick Island, off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
    • Apparently out of deference to the Kennedy family, the US press embargoed a lot of the facts.
    • Overseas readers learned things which weren’t reported in the US media until much later.
    • These days, with the Internet and more global access to news, I doubt this sort of “media protection” could still happen…
  • And just a month later, in mid-August, we read about how almost half a million people gathered in the rain and mud at Max Yasgur’s farm in Woodstock, New York for a psychedelic celebration of peace and music dubbed “Woodstock ’69″…
    • What would it have been like to have seen those musical greats –  to experience the Woodstock bands in person?
    • Personally, I’m not sure if I could have handled the crowds, the mud, the drugs and the lack of order or sanitation facilities!
    • Still, those Woodstock stories from people who lived it are amazing!

In retrospect, being an American in France when we landed on the moon actually helped rebuild my pride and American spirit. Everywhere we went, total strangers  would come up to us and congratulate us on the Apollo trip.

Instead of feeling like the “ugly Americans” – as we had earlier in the trip — we were suddenly hailed as heroes – even though we personally had nothing to do with the flight to the moon…  That was amazing!

What about you? How did the Summer of 69 impact your life? Where were you? Given where you are now, would you agree with Bryan Adams “those were the best days of your life?”

Why not share your personal “Summer of 69” story here?

With the Michael Jackson Funeral and Other Celeb Deaths Behind Us, Boomers Are Having Grave Expectations: Have You Begun Planning Your Own Unique Memorial Service?

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Anne Holmes, Blog, Living, Relationships & Family

Will Michael Jackson Funeral Change Your Plans?

It’s been over a week since Michael Jackson’s amazing public memorial service at the Staples Center, and more than two weeks since the King of Pop died. While he’s still in the news, hopefully his family will be allowed to return to life as usual fairly soon.

Jackson’s untimely death at age 50 —  just as he was launching a comeback – not to mention the very public global mourning that ensued — confirms that in the world’s eyes he WAS truly revered as a king, a sort of internationally claimed musical royal who also worked in his own way, for global peace and harmony…

In many way ways, the mysterious death itself — which seems to have probably been related to misuse of prescription drugs — and the worldwide attention to it, is somewhat reminiscent of the untimely death of another musical king, Elvis Presley.  But that is a story for another day.

Given the parallels, it’s no wonder the televised coverage of the very unique Michael Jackson funeral was the second most-watched memorial service ever measured, ranking up there with former US Presidents,  European royalty and popes.

Apparently the US televised audience for his service was slightly more than 31 million viewers, according to the Neilsen Ratings Service. And millions of additional mourners watched online and overseas.

Believe it or not, the US television audience for Jackson’s service was:

  • Second only to Princess Diana‘s funeral, which drew an estimated 33.25 million viewers spread across eight networks – way back on Sept. 6, 1997. (Yep, as a Boomer you probably remember watching, right?)
  • Larger than former President Ronald Reagan’s mid-day funeral service broadcast, which drew 20.8 million people in June 2004
  • Not quite as large as the audience for a prime-time program on Reagan’s burial that same evening, which drew an estimated 35.07 million viewers
  • Significantly larger than the 8.8 million people who are estimated to have watched Pope John Paul II’s televised funeral in 2005

Those who know these things say that given the steep increase in Internet viewing each year, if all forms of viewing were tallied, it’s likely that overall, more U.S. citizens watched Jackson’s memorial than watched coverage of the funeral events for President Reagan or Princess Diana. Which is pretty astounding when you think about it…

Of Course, Death Was in the News, As Michael Jackson Was Not the Only Celebrity to Die Recently

We’ve also recently mourned the unfortunate death of several other celebrity Boomers – including Farrah Fawcett and Billy Mays. Not to mention several high profile people who aren’t technically Boomers, but who meant something to Boomers. Among them:

  • Ed McMahon
  • David Carradine
  • Karl Malden
  • Heath Ledger
  • Steve McNair

As a result of these recent newsworthy deaths, there’s a good chance the concept of death and its aftermath has recently made it to the forefront of your brain. Perhaps you’ve even begun to think a little bit about your desired end game.

That is, your funeral and what you want to have happen – how you want to be remembered – after you die…

Have You Already Formulated Your Own Personal Funeral Plans?

Even if you’re not a much-videotaped superstar, the format for funerals is not so cut and dried anymore… These days, Baby Boomers are into creating memorable memorial services, that not only celebrate the life you or your loved ones have lived, but offer mourners a memorable funeral experience, while often setting in place the opportunity to leave a legacy.

Beyond that, though not necessarily related to it, there’s a growing concern for finding opportunities to save money on funeral expenses. And a trend toward greener, more ecologically minded memorial services and activities.

This Is Actually a Global Trend

It’s not just Boomers in the US who are looking for a more meaningful funeral experience. According to a recent study by Australia’s National Funeral Directors Association:

  • Only 13%  of adults surveyed report a desire for a very traditional funeral service
  • Of those who report a desire for a funeral service of some type, 68% report that they’d like to personalize the event
  • Nearly 75% say they would prefer to prearrange their own service

While in the United Kingdom:

  • The “green movement” has lead to rapid growth in the number of natural burial sites. In 1993, there was only one ground, now there are more than 220 sites operating, with more planned to open in the future.
  • In 1993 only a handful of crematoria and cemeteries would accept cardboard coffins, but now almost every crematorium accepts them.
  • Cardboard coffins? Yep, there are even “green” coffins made of recycled newspapers…

Why Shouldn’t Baby Boomers — And Not Just Boomer Celebrities — Be the Ones to Change Funeral Traditions? After All, As a Baby Boomer You Have Been Bucking Tradition Your Whole Life:

  • It started with rewriting educational experiences, due to overcrowding in grade schools
  • Moved on as you passed through life’s milestones:  revising wedding vows, birthing ceremonies, retirement expectations
  • Once you and other Boomers became accustomed to working with financial advisers, travel consultants, business coaches, personal shoppers and personal trainers, it only seems logical to employ an events planner to orchestrate your perfect funeral service, right?
  • Obviously, challenging the culture of death just HAS to be a “Boomer Thing”

Which Means That While You Might Not Want to Host a Clone to the “Michael Jackson Funeral,” Who Says Your Own Funeral Service Has to Be Generic, Somber, Grave, or Humorless?

After all, isn’t the purpose of the event to remember a life well-lived? And help those left behind begin the healing process?

Certainly we saw this with Michael Jackson’s memorial program at the Staples Center.

After all, this event brought together not only his family, but also a magnificent cadre of musicians, politicians, sports figures, movie stars – not to mention the lucky lottery winners who represented his fan-dom. In the process we learned a lot about Jackson’s impact on those who knew him. Just to recap and give you some ideas, remember that

In the eulogy portion of Jackson’s service we heard:

  • Singer and actress Queen Latifah deliver a very personal eulogy before reading a poem Angelou wrote for Jackson titled “We Had Him.”
  • “Magic” Johnson tell a funny story about  sharing Kentucky Fried Chicken with Jackson while sitting on the floor
  • Brooke Shields remember Jackson’s love of laughter as she fought back tears and told of his favorite song: Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”
  • Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speak on behalf of the United States Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus. She makes the point of Jackson’s  innocence in legal matters, and talks about how he called the world into public service with his music.
  • Motown Records founder Berry Gordy share stories of softball games between the Gordy and Jackson families and explain why Jackson’s nickname, “King of Pop,” didn’t do him justice
  • Civil rights activists Bernice King and Martin Luther King III tell tales of Jackson’s humanitarianism, saying he epitomized the words of their father.
  • Rev. Al Sharpton recall that “In the music world, he put on one glove, pulled his pants up and brought down the color curtain.”
  • Daughter Paris, 11, humanize the event and bring tears to everyone as she choked back her own sobs to lament that  “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much.”

Of course, you also recall that the musical portion of the event was  as star-studded and magnificent as if you were attending a concert event.

Among the highlights:

  • Stevie Wonder sang his song, “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer,” originally written for his wife
  • A very pregnant Jennifer Hudson soulfully delivered Jackson’s own “Will You Be There”
  • Usher broke into tears after singing Jackson’s “Gone Too Soon”
  • Brother Jermaine delivered a balletic falsetto of a song Michael loved, the previously mentioned “Smile”
  • An emotional Mariah Carey covered the famous The Jackson 5 hit, “I’ll Be There” along with Trey Lorenz
  • And who could forget the “We Are the World” production number, which seemed to include everyone who’d taken the stage

So Like It Or Not, Given Your Top of Mind Awareness, Now’s A Good Time For You to Think About YOUR Funeral:

You’ve got the very public Michael Jackson funeral event fresh in your mind. And you know what you liked and didn’t like about it.

So why not consider taking a page from his memorial service and making plans to turn your funeral or memorial service from an occasion of loss into an opportunity to celebrate your life, a celebration that supports the healing and growth of those who are going to be burdened by your loss?

You wouldn’t be the first to do this…

The Last Decade Has Seen Funerals Become as Personalized as Weddings

And in Fact, Many Are Now Orchestrated by Party Planners. For Example, Here Are a Handful Of Other Recent Funeral Services That Also Epitomize Boomer Creativity:

  • Robert Tisch, who ran the Loews Corporation, had a marching band at his memorial service and a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall
  • Guests at the reception after Estée Lauder’s funeral were treated to chocolate-covered marshmallows served by waiters bearing silver trays
  • Socialite Nan Kempner – who was perhaps best known for her charitable activities, having raised  $75,000,000 (USD) for the Memorical Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center – planned for her memorial to be held at Christie’s auction house. She also arranged for each of her 500 guests to receive a CD of Mozart’s Requiem. (She’d originally wanted her guests to enjoy  a live performance of the Requiem, but the logistics — full orchestra, chorus and soloists — were apparently more than could be arranged in a timely manner.)
  • Sarah, a client of Britain’s Fantastic Funeral Company wanted her life to celebrated with the same enthusiasm with which she had lived. She began by requesting that her funeral guests dress as if for a wedding. Her service ended with guests dancing and singing along with Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky. Following that, they were treated to a meal at her favorite hotel, which ended with her guests toasting her memory with cake and champagne.
  • Ian Turnbull wants his family and friends to toast him with beer. The dying brewer has created what he calls a “dangerously strong” beer he’s dubbed Brewer’s Swansong, to be served at his funeral. The toffee apple flavored beer will be served in souvenir bottles whose labels declare that it is “a beer to die for.” According to Turnbull, “It is the last beer I will brew.” He plans that all attending his funeral will get a bottle ” of the brew which is currently being matured in a whiskey cask, ready to be bottled and served “when I am toasted in whatever crematorium I am treated to.” Turnball, who has pancreatic cancer, also plans that his brew will help raise funds for cancer research.
  • And then there’s one of my favorite unique funerals: Harry Ewell’s 2003 funeral in Rockland, Massachusetts. Harry was known for the fact that he had driven an ice cream truck for many years. At his funeral, his ice cream truck led the procession to the burial site, and mourners were treated to popsicles at graveside. (That’s his truck in the photo above.)

Personally, I suspect many Baby Boomers want a unique funeral and memorial service because they identify with the sentiment expressed in the lines below, which have been posted online in dozens of places over the past few years, though no one seems to know who originally said it:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, But rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, WOW!!!! What a ride!”

You may, of course,  prefer the alternate versions which incorporate chocolate, champagne or other consumable goodies… But the point is, most Boomers, if asked, will express an intent to live life to the fullest, or as some poet put it, to “suck the marrow from life,” before succumbing to the inevitable. (As in death, not taxes…)

Regardless, If You’ve Celebrated Your Life As You Like It, It Would Be a Shame Not to Celebrate Death With an Equal Measure of Brio and Panache, Don’t You Agree?

So what can you do to help assure that your funeral is exactly what you’d like it to be? Or that you can provide these same assurances of a personalized service for a loved one?

Your celebratory  solution can be a much more simple one, as long as it’s meaningful for you and your loved ones.

Think about it. What can you arrange in advance that will make your service unique?

  • Michael Jackson’s brothers wore his signature sequined glove on their right hand, and sported bright yellow ties, for remembrance
  • Billy Mays’ pallbearers dressed in blue work shirts and khaki slacks, the “pitchman uniform” we always saw Mays wearing
  • Harry Ewell incorporated his ice cream truck
  • Ian Turnbull has his special beer with the unique keepsake bottles

No, it’s not morbid to think this way:

  • By planning ahead you’re making things easier for your loved ones. It is very reassuring for family and friends to have the knowledge that they are carrying out your wishes exactly.
  • After all, there are a lot of decisions that have to be made. And generally very little time in which to make them. If you’ve ever had to plan a funeral for a loved one, you already know how hard this can be.
  • Besides, there’s so much emotion related to the time of death.  You want your family to be able to grieve without having to worry about what songs you’d like played at the service, or whether you really meant it when you said you were going to donate your body to science…
  • Beyond that, planning your funeral in advance means that you will be assured of having the service you’d like to have…
  • And admit it: Haven’t you attended funerals where you came home wondering “What were her children thinking? I’m sure my friend would never have wanted a service like THAT…”

In closing, think about this: You certainly recall those memorable death-defying lyrics from the musical, “Fame.” In fact, you can probably belt out the lyrics yourself whenever you hear the tune, right? After all, that anthem ended so memorably:

“I’m gonna live forever Baby, remember my name Remember, remember, remember, remember, Remember, remember, remember, remember.”

So what are your “Grave Expectations?” How do you want to be remembered?