Motown Memories

yearsI am an introspective sort of old guy.  Being old … seventy-two, to be specific … is an advantage for an introspective man, providing lots of life to introspect (no, it’s not a word … consider it senior literary license).   I am also a lucky man.   As I move inexorably into my seventies, I am, as they say, comfortable in my own skin.   No, I am not quite perfect … defects of character and irrational prejudices still haunt me … but for the most part, I manage not to act on them.   Mistakes?  Yes, Frank Sinatra, I’ve made a few but I’ve tried to learn from each of them and I think I am a better person for the effort.  Pardon me if I pat my own back and say I have an examined life, which, according to Socrates, makes life worth living.   These days, I find myself looking back over the years not in judgement but in curiosity, trying to understand what made me turn out as I am.  So let me ask you this.  Have you ever asked yourself, What was was the most significant year in determining who you are?

Recently, I purchased a two album set, Motown NUMBERONES, 48 songs from the peak ofNUMBERONES the Motown years. I’ve been listening to it in my car (turned up to window shaking volume) or on my earbuds as a walk (loud, even though my Galaxy smartphone warns me that Listening a Higher Volume Can Cause Hearing Loss).   Music always brings back memories but I find the these Motown Hits touching me more than I’d expect since they are, after all, mostly simple pop stories of love and heartbreak (and I’m a serious guy).   It would be some years before songs like Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On would bring the more serious side of life in the sixties to Motown.

Still, the music draws me back to my senior year at the University of Connecticut, which began in September of 1965.   The Civil Rights marches of Selma were recent history.  In the second semester of my Junior year, I’d joined the first inter-racial fraternity on the campus, Beta Sigma Gamma, and in my Senior Year I was elected president.   Although other fraternities had begun accepting minorities since Beta Sig was founded, it was not uncommon to hear us referred to as Beta Jig on campus.  I returned to school that year to stories by my African American fraternity brothers of being harassed while driving through the south by police because they were wearing ROTC officers uniforms.  Brothers can’t be officers, you see.   Martin Luther King’s passive resistance was driving the civil rights movement, but leaders like Malcolm X were espousing a more drastic approach.  During the school year I would be part of late night bull sessions, often as the only white guy in the room, about whether Malcolm X was good for the movement.   I would learn that year that even in a fraternity born to oppose prejudice, there were white fraternity brothers who were quite prejudiced behind close doors.   As president of the fraternity, I would learn that friends could quickly turn on you once you became what they saw as an authority figure.   Those experiences changed me and made me liberal on social issues for my whole life, even when I became more conservative on fiscal issues and defense.

I’d met a pretty young Jewish girl my Junior year.  I was Catholic.  Parents didn’t approve, particularly once it became clear we were getting serious.  The Supremes’ My World is Empty Without You was background music for break ups with my now-wife, Muri, and the Four Tops Reach Out (I’ll Be There) was an anthem for getting back together.

We struggled to balance respecting our parents wishes with doing what we felt was right for us.   The experience would serve us well … here we are, 50 years later, still balancing doing what’spinned best for us with the wishes of those we love.   In 2006, when my daughter was marrying into another religion, the experience helped me to be more accepting.  In the spring of 1966, with the Temptations’ My Girl playing on the PA system at our Spring Weekend picnic, Muri took my fraternity pin.  Although it would be over a year before we were engaged, that was the day I knew we’d be together.  It was my Best Day in the midst of what may have been my most significant year.  And it had a great soundtrack, courtesy of Motown.

What year stands out in your life?

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3 Comments on “Motown Memories”

  1. I don’t think I’ve reached a point that really defines me but the closest things that happened to me that could perhaps be that moment in time, I think probably began the day my oldest grandchild was born. My younger daughter and I got the phone call around 7 a.m. on August 19th, 1997 and learned that my grandson, Alexander William, all 8 pounds, 11 ounces and 23 inches of him had arrived, about 45 minutes earlier. I was getting ready to go to work and before I left the house, I called the office to tell my supervisor I was going to be late as I would be stopping by the hospital near the campus to meet someone very important to me. She knew this baby was due any day then so she was expecting the possibility of my taking a bit of time away from work then. I got to the hospital shortly before 9 a.m. and spent the next 3-4 hours in my daughter’s room, staring at this beautiful creature laying there in a hospital-type bassinet in pure wonder at how beautiful this baby was! Yes, of course, I took a few turns too at holding him, sharing him with his paternal grandparents and his paternal great-grandfather too and all of us were marveling over this child we shared now! A few years later when my granddaughter and second grandson came along, that joy returned to me again. But it was the cumulation of the love in my heart for these three grandchildren and then, came the added knowledge that both of the two younger grandkids were autistic, that had the biggest change on me. It was through watching those two grow and dealing with the early issues of the autism that changed me and many of my ways about raising children. I found myself suddenly having developed a whole lot more patience that was definitely needed to help those two little ones grow into being children that could -occasionally -behave like semi-civilized beings. As my son often told my step-granddaughter then about me that “This is not the same person who raised me!” And that was true as things that never would have flown with my own kids as they were toddler and small children, I now frequently let them slide or laughed a lot of their activities off which was often things my own kids would have taken severe reprimanding most likely had they ever done some of the stunts these two little ones often did! It made me a much better -and stronger -person as I learned to add more and more patience daily because of them! And they learned the value over the years they’ve been with me too that a bit of patience can take a person a longer way!

  2. Thought that you would like to know that there’s a documentary that examines Detroit from a positive perspective, called “The Great Detroit, It was-It is-It will be”. It includes a segment on the history of Motown. Available on amazon.

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