Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Author’s Note

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p. ix

Memory is a slippery creature. The least thing happens, and it shifts. You and I may experience the same thing, but we will remember differently, and in the art of telling, memory shifts yet again. And then there’s all that stuff about the brain making copies of a memory, and none of the copies...

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Prologue: The Sixties

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pp. 1-2

Our family, that straightforward, plainspoken, clean-faced (for the most part) farm family, lived on the eve of great change, the brink of a national upheaval, the cusp of free love. We had no idea. I had no idea. We lived near a small town in the heart of the Great Lakes, a town named...

Part I: 4-H

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Decent Clothes, 1959

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pp. 5-10

The first lesson is the dish towel.
Or an apron.
These are beginning sewing lessons in 4-H, regular as a linen rectangle 15 inches by 30 inches, traditional as a yard of gingham check or a plain waistband. If the ties that loop like long roads...

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The Kiss, the Singer

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pp. 11-15

At night I hear my parents. The insomnia that will plague me as an adult, that I inherit straight from my mother, from the long line of women for whom the night is not simple, is already beginning to open the darkness for me...

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The Club, 1959

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pp. 16-20

The first 4-H meeting is held at St. Joseph’s Hall, our parish church hall. The high fluorescents pour gray light over a noisy bunch of kids sitting on folding chairs. I sit in the front row, a bit away from my cousins so my mother can keep an eye on me, so I am still lonely...

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Dish Towel, 1960

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pp. 21-26

Not yellow. Plain cream-colored cotton (off-white, she says) with tiny lines of green that go both ways, up and down and side to side, to shape oneinch squares so it is easy to know where to cut. Just follow the lines. There is no pattern—just count the squares, one inch to a square...

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Mess

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pp. 27-29

This is about me making a mess. This is about me making a mess without even trying. This about the mess that I think is my mother being a 4-H group leader. This is about me making a mess, something more than the usual messes...

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Skirt, 1961

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pp. 30-36

As if some border is crossed that I could not see, I am ready. And as if all things are coordinated, the club is ready for me. This club, 4-H, is nothing if not sequential. The large group meetings open with the Pledge of Allegiance and then the 4-H pledge...

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Jackie, February 1962

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pp. 37-40

We don’t like the president of the United States, but we like his wife. She likes antiques and old things. My mother gives over her political grudges, the hard-nosed conservatism that runs through farm families in old bloodlines, to take notes on old dishware and lamps...

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Achievement Day, 1962

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pp. 41-45

So I blame it all on Jackie Kennedy.
My sailor outfit is a two-piece of navy blue linen: a sporty top and a slightly flared skirt that makes me look older than my twelve years. Smart. Perky. At Gambles my mother finds white anchor appliqués that...

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The Hem, 1962

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pp. 46-51

My father doesn’t want John F. Kennedy as president, even though he is Catholic and so are we. Even after he is elected, Dad worries about the communists, who are mostly Russians but also Chinese, who are a different kind of communist...

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Resusci Annie

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pp. 52-59

“And if you do a demonstration, you might win an award. You may be able to attend the State Achievement Day in Lansing.” Demonstrations? At the monthly meeting, the county extension agent, Andrea, tells us the new thing in 4-H is demonstrations. She stands at the front...

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Jams, 1963

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pp. 60-77

What, for heaven’s sake, will impress the jam judges? What will make my plain pint jars with their scarlet, cherry, and blue-black berries stand out from dozens of other jars of jams and jellies from all over Oceana County? What will earn a blue ribbon at the county fair...

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Decision, 1963

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pp. 78-84

I have never before made a decision like this—if I’ve ever really made one at all. The 4-H club has become a part of my life, my way of thinking, but the decisions associated with it are about appearance and the domestic arts. Despite all my mother’s personal attentions, it hasn’t quite...

Part II: Sex

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Going Public, 1966

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pp. 87-92

The yellow school bus, gears grinding and windows already slid to the grimy halfway point, roared down the hill from the west, stopped, ill-tempered and impatient, September dust roiling like a smoky cloud of dragon’s breath at the sand-burred and burdocked corner, and loaded all five of us Oomens...

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The Click

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pp. 93-95

That first year, Lydia took in me and my striped dresses. At her cafeteria table, I found a place to sit. I practiced flirting with her brother, Ted, a junior almost ready to earn his driver’s license. I went to my first party, a side-yard picnic at their house. I danced beside a fire pit and...

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Unkissed

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pp. 96-105

Darkness rushed into the October evening as overhead lights flickered on their brilliant eggs of light, and there in a field of dark grass, boys dressed in new red-and-white uniforms lined up, clenched with an intensity we could feel all the way to the bleachers...

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A Prince

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pp. 106-115

If I couldn’t achieve belonging with a boy, could I break in with style? Create a look? Like in 4-H but not a 4-H look? If I couldn’t have the kiss, could I have the look? Of course, I got the style thing mostly wrong. My tendency toward bright colors without a sense...

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Dance

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pp. 116-122

In a small town, a high school dance had strict rituals developed over decades that still held well into the sixties. For boys, once the terror of asking a girl was over, their preparation was getting into pressed trousers, a decent shirt and tie, and sport coat...

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Yellow, 1967

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pp. 123-128

Earl asked me to every dance that year, ignorant of my messed-up spirit. I accepted; what could I say? I could manage my own feelings about as well as a two-year-old. I wasn’t unaware of his parallel to the prince in Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or...

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Someone Has a Car, 1967

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pp. 129-137

I was cranky, moody, smart-mouthed, reclusive. Cranky. My body itched, and I was so resistant to farmwork that my mother, justifiably fed up, did the sensible thing: she gave up. She said, “Go apply at the Drift Inn. ” Work, yes, always work, but somewhere else. Maybe that would...

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Exploration Days, 1967

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pp. 138-146

After the summer rush, I came home to the farm as tense and alert as a strange new species. My running all those country roads had not quelled but fed the itch in my body, which now ran so deep that it was impossible unless I was moving, heading out, away from or toward...

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Junior, 1967

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pp. 147-153

My ninth year in 4-H.
My second year in public high school—after the convent, that is.
My first year driving.
The riots in Detroit and Milwaukee had left a residue of uncertainty that even Walter Cronkite, that intrepid newscaster...

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Catechism

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pp. 154-158

The airwaves launched my first cultural criticism: every sound from the strangely nostalgic “Penny Lane” to the whimsical “Incense and Peppermints.” Bob Dylan had rocked the world by turning to rock. And then came “Light My Fire.” When it hit the charts, we followed...

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Store-bought, 1968

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pp. 159-163

Tet Offensive.
Photo of a man shooting a Vietcong.
Highest casualties in Vietnam.
Sweatheart’s Ball.
I was the class representative...

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Lent, 1968

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pp. 164-170

Nels was someone who followed politics, someone who saw the bigger picture. In social studies we argued about the line “We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” allegedly said by an army officer about the destruction of Ben Tre, a city in Vietnam...

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Denouement

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pp. 171-176

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated that April. Most of us knew very little about him. We knew he was the man who preached nonviolence, who led the peaceful civil rights marches but had been present when they turned violent—controversy there. We didn’t know much...

Part III: Love

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86 Days, 1968

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pp. 179-185

By then, we had watched so many national tragedies that we weren’t sure what tragedy was. In August of 1968, the Democratic convention in Chicago exploded into yet another riot. Chicago became tainted territory, as marred by violence as Detroit had been. Women’s Lib evolved into...

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Chicago, November 1968

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pp. 186-190

The art room was still the art room. The rug was still the rug. Was this life—moments of being so high you could fly and then falling back into drudgery? And now I had a debt. I wasn’t allowed any more pity nor could I be morose or even plain grumpy. Everyone who had...

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Novena

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pp. 191-195

We believed in our right to a white Christmas. In the North, Christmas for good Catholics like our family, and even for some Methodists, must be marked by snow. It was not simply a hoped-for thing. This white blanket of cold made Christmas Christmas. It was required...

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Learning to Curse, 1969

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pp. 196-205

That winter of 1969 was about a Ford Galaxie 500. White, four-door, red seats. Used but unrusted, unscratched, clean as a new soul, and not a glint of trouble except the gas. That big engine, a guzzler. But gosh, white. Farmers never buy white. And when it...

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Psychedelic, 1969

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pp. 206-210

Grounded for damages to the car, grounded for being irresponsible, grounded until I grew up. Grounded in my heart, too. Nels remained in that misbegotten college in the far north, oddly unsympathetic when I told him in a long and tearful phone call...

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Achievement Day, 1969

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pp. 211-214

I haven’t heard from Grand Valley yet, but my ally, Gwen, is home, unpacked and settling back in by helping Mrs. Carlson in the home ec room. We are catching up in the art room, moping over the peanut butter sandwiches, surrounded by newly hung...

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The Moon

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pp. 215-218

It was about to happen.
Nels and I curled together under a coarse blanket on the floor of Gwen’s living room. She and Flip were somewhere else in the house. The low sound of the TV fogged through our kisses...

Acknowledgments

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pp. 219-220