The Way We Were

The Way We Were


Sitting here on a bright November morning, I just finished up an article on how music can bring up old emotions.  Boy, do I ever agree!  Musical memories have such power.  In fact, I have an LP (yes, on a turntable) of The Beatles playing as I write this. The strains of “From Me to You” are taking me right back to sixth grade.  It feels as though I was actually there:

“If there’s anything that you want
If there’s anything I can do
Just call on me and I’ll send it along
With love from me to you.”

—The Beatles

The Way We Were | Transported by Musical Memories | ACT2John and Paul’s sweet harmonies transport me back to those tween years of Twiggy, micro miniskirts, Carnaby Street and the “London Look” (whatever that was, didn’t matter, we wanted to have it). I recall plastic disposable dresses, black light posters, and fishnet stockings held up with garter belts. Anyone recollect those? I vividly remember painting individual lashes under my eyes (again, a la Twiggy) and her freckles on my nose with eyeliner. And raise your hand if you set your hair on orange juice cans overnight.

I rolled up my skirt waistband at the bus stop, away from my mom’s disapproving eyes, to acceptable micro length, then waddled throughout my school day, hoping it wouldn’t slip, revealing me as a younger, “uncool” kid just pretending to catch up to the high schoolers. The guys had wildly striped shirts and even striped pants in bright colors along with huge belt buckles. If they wore shoes at all, they usually had some sort of sandals.

It seemed I never did catch up to those mysterious 60s teens with their strands of beads, incense and their songs about getting on the train to Marrakesh. Where Marrakesh was or why I’d want to go, I never figured out. But I kept on trying during my Wonder Years. Golfball-sized earrings, Vidal Sassoon haircuts, and geometric patterned shirts, “slicker” lip polish….I never quite was cool enough or old enough. Woodstock was utterly out of the question of course. For a 12-year-old Connecticut girl, it was Not To Be Thought Of.  The End.

Then came the 1970s.

The Way We Were | Transported by Musical Memories | ACT2Oh, I was old enough then and loved every bit of it. Granted, I did zero drugs, zero alcohol (I’m still a rather boring soul) but I had the fashion down.

The much loved patched jeans that ripped every single day were washed and repatched every single night. The more patches, the better. I wore “buffalo” sandals, the kind that you wet in the bathtub and walked in wet to fit to your foot. So did the boys. I got my ears pierced after massive family fights. “Only gypsies do that!” (My grandma had pierced ears so this argument didn’t hold up.) I had to have it be my birthday gift and I paid for it myself with babysitting money. But I got them done eventually (oddly, this still thrills me), thus ensuring my alliance with the “Cool.”

Many of the boys had one ear done, the right side. They wore hoops or studs. My long straight hair was, of course, parted down the middle. The Dudes all had shoulder length hair. Buzz cuts were a total turn off. Hair HAD to be long and beards were very hot then. Skirts were still mini, but no longer micro. We topped our jeans with gauzy Indian print tops festooned with mirrors and embroidery.

We used QT (Quick Tan) tanning lotion or tanned, using LP covers and tin foil, along with baby oil and iodine. No one knew back then that we were basically just basting ourselves. We had Sweet Earth and Love’s Baby Soft for perfume. The guys began to branch out into Aramis and away from Old Spice. I’m nostalgic right now for the scent of Herbal Essence shampoo. I know there was a disco craze of course but I held my hands over my ears and said “lalalalalala” to it.

I pretended it wasn’t happening. I did finally “Farrah Fawcett” feather my bangs, but I preferred my gentle, hippiesque lifestyle to the loud and raucous clubs. My best friend, Jackie, had Lucite platform shoes with glittery hollow heels. One filled these with water and was supposed to put goldfish into them! When I wept and protested, she did not, thankfully.

I still love my sweet 70s music and it sweeps me back at “warp speed” to that gentler, kinder time when Seals and Crofts, John Denver and Bread accompanied my life.  My musical memories are so vivid, I can almost smell my Sweet Earth solid fragrance compact now.

“Sweet days of summer,The Way We Were | Transported by Musical Memories | ACT2
the jasmine’s in bloom.
July is dressed up
and playing her tune.
Summer breeze
makes me feel fine
blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”

—Seals and Crofts

Along came the 80s…

I did partake of this decade’s fashions, having regretfully and reverently laid my jeans to rest until the time they would be reborn again. I had to believe this. It was too painful to throw them out.

The Way We Were | Transported by Musical Memories | ACT2And such fashions in the 80s! We permed our hair to wild heights, shellacked it with spray. We wore shoulder pads, door knocker earrings and red lipstick.

We matched our heels to our sweaters with stirrup stretch pants. Dresses became calf length and some of these resembled Grandma’s couch cushion prints. The doilies of little collars didn’t help with that effect.

A la Miami Vice, we all rolled our sleeves up, guys and gals. And I confess that I still do, as petites look good that way. It helps to define proportion. We played Men at Work and Boz Scaggs on our Sony Walkman’s as we walked to work in our Working Girl sneakers. The men featured parachute pants and ice cream colored pastel suits or Members Only jackets. Mullets were big.

I wish I were kidding. I’m not. It looked good at the time.

And Billy Joel! Always, Billy Joel. His An Innocent Man album punctuated my wedding and courtship. My husband and I can hear “This Night” and we are instantly on romantic red alert. “Must…find…dance…. floor…for…slow…dance.”

It’s just how it is.

This night
You’re mine
It’s only you and I
I’ll tell you
to forget yesterday
This night, we are together.”

—Billy Joel

Then in 1989 I had my daughter and it was a miracle if I was dressed at all, without wearing spit up. While I know I had clothes on (debatable, some days), what they were, well, I am at a loss to say.

The Way We Were | Transported by Musical Memories | ACT2But let me hear any Beatles, John Denver or Billy Joel and I am whisked back to those lost, lovely days and I smell the lilacs in bloom the evening of my junior prom.

If I strain to listen, I swear I can hear, very faintly, some Seals and Crofts:

“Summer breeze
makes me feel fine
blowing through the jasmine in my mind.”



By Anne Ambuhl

Anne Ambuhl writes frequently for ACT TWO. For more of her Eye of the Beholder blog, click here.

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