So it’s been 50 years …
Yeah, I just rechecked the dates and did the math — and yes, I can still do it in my head — and sure enough, a half century has slipped by.
A half-century. God, that sounds like a long time. Enough time to make something, well, to make something history.
Oof! That hurts. To have part of my life slip over from current events right into the history book — even the last few pages of the history book — takes a bit of adjustment. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to become an artifact.
But when PBS turns an event into an American Experience episode, it’s officially history, and if I was around for it, well…
So Woodstock is history. Looming large in the company of things like the moon landing, world wars and the decline and fall of Rome. Funny thing though, it didn’t feel like that when it happened.
At least not where I was living.
By late summer of 1969 in Caledonia, Minnesota, probably the biggest thing on my mind was knowing that in less than a year I would be done with high school and on my way to doing things I certainly hoped would be more exciting than small-town Houston County had to offer.
I’d sat up most of the night watching Armstrong and Aldrin bounce around on the moon, then sat and stared in wonder at the grainy black and white transmission of the flag and spaceship for a couple of hours more.
But I knew then that I wasn’t moon-bound anytime soon. The most exciting summer destination I could realistically hope for was a trip to the state fair just before it was time to head back for another year of school lunch and phy-ed.
As for Woodstock, there was no poster in the Ben Franklin front window and the promoters hadn’t taken out an ad in the Argus, so until Walter Cronkite started talking about all the hippies converging on some farmer’s field in upstate New York we knew nothing about it until it was way too late to go.
Not that there was much of a chance that any of us would have made the trip anyway.
Nobody’s parents would have let them borrow the family car for such a trip and any of the cars my buddies owned might be trusted to make it to La Crosse or Houston, but not a whole lot farther.
Still, what we were seeing on the 5:30 news sure did look like a good time — lots of naked people playing in the mud while the bands we bugged Lindy Shannon to play on the radio took the stage, one after another.
Nobody on the network news used the words “sex, drugs and rock and roll” but that’s what we were seeing, and from a small town in southeast Minnesota it looked like a lot more fun than getting up to blanch sweet corn for Gengler’s Sno-Pak Foods.
But Caledonia was a long way from Woodstock in just about every way a boy could imagine.
While the hippie throng shuffled toward home, I showed up at the summer job I was lucky to have, did what was expected of me, and went home to have supper with Mom, Dad and the family.
There was rock and roll on the radio while I hung out at the Tastee-Freeze and fantasized about sex with the carhop I’d be sitting behind in algebra class in just a precious few days. The only place in town I knew of to get drugs was at Renner’s or Rice’s store, and you needed a note from Doc Posten before they’d sell anything stronger than Bayer or a box of Smith Brothers’ cough drops.
That was the summer of ‘69. I never did get to Woodstock.
And the rest is history.