I should know better than to put faith in signs and portents, but for some reason the year 1965 seems to have been getting in my face lately.
I find it odd, and amusing, and somewhat annoying, to know that for many of you, 1965 might as well be 1945 or 1865 – it was before your time. It was history.
But I was there. Fifty years ago this year. I was there when that song I posted last week – A Lover’s Concerto – was released (I don’t mean I was in Motown, but I was on the planet). Men wore suits with narrow lapels, and thin ties. Women still wore hats to church. All but the most moral and health-conscious people smoked. Teenaged boys wore their hair greased back in ducktails. Cars had chrome.
And then there was my confirmation. I was confirmed on June 20, 1965. I was reminded of this while attending the confirmation of a friend’s daughter this past weekend. It suddenly struck me – my own confirmation was fifty years ago this summer.
No one ever forgets their confirmation, I think, even if they become atheists or Muslims or join the Green Party. But mine was particularly memorable. And not in a good way.
As you probably could guess, I took my confirmation seriously. It’s an important rite of passage among Lutheran pietists, and I was an annoyingly earnest young example of that subspecies. I looked forward to my confirmation, and (of course) worried that I’d mess up the recitation of my communion verse (do I remember it now? I’m sure I still know it by heart, but I’ve forgotten which among the many verses I have by heart it was).
Anyway, we were all very busy on Saturday, June 19, the day before the ceremony. We’d be hosting a large number of guests the next day, so a thorough housecleaning was in order, which meant tension and a fair amount of yelling (at least). If I remember correctly, my folks bought a whole new dining room set for the occasion.
And then a phone call came. My grandmother had fallen down and was unconscious. She’d had been taken by ambulance to the hospital in Faribault. My folks left, and my brothers and I sat together on the couch, watching television shows that suddenly seemed uninteresting (I think I remember Sherri Lewis, but that may be confused with another occasion). Finally the phone rang. Was it Mom or Dad? I don’t remember. Our grandmother, Sophie Swelland Walker, was dead.
She was the kindest, sweetest, most purely Christian woman I ever knew. She had lost her husband young, and lived for her grandchildren. She was gentle and patient. She was a wonderful cook. I’m not sure anyone has loved me as much in the fifty years that have passed since she died.
The confirmation service the next day had a poignancy that I’ve never forgotten. It may never have passed, in fact. I may still be living in it. When I affirmed my Christian faith, I was very, very serious. I wanted to have my grandmother’s faith. I wanted to be like her. Forever.
She had taken pains to pick out a confirmation Bible for me. RSV, in black leather, with my name stamped in gold on the cover. Two of my aunts put it in my hands. I still have it.
How can it be fifty years ago?
Correction: Wait, it’s 2016, isn’t it? 51 years. Being bad at math is another thing that takes me back to 1965.