“Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,” the main refrain from the Broadway play and movie Rent begins and continues over and over Seasons of Love.m4p. Defining life by your loves sounds like a good idea. Given that we’re a week away from the official start of spring, and that this time of year is a literal season of love, including marriages and procreation, it started me to think. By all of my calculations, the next few days mark forty years since my father and mother conceived me, in their season of love, in the Age of Aquarius.
I wonder, what life must’ve been like for them back then. It was the spring of ’69, and Nixon had only been in office for as long as Obama’s been so far. We were only four months away from the Moon landing. We were only a few months removed from the assassinations of King and RFK, and only two months removed from the end of LBJ’s time in the White House. We were only two months into a cultural backlash that would lead to an age of neoconservatism. Say what you will about the Sixties, at least this protest-laden period. Against Vietnam, imperialist pigs, the military industrial complex, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and socioeconomic inequalities. The fact was, ’68 was the height of liberal consciousness, and ’69 was the slow but steady move to the right for most in the US.
Being a twenty-one-year-old woman only two and a half years removed from living in Bradley, Arkansas and living in the greater New York City area must’ve been a Sinatra-style “kick in the head.” Or being a twenty-eight-year-old Black man working as a janitor for the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan after growing up in rural south-central Georgia must’ve been a daily head-swirler. These unlikely New Yorkers/Mount Vernonites were my soon-to-be-parents back in March ’69. They already had a kid, named Darren. For those of you who are Bewitched fans (you know, Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York/Dick Sargent), yes, my older brother was named after the main male character. Born in December ’67, Darren was still a mere toddler when I was conceived. My mother was just twenty years and six weeks old when she gave birth for the first time. As my mother has said many times over the years, “I wasn’t no teenager when Darren was born.” To which I’ve said, “So what?”
My mother and father met because both needed respite from the daily grind of being in a strange and unaccepting world. They were both treated as country bumpkins, as people who couldn’t handle New York’s hustle and bustle. They talked too slow, didn’t have the “warder” or “warda” for “water” accent, and didn’t dress like African Americans in New York either. They found some comfort in Mount Vernon’s South Side, where many a Black from the South moved to get away from the Bronx or Brooklyn in the ’50 or ’60. Of course, there was still the elitism of a more established Black Mount Vernon community, of folks who looked and sounded like they were from New York.
My mother and father met at a juke-joint — what we would call a hole-in-the-wall club now. There, they hung out with other Blacks who recently migrated from North and South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi and other places further south than Washington, DC. They had mutual friends, folks a bit older than them. Matter of fact, folks around my age now in some cases. The Johnsons, the Farmers, folks with “names” like Lo, Ida Mae, Callie Mae, and so on. It made them feel more at home, made them see Mount Vernon’s South Side as an island in a sea of chaotic urban living. They met and became involved. I guess having shyness and awkwardness in common helped them develop their relationship. Within thirteen months of their first meeting at a bar, my mother had given birth to Darren.
By the time I was conceived, my mother and father were in a full-fledged relationship. They were living together, working their jobs at the Mount Vernon Hospital and the Federal Reserve Bank, raising my older brother. It sounds pretty good just thinking about it. Back then, even my father’s occasional weekend drinking was both normal and manageable. Despite the changing that were coming to their — and my eventual — world, they must’ve been hopeful, thinking about a future where they could work hard and provide for Darren, me and for each other. I can’t help but think that they must’ve been in love, that they saw themselves as two people from a different world making it in New York while making Mount Vernon their home.
My father wasn’t a great looking guy back then. He’s not particularly attractive now, although he’s in great shape for a sixty-eight-year-old. My mother was a healthy looking six-foot woman in her time. So it wasn’t likely physical attraction, or at least that alone, that led to their relationship and eventual marriage. It had to be that common bond, the practicalities of semi-urban living and working and raising a young child. It must’ve been an exciting time for them, likely the most exciting time of both their lives. It’s just that there needed to be something more and something less in their lives. The baggage from their growing up in the segregated South. Their inferiority complex around being migrants to the largest city in the country. My father’s alcoholic path. Their lack of post-high school education.
None of that mattered in the spring of ’69, though. It was their season of love. I was a result of that season. Their hopes and dreams, love and loss. I hope, at least for my own sake, that another season of love is in store for me, even if they both have long thought that their season of love ended with the ’60s.