Fifty years ago . . . (it seems
Like only yesterday) . . . the dreams,
The hopes, and the unspoken fear
That marked and marred my Senior year . . .

I faced a future plagued with doubt;
A Cold War world turned inside out,
By folks like Nixon, Brezhnev, Mao;
A time long since, that once was “now.”

The Draft, the Beatles, and The Bomb;
The Grateful Dead and Vietnam;
And Woodstock, psychedelic art;
The transplant of a human heart;

The Stonewall Riots, People’s Park,
And Chappaquiddick left their mark.
Men landed on the moon and then
Flew safely back to earth, again.

At school I tried to do my best.
I studied hard and passed each test.
I graduated, chose my fate,
Enrolled at San Francisco State.

To volunteer for ‘Nam? Absurd.
My status for the draft? “Deferred.”
And when the lottery came due
I drew the number 2-2-2.

Back then I thought I knew it all.
The “Who,” the “What” and “Wherewithal.”
But through the years, I’ve found it’s so:
“The more I learn, the less I know.”

I’m older, now, and wiser, too,
The past is gone, each day is new.
But somewhere in my aging brain
Those dreams, and hopes and fears remain.

Some hopes and dreams have come to pass.
Some lesser fears as well, alas!
But, all in all, life has been good,
Without a “but,” “if,” “could,” or “should.”

I once was young, but now I’m old,
And anniversaries are gold.
So, drink a cup for auld lang syne,
And to the Class of Sixty-Nine.

 

 

James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.


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13 Responses

  1. Joan Erickson

    Wonderful! So well done and very moving!
    I arrived fourteen years earlier – class of ’55.

    Reply
  2. Tonya Ann McQuade

    Beautiful! I really love this poem! You capture so many details about that time period and incorporate some wonderful reflection. Happy anniversary! 🙂 I was Class of ’84 – I’m coming up on my 35 year anniversary year and am getting ready to celebrate with this year’s graduating class at my school’s graduation ceremony on June 7.

    Reply
  3. Sally Cook

    Dear James Tweedie —

    First, I would like to thank you for all your literate, rational and helpful responses to my work over the years.
    I always look forward to hearing from you. Second, I have a scant handful of suggestions that might make your poem flow even better than it already does.

    Lest I end up following the bean counters, it is with trepidation that I mention three instances where the dread comma seems to throw a pebble in your way.
    You might want to: Remove comma after “earth”: in line 16;
    Remove comma after “older” in line 29;
    Remove comma after “dreams” in line 32.

    In forty lines you have reconstructed fifty years ! Quite an accomplishment.

    By giving those commas the heave-ho, your excellent and evocative poem would then read:

    Fifty years ago . . . (it seems
    Like only yesterday) . . . the dreams,
    The hopes, and the unspoken fear
    That marked and marred my Senior year . . .
    I faced a future plagued with doubt;
    A Cold War world turned inside out,
    By folks like Nixon, Brezhnev, Mao;
    A time long since, that once was “now.”
    The Draft, the Beatles, and The Bomb;
    The Grateful Dead and Vietnam;
    And Woodstock, psychedelic art;
    The transplant of a human heart;
    The Stonewall Riots, People’s Park,
    And Chappaquiddick left their mark.
    Men landed on the moon and then
    Flew safely back to earth again.
    At school I tried to do my best.
    I studied hard and passed each test.
    I graduated, chose my fate,
    Enrolled at San Francisco State.
    To volunteer for ‘Nam? Absurd.
    My status for the draft? “Deferred.”
    And when the lottery came due
    I drew the number 2-2-2.
    Back then I thought I knew it all.
    The “Who,” the “What” and “Wherewithal.”
    But through the years, I’ve found it’s so:
    “The more I learn, the less I know.”
    I’m older now, and wiser, too,
    The past is gone, each day is new.
    But somewhere in my aging brain
    Those dreams and hopes and fears remain.
    Some hopes and dreams have come to pass.
    Some lesser fears as well, alas!
    But, all in all, life has been good,
    Without a “but,” “if,” “could,” or “should.”
    I once was young, but now I’m old,
    And anniversaries are gold.
    So, drink a cup for auld lang syne,
    And to the Class of Sixty-Nine

    Sincerely, .

    Reply
  4. Sally Cook

    Above from Sally Cook — somehow my name was left off the previous comment.

    Reply
  5. James A. Tweedie

    Sally, Counting, beans is an, honorable task! And, when it involves, improving my poem, it is also, appreciated. Thanks,

    Reply
    • Peter Hartley

      I liked this very much, and its rigorous tetrameter rhythm made it flow well at a first reading, which is always a good sign for me. I’m also very impressed, whenever I see it here, by James’s highly polished and accomplished literary style in prose – so much so that 1’m not sure whether he makes a better poet or a prose-writer (though I hasten to add that if he does both he very definitely shouldn’t drop either). And it must surely be useful, if you are going to engage in the occasional bit of gentle logomachy with other members of SCP, to know that you tend to be in the right from the start.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        Peter, Speaking of words, I had to look up “logomachy.” Thank you for expanding my vocabulary! In a little over a week I will be leaving on the trip that will bring me to Harris/Tweed in late June. No doubt I’ll think of you and your fine set of poems as I rush frantically about during what will be an all-to-brief sojourn there.

  6. David Paul Behrens

    I love this poem! I could have almost written it myself, in terms of the subject matter. I graduated in ’68. In 1969, I was hitchhiking from New York City to Canada when a guy picked me up and told me that I should stick around because there was going to be a big rock festival there in a few days, which turned out to be Woodstock. When I arrived in Montreal, it was all over the headlines. I missed my chance! By the way, the Grateful Dead, in part, are still around, in the form of Dead and Company.

    Reply
  7. C.B. Anderson

    James, Sally is right about the commas. Some are necessary, but others just cause unnecessary caesuras. What I most liked about the poem is that it is living proof that simple language, without a lot of fancy words and convoluted syntax, can create a very effective poem. The poem is unpretentious and very consistent in tone, and the catalog of late-sixties’ events dovetailed very nicely with each other. I am from the high school class of 1967, so I really got how my number in the draft lottery changed the course of my life: It allowed me to leave college and become what I am today. So thanks for this memory-inducing series of quatrains.

    Reply
    • James A. Tweedie

      Thank you all for your kind comments and suggestions.

      Aside to Peter Hartley, Speaking of words, I had to look up “logomachy.” Thank you for expanding my vocabulary! In a little over a week I will be leaving on the trip that will bring me to Harris/Tweed in late June. No doubt I’ll think of you and your fine set of poems as I rush frantically about during what will be an all-to-brief sojourn there.

      Reply
  8. C.B. Anderson

    An afterthought, James: I think A.E. Housman, taken out of his own historical context, would have been happy to have written any of these stanzas.

    Do not discount your waxing power,
    For you grow better by the hour.

    Reply
  9. Monty

    Good stuff, James: a healthy dose of reminiscences.

    I’ve always envied those born a generation before me (’63), ‘cos I was 5 in, say, ’68, but they would’ve all been between 15 and 25, hence able (if they so desired) to fully immerse themselves in the late 60’s London/California thing. But, to compensate, I’ve somehow managed to conduct my whole adult existence in as much the same fashion as possible; permanently surrounded by the music, the songwriters and poets of that momentous era . . and as one who plays the drums, I was influenced as a teenager by, in particular, Getz, Moon and Dryden (of The Holding Company, The Who and The ‘Airplane respectively).

    As an aside: it was rather ironic to see (in another comment above) the name ‘Dead’ succeeded by the word ‘Company’; one can imagine, in these times, that it’s become exactly that.

    As a further aside: I’ve always felt that the period between ’65 and ’70 was America’s last chance at avoiding whatever it’s become today. In that period, so many of the innovators – the writers, the artists, the songwriters, the poets, etc – were desperately trying, in their art, to warn America: “Look, if you don’t rethink things now, this is how America will become”. And what did America do? Dismissed them as a load of drug-crazed hippies who don’t know what they’re saying! And in one case (Kent Uni) killing them; killing students who were only protesting against things which have, these days, become trendy for America to protest against; protesting against acts for which modern-day governments have since formally apologised. Innocent teenagers trying earnestly to show what’s wrong . . shot dead by their own citizens! How could that ever have been . . . and how easily and compliantly America forgets?

    And that was it! As big as the revolution was, and as hard as it tried to influence valuable change, it was still no match for the wealth of America’s elite, it’s government, it’s impregnable system . . and the insularity and subordination of the majority of its citizens, with their dangerous determination to believe in a god. That was the last chance of an awakening; it was never gonna happen again.

    I often wonder how many of those (in their 40’s and 50’s at the time) who dismissed the whole thing as ‘drug-crazed hippies’ . . must’ve had second-thoughts in their 70’s and 80’s when they were daily witnessing all the predictions coming true? How many sensed deja vue? How many have since witnessed it being publicly accepted that the right drugs, taken in the right dosage by the right people, can induce the clearest of thoughts, clarity of mind, and the purest of art? How many then thought: ‘Maybe we should’ve listened to their words back then’? How many were finally able to see things as they really were? And as they remain.

    Reply

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