Growing Up Southern in the Sixties
A Novel by Janet Martin
“Once upon a time, there was a private college campus in Atlanta where gusts of the Sixties scattered lives like the pages of a newspaper across a green Southern lawn . . . .
There, one fall, beneath the golden boughs of a mammoth Gingko tree, four young women walked toward a cheering group of erstwhile sisters and pledged their lives to the discriminating sorority of KTK. I was among them. With values in place, ideals in sight and goals clear, we girls moved from Southern homes toward a wider sphere, college, which led us—unprepared—into the Age of Aquarius, a time rife with racial unrest, undeclared war, uprooted roles and public assassinations.
We daughters of the South, heirs to tradition, became recruits to revolution—each in our own inimical way.
There was Lila, I remember, breathlessly hurrying across campus to signal her desire to pledge the Katys. She wore three-inch sandal heels, and a cool breeze played with her short skirt and tangled her long strawberry-blonde hair. Once on a dark night in the freshman dormitory she told me something I could never forget: “It is no good to be born beautiful when your mother hates you, even if you are the iris in your father’s eyes.” Sadly, her statement proved true.
And Rachel, a brunette with the figure of an athlete, dark chocolate hair and emerald-green eyes; why, I have never met anyone who embarked so often in a direction headlong wrong, only to emerge determinedly right. Coming of age in any other time before the Sixties, Rachel surely would have been burned at the stake.
There was Florence, called “Florrie.” Of the four, she was the most enigmatic, when you consider how she turned out. The same Mississippi twang that told a funny midnight story to her Katy sisters would one day mesmerize thousands of converts to a faith no longer comfortable in church pews.
And last, there was I. Nail-biting, shy, with unruly blonde hair that only rollers the size of beer cans could tame, I who was raised on rigid codes defining the evanescent concept of a Southern lady. There was, I understood very clearly, only one ticket to a good marriage. That ticket was virginity. Hesitant to wade into contemporary danger, I stood on the sidelines and took note.
During the Sixties, we girls embraced illusion as if it were real, formed relationships for reasons no longer relevant, and discovered that being a “co-ed” was a coined word for condescension. We were the first generation of non-traditional women that married the last generation of traditional men. Our private lives, buffeted by winds of change, form the nucleus of a novel about times that were changing, as were we.