In a nearby hayfield, I could hear Daddy’s tractor making its distinctive “put-put-put” sound. I smiled. The machine always reminded me of my father. He was steady, dependable and had a comforting voice, too. The new baler being pulled through the field made noisy, unfamiliar clanks as it gathered and bound hay. I pictured the machine bouncing along behind the tractor, shuddering every so often as it kicked a bale powerfully through the air into the hay wagon.
The sun burned down from a clear, pale blue sky. Shimmers of heat radiated from the cement sidewalk and gravel driveway. I sank tiredly onto the cool, shaded grass under a row of trees. An open window broadcast music from Mom’s ever-playing radio in our farmhouse kitchen.
I liked several popular songs and looked forward to hearing them. That afternoon, Tom Jones enthusiastic, “What’s new Pussycat!” made me giggle. His voice seemed so comically exaggerated.
This summer found me midway between eighth grade graduation and the start of high school. Graduation was long enough in the past I didn’t think much about it anymore, while the exciting, scary start of high school with teachers and classmates I wouldn’t know, was far enough in the future that I wasn’t yet obsessing about it daily.
When Elvis Presley began singing, “Crying in the Chapel”, I stopped poking at a bug with a blade of grass. Sighing over his deep, soulful voice, I drifted off into a school girl daydream.
The year was 1965 and the world was convulsing over the war in Viet Nam, the civil rights movement, Vatican II and the cold war with Russia. While I knew all these things were going on, they all seemed to be part of another world, not mine.
I was not only cocooned by the gauze of childhood slowly turning to adolescence, but also life on a Midwestern farm. One made me oblivious to almost everything outside myself while the other muted the blare of war protests, injustices, anger and fear. My daily reality was rain, sunshine, church and farm activities.
A few local boys had been drafted and sent to the war in Viet Nam, but I didn’t know them. In all of my life up to that point, I’d never seen a person of color other than white. My family viewed the changes brought by Vatican II as something that would make the Mass easier to understand and follow. The fear of being bombed by Russia or invaded was something that we just lived with, like the fear of being killed in a Midwestern tornado.
From the kitchen window came, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love…” In my innocence, I didn’t understand the full meaning of the song. Being 14-years-old, “love, sweet love” made me think of mutual attraction, exciting romance and being totally accepted by another person. The singer, Jackie De Shannon’s beautiful, emotional rendition supported my misinterpretation.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that the subtext of the song was about the controversy and disagreements Americans were having over US involvement in the Viet Nam war. When the song became popular, the song writers, Hal David and Burt Bacharach were surprised.
The summer of 1965 and my small safe world comes to mind whenever I hear a radio broadcasting Jackie De Shannon singing, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.”
The song topic has not gone out of style. If anything, it is truer today than ever. There are so many things in the world that only love can fix. With love, people could discuss politics, religion or family relationships without hatred. Even in a romance between men and women, having “love, sweet love” would make the relationships last.
In some ways, I am still like the 14-year-old me sitting in the backyard listening to songs playing on Mom’s radio. I’m just not as self-absorbed as I was back then.
As an adult I fully understand how the love between a man and woman is what keeps them together. It makes happier families and stronger communities. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I’d love to see people spend the day showing the world what love looks like!