Lately I have taken bits of time here and there to start transcribing my old journals. I’m currently in the summer of ’76, which was in some ways idyllic. I was 16, had a car, worked at a restaurant busing tables and washing dishes, and spent most of my time playing tennis, hanging around with friends, and having crushes on different girls (and a first real kiss).
As I read it Sioux Falls of 1976 comes alive again — hanging around the tennis courts at Frank Olson park, working at the First Edition Restaurant, a full summer including a back packing trip to the Black Hills with my friends Dan and Brad, a super fun high school debate camp at Augustana College (and my crush on Elaine and really a trio of girls from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area).
I can picture myself driving around in the 1963 Chevy Bel Aire, working late nights cleaning the restaurant, spending most days playing in some way. We didn’t drink, smoke, and certainly didn’t even think of doing any drugs — but played a lot of tennis and had fun. A clean wholesome but awesome summer. Instead of texting or even calling we’d drive over to each others houses and see if anyone was home.
I’ve always had a fond view of that summer. I recall it as sunny every day. And it was the driest year of Sioux Falls history, only 11 inches of precipitation all year, which was great for a 16 year old having fun, not so good for the farmers. As I read through my journal I realize it also was amazingly stress free. My job (30 – 40 hours a week) had me work mostly evenings busing tables and doing dishes. I could do that work easily — in fact I was complimented as the fastest dishwasher the manager “Walter” had ever seen. (And I recall devouring half eaten steaks or left over fries that the waiters dumped in the dishwashing bins).
Daytime I was constantly on the move — visiting friends, playing tennis, hanging out. The days were social and fun, and thanks to my job I had money to go out for pizza, pay for gas for the car, and even get back packing gear for the big trip to the Black Hills.
I’m just starting on this journal transcription project, but I’m impressed by how thorough the journals are. I described most days in detail, recounting conversations, and events. As I read it I can picture Sioux Falls circa 1976. Frank Olson park in my mind is exactly how it looked then (it helps that I don’t know how it looks now). My parents did not intrude at all in my life that summer; I came and went as I pleased, even when I worked until 2:00 AM, or was gone all day playing tennis or visiting friends. I had some chores, but they weren’t intense.
In the first part of June I had a crush on a 14 year old named Joanna. My best friend was going out with her older sister (the family had girls aged 11, 14, 16, 17, and 18, and also a boy aged 13 with whom I also got along well). A lot of us hung around their house that summer, playing chess, checkers, talking and heading to the park for tennis (or to watch their brother’s ball games). I have to wonder what their parents thought about us hanging around so much! Later I’d have a crush on the 16 year old (Kathy) and with her I’d have my first kiss.
I did have some political commentary. I didn’t like Jimmy Carter, I wanted Reagan to beat Ford in the primaries (he didn’t), and defended North Korea during our backpacking trip after they shot some US soldiers. I was a jerk at times (refusing to clean up after a shower at a friends’ aunt’s house in Rapid City because I didn’t like being ordered around — Brad should have smacked me), but overall I’m enjoying getting to know my younger self through these words.
I’ll blog about that summer every now and then as I go through the transcription process, perhaps reflecting on what that era was like, or a particular event I happen to transcribe that day. I suspect there will be a few blog entries comparing the current era to that bicentennial celebration year. Moreover, as the journal transcription will be slow, and my journals continue through the rest of my high school time, this my be fodder for blog entries for some time to come.
For today, I just want to issue a profound thank you to Scott Erb, the 16 year old boy who in June, 1976 decided his life was fun and interesting enough to record in a detailed journal. The gift my young self is giving his 50 year old “future self” is priceless.