Growing Up Groovy
Decade N° 5: A Not-so-Average Blog on Middle Age
A childhood in the seventies and eighties provided opportunities for creativity and love.
By Carrie McConkey
My husband John leaned over our kitchen counter, hands pressed on either side of my November Decade N° 5 blog draft.
“What do you think?” I asked, ”Does it make sense?”
“Yeah, but it’s sad again”, said John.
As essays tend to trend, I’m often revealing some flaw in myself, or dredging up a difficult issue, intent on finding a deeper meaning. This was especially true since the purpose of Decade N° 5 was to dissect my 50th year on the planet; a milestone that I hadn’t been too keen on.
So, to honor my husband’s sunny disposition, I’ve chosen positive musings for this month’s blog: five happy childhood memories growing up in the time of bell-bottoms and breakdancing.
Our Sunny Home
In 1970 I was born in the tiny town of Cynthiana, Kentucky, 40 minutes northeast of Lexington. Before I turned eleven we moved three times due to Dad’s job as a Special Agent for the FBI. My parents, younger sister Paige, and I settled south in Jacksonville, Florida, and north in Chicago, Illinois before landing in the middle in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Point Pleasant Road in Jacksonville held my earliest memories of home. I loved our L-shaped ranch house, built in 1964, with tall pine trees in the front yard and pink azaleas in the back. My bedroom had fancy burgundy flocked velvet wallpaper and a picture window facing the street. This seemed apropos, as I liked to keep an eye on what was happening in the neighborhood. The sunken living room was a sea of red shag carpeting; treading on it was like walking on a stuffed animal. When we had a live Christmas tree, fallen pine needles would lodge in the fuzzy pile, poking through our socks for months.
I was never aware of the controversy surrounding the fashion doll who debuted a decade before I was born. I didn’t feel intimidated by her hourglass figure, and besides, I thought math class was tough, too.
My Barbie dolls were my original muses, and my first dressmaking and interior design clients. Not only did I enjoy creating their clothes, I decorated my Tuesday Taylor Penthouse with tiny sewn pillows and wall-to-wall plush carpet made of white synthetic fur (I was obviously inspired by the shag rug on Point Pleasant Road). For my Barbie Star Traveler Motor Home, I made miniature hanging succulent plants out of painted clay for the windows, and created cushioned mattresses for the beds. (Barbie HAD to get her beauty sleep!)
My later work as an Image Consultant was foreshadowed by my fastidious care of Barbie and her wardrobe. Every shoe had its mate, all outfits were hung on tiny pink hangers, and each doll was properly dressed at all times, including bra and panties. No going commando for my gals.
Music was a constant in our home, with Mom and Dad exposing us to a variety of artists from Lesley Gore to James Brown. Thanks to their collection of Beatles albums, my devotion to The Fab Four began in elementary school. The tender lyrics of “All I’ve Got to Do”, and “Till There Was You” in Meet the Beatles! forever shaped my view of boys and romance.
Although I was much too young to have dreamed of visiting Studio 54 in 1977, the Disco era still made its mark on my DNA. I couldn’t wait for the first pop of the snare in the song “Open Sesame” by Kool & The Gang, on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I whirled dramatically in our cathedral-ceilinged Chicago living room, snow up to the windowsills. SHAZAM!!
Mom on Board
In the eighties age of Working Girl, shoulder-padded power suits, and latchkey kids, I was lucky enough to have a stay-at-home mom. Although Mom often felt judged in social situations when asked, “And what do you do?”, my parents wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Throughout two moves, every afternoon on school days Mom was there. She’d be busy in the kitchen while I ate a snack of potato chips and regaled her with tales of the day. I haven’t the faintest remembrance of what I talked about, and don’t know if she was even truly listening, but at the time I felt heard.
While living in Chicago, Paige and I walked the half-mile to and from Winnebago Elementary School. One day in fifth grade I became disgruntled with a teacher who insisted that I play kickball indoors (dodging a ball ricocheting off the gym walls was not my idea of a good time). Due to my self-directed school transportation, I decided to end my day early. Mom could have killed me as I stood on the front stoop, but she was there to open the door.
Sewing in the Eighties
Mom was an accomplished seamstress, and I loved going with her to the Cloth World fabric store in Jacksonville. As she shopped, I’d peer underneath the carousel display fixtures containing bolts of colorful fabrics in search of loose buttons (or maybe a lucky penny). After we moved to Chicago, Mom taught me to sew — a great hobby for snowy days. It wasn’t until we arrived in Knoxville that I began sewing clothing for myself to wear in middle and high school. I’d study fashion magazines and look for Vogue, McCall’s, and Butterick patterns in the latest styles.
During the preppy clothing phase of the early eighties when girls wore woven satin ribbon barrettes and tiny strawberry patterns on everything, I made a pair of slim grey corduroy knickers to wear with tights. As Madonna’s street punk style emerged mid-decade, I sewed a pair of blue-violet harem pants out of wide-ribbed knit with a low crotch, made famous years later by MC Hammer. I loved the challenge of new patterns and silhouettes, and, most of all, having classmates ask of my clothing, “Did you make that?”
With my birth year of 1970 now qualifying for membership in AARP, more than once I’ve uttered a whine about the passage of time. However, being brought up with the colorful music, culture, and fashion of the seventies and eighties came with benefits. They were decades that fed a creative child’s imagination, offering a simpler life where time at home left plenty of room to dream.