One son said, "I remember when I was seventeen, and a guy at work turned thirty. It seemed so old." In 1978, my thirtieth was similarly regarded as the definitive departure of youth.
Women friends approached the day either deliberately distracted by some kind of hijinks, or wrapped in a granny-square afghan, weeping into poetry. Joanna stocked her kitchen with beer and pizza, invited forty friends, and then was so distraught she never left her bedroom. One by one, we entered to comfort her.
My birthday party in July, 1978 was here; I lived on the upper floor of this mansion, built in 1875. It was a romantic apartment that had retained its heritage features, with odd little quarter-levels off a centre hall wide as a street. The former tenant had entered a convent, so I'll bet the place had not seen a bash like that for some years.
See that balcony? John dangled from the railing by one hand (probably on a bet), while his wife pleaded with his pals to haul him back up. Fortunately the owner, who occupied the ground floor, was at her cottage.
Our friends brought raccoon-themed gifts, because I was fond of the bushy, bandit-eyed coons who lived in the garage, and my then-husband liked theme parties. So I received ears of sweet corn, a silver raccoon stickpin, and of course a vintage Davy Crockett hat.
Robert ignored the theme, gave me a bottle of liqueur—and then drank it himself:
|An immoderate amount of Bailey's|
Thirty is a gusty age, full of energy but sometimes rudderless. In my circle, it was a time of movement, from job to job, partner to partner. There was no consensus about how take on adult roles; we were divided between the conventional models supplied by parents or mentors and New-Age experimentation.
Everyone turns thirty within a larger historical frame, the warp to your weft. The late '70s were a period of relative economic stability; no one at that party had yet faced chronic unemployment. Pension plans were robust, even if we barely thought of ever needing them. Women were now free to bear children or not, but if one were desired, thirty was considered "time to get on with it".
Though we had been vividly influenced by the '60s, few dressed for that party in "beads and feathers from Salvation Army counters" as Leonard Cohen wrote, except for Lisa, who was a dancer. I wore a brown Danskin leotard and matching wrap skirt. We were building our "work wardrobes", and were a good fifteen years away from anyone even thinking of wearing jeans to the office except on the occasional Casual Friday. Some of us worried about looking old enough!
As I look back on the guests, I realize how much instability roiled below the surface. The majority of those in relationships broke up, partly because of the relatively recent option for no-fault divorce. In less than three years I had moved to another city, taken a new job, and was about to divorce too. Only then, responsible for every aspect of my life, did I feel wholly adult.
|The birthday boys|
My sons are turning thirty in a different world; in '78, the population was 4.4 billion; today, it's 7.5 billion. Every day, they learn what is happening, anywhere, in real time; receiving and transmitting instantaneous information. (We didn't even have an answering machine in our apartment.)
Before we part for the summer, please tell us about your thirtieth birthday; I'll bet you remember, and I would love to hear that story before we part for two months.
The Passage will reopen on Tuesday, September 5. Thank you for reading and have a glorious, golden summer!