For better or worse, 1968 was a time of great change in the United States and the world at large. For the worse, both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated that year, the evening news reported regularly on the body count from the Vietnam War, and the Zodiac serial murderer began his reign of terror. On the better side, NASA launched its first manned Apollo mission, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and the Beatles recorded “Hey Jude.”
But in 1968 I was six and blissfully unaware of any of that. Okay, I vaguely remember the whole astronaut craze, but mostly I remember begging my mother to buy Space Food Sticks for my lunch box.
What I do remember is listening to the radio—back in the days before every minute of a child’s day was scheduled—and hearing a song that pulled me up out of the overstuffed chair in the living room and made me want to twirl around and around: “Those Were the Days.” (This is the Mary Hopkins recording based on a Russian song, not to be confused with the theme song from All in the Family.) Something about the song felt familiar to me, although as a first-grade girl growing up in Oklahoma, there couldn’t have been much in it that I could relate to.
Those were the days, my friend—We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
Sure, I sang and danced as much as the next kid—probably more—but that wasn’t really what the song was about—it was an older woman thinking fondly of earlier days, reliving memories of her younger self.
We’d live the life we choose—We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way
I wasn’t even old enough to have created many memories, let alone look back at them longingly. Yet it became my favorite song. It was before I even had my first phonograph, so I just kept an ear out for it whenever the radio was on. First I just hummed along, but eventually I learned the lyrics and sang it on my own with all my heart, as if I knew what it all meant.
Oh, my friend, we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same…
Unlike “Hey, Jude,” I rarely hear this old-fashioned pop song. Even when it was a top-40 hit, it already seemed to belong to another generation. I imagine if I happened upon it for the first time today I would consider it hopelessly hokey. But when that song finds me in a quiet moment now and then, I sing it with all my heart. And I am again six years old, twirling myself dizzy in the living room, blissfully unaware of assassinations and astronauts.