Page One

The Sixties

By Andrea Carney
Wednesday December 30, 2009 - 09:08:00 AM

During the Vietnam War my father would put the T.V. next to the dinner table so he could watch the war news while we ate.  

My younger brother, Brad, wanted nothing to do with the war. “I’m not going half way around the world to kill people in a Vietnamese jungle.” His hair was long. He smoked dope on the sly. Jerry, my older brother, would reason, “It is better to stop communism in Southeast Asia than to have to stop it at our borders.”  

My father was a construction worker. He watched a lot of football. 

I, a girl, was expected to assist my mother with the cleaning up. I broke the dishes, slammed doors and told my mother she was crazy.  

My mother prayed a lot. She was a stay-at-home mom. Somehow that gave us the right to call her crazy and weird. Finally she stopped talking to us and talked instead to God, who listened patiently unlike the members of her family. To make it all worse, she refused to go to the white church. She insisted on going to the local colored church. These were the days of separate but equal, which went something like this: “I am not prejudiced. I think that colored people should have the same things that white people have, but they should be separate from us. They should have their own churches, their own schools, their own drinking fountains, a separate place to sit in movie theatres, buses, etc.”  

Brad dragged himself out of bed late one morning and wandered into the kitchen. My mother leaned over a newspaper spread on the floor spraying disinfectant around something he couldn’t see. “What kind of an immoral character are you?” 

“What? What did I do?” he asked. 

“I found this evil thing on the door handle of the car this morning.” 

“What is it?” he asked as he looked around her. On the newspaper was a used condom. 

“Now, I hope that you don’t think that I had anything to do with that,” he said. 

“Don’t lie to me. You were the last to take the car.” 

“Yeah, but I didn’t put that thing there. You know, I bet somebody planted it there to get me trouble. There’s no telling what these idiots around here would do.” 

“Just get it out of here.” Sometimes it seemed like the whole town was against her youngest son. 

My mother once remarked to my father that the two of them were getting older and perhaps they should take out burial insurance. My father took her upper arm and led her to the window over the kitchen sink. Looking at the backyard, he said, “You see that ditch back there?” 


“Well, when I die, just throw me in it.”  

Shortly thereafter my father was transferred to a smaller construction job in Florida. Drifting and feeling lost in Ferriday, I fled to San Francisco. Jerry was now in law school. My mother and younger brother stayed in Ferriday. My father would come home on the weekends. During the week, he stayed in a run-down, lonely motel in Florida. 

In San Francisco, I was sleeping-in one morning, having just hitchhiked back from Mendocino with a boyfriend when the phone rang. 

The voice on the phone greeted me with “Where have you been?” 

“Why?” I asked defensively. I knew it was Jerry. 

“We have been trying to reach you all weekend,” he said. “Dad went into the hospital unexpectedly. He died early this morning.” 

I burst into tears. 

“But he wasn’t even sick,” I said. 

“He caught a cold, which turned into pneumonia, which killed him,” Jerry explained. “He also had cancer of the larynx, which none of us knew about—not even mom. You know Dad, he never talked to anyone much about anything.” 

So my father died without my having ever really known him. We did not throw him into the ditch in the back yard, however. We buried him in Idaho next to his parents. 

Brad took to the open road and, after a few months, showed up in Oregon at Uncle Will’s house. Uncle Will was a logger. Will always said that if one of those tree huggers ever chained themselves to one of his trees, he wouldn’t hesitate to saw him through.  


Dear Brad, 

We are on our way to Oregon. Daddy says that you have to marry me right now. He says that he has the law on his side because I was only sixteen when our baby got started. This trip ain’t much fun because it is so crowded in that old car of ours. It seems like everybody wanted to come along because we ain’t hardly been anywhere outside Louisiana and Texas. Daddy’s driving and Momma’s in front with him and Grandma Cummins, Daddy’s momma. My little brothers and my sister, Gail, are in back with me. It’s so crowded in that car that I can’t tell if the baby is kicking me or someone else. I hope you ain’t mad about our coming unexpected like. 




Will was sitting on the front porch when the faded blue Ford skidded into the driveway blowing up a cloud of dust as it jerked to a stop. Being as Jerry was now a lawyer over in Portland, it was decided to have him come out and see what should be done.  

After complaining about a sister who was a hippie and a mother who was destitute and a brother who got a 16-year-old girl pregnant, he finally advised Brad that he did not have to marry her. At which point Brad insisted that he wanted to marry her.  

So they were married by a Catholic priest in Portland, and a few weeks later their daughter was born. Jerry became a lukewarm lawyer and I became a civil servant for the county of Alameda. Brad’s marriage has been a happy one.