Special Convention Fever Issue -- Chicago '68
by Carol Warner Christen
(Swans - June 2, 2008) In 1968, I was twenty-nine years old. My now ex-husband and I moved to Illinois from Ohio at the end of 1967 because he had graduated from college as an engineer and was offered a job at Bell Labs in Naperville. The sale of our small house in Ohio purchased with a small inheritance allowed us to buy a very large, very old house in Hinsdale, Illinois. We needed a large house because we had five young children, each one year apart, thanks to the rhythm method approved by the Roman Catholic Church.
When we took over the Hinsdale house, the children were 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11 years old. The house cost $25,000. Unfortunately, we sold it for a mere $40,000 (1975) after our divorce but that is not part of 1968 events. (This year, 2008, it resold for $800,000, according to my youngest daughter, the 6-year-old mentioned above. Oh, well.)
I never graduated from high school because of my first pregnancy, but in Illinois in September 1967, I applied to go to a new college being built. I was tested to see if I qualified. The test awarded me fifty-four college credits, bypassing my need to get a high school diploma, which I never have bothered to pursue. The children were registered in the local grade school four blocks away, each in a grade from one through six.
That is the background for the beginning of 1968. On January 3, school began and four days later postage stamps were raised to six cents apiece. On the 9th, I had a conference with one teacher at the grade school. On the 26th, we had five people from Bell Labs over for the evening. On March 6th, I registered again for college. My diary says that I went to a rummage sale at the Unitarian Church, saw the dentist, and had my period the day before my ex got a speeding ticket.
In April, I saw the dentist again, had the trash picked up, and gave our youngest a birthday party. She went to two more birthday parties. Since I had periods each and every month, I won't mention them anymore, nor will I mention the dentist again, whom I saw every month until September. In May, there were teacher conferences and doctor exams of the children, and an estimate on a new driveway.
My college German 101 began in June. I had a complete course in German when I was five from my great-grandmother, who was over 90 in 1944. She fled Germany after the Kaiser kicked her out. My second husband and I visited German relatives in the Saar Valley in 1990 but that's another story. I just wanted more formality to my use of the language. By mid-July, we could park on the new driveway and later that month visited Ohio. August 1968 was filled with visiting friends and relatives.
In September, of course, school began again. I went to an Art League meeting with a friend and registered, again, for college the next day. A day later, I scraped our old three-story house to ready it for paint. We had a picnic and college classes began on the 24th. We also joined the Family Service Counseling group for family counseling. October of 1968 brought art shows, a Du Page County Art League meeting, and we saw "Ulysses" with friends. I wrote my brother an apologetic letter but the purpose was not marked in my diary. November contained a party with friends from New York, another art league meeting, two grade school conferences, and a trip to the Lazzardo Museum with the children. We purchased a freezer.
December brought my mother and my ex left for New Jersey for a three-day conference. I baked a fruitcake and made plum pudding with the whole family hyperirritable until I went to buy phyllo with my friend Gretchen in a Greek Chicago neighborhood. My son got chicken pox two days before Christmas and my in-laws came by the day after Christmas. Nineteen sixty-nine brought several more case of chicken pox but this is not the year we were focusing upon, is it? Our esteemed editor mentioned to me that the subject for this issue was to be "1968" rather than that of the essay I originally submitted.
The year 1968 was the first time I drove to a demonstration at a post office in the next town, La Grange. I chickened out and turned the car around halfway there when I saw a girl hitchhiking with an antiwar sign. I turned around and asked her if she wanted a ride to the post office. (Nothing was happening in Du Page County anywhere else right then.) She got in and we both got out at the post office where several people were demonstrating and shouting. I stood there, as if I were with them, barely able to comprehend my role or anyone else's.
I was born in Ohio to Republicans of the old school and thought Democrats were aliens. It took me three or more years of going to college part-time to begin to argue, to change my politics, and to understand any of it. During the 1968 Convention in Chicago, my father and I got into a huge argument about Mayor Daley beating up demonstrators. He was all for Daley's tactics although they were in different parties!
A year or so later in the early 1970s, I had become a draft counselor for MCDC (Midwest Council for Draft Counseling), an arm of the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group), to find out if young draft age men were conscientious objectors or not. Our local newspaper interviewed me. My current husband sought the service from me.
Around the same time, I was elected president of Women For Peace and went to a demonstration to protest President Nixon's policies in Chicago. It was a tiny demonstration blocked by buses so Nixon wouldn't see us. The blue-suited Secret Service kept chasing us around to take our pictures as we walked; I kept turning away. Prior to that though, on the street corner waiting to cross, Nixon's car passed by me. I was able to give him the finger and I'm still happy about it all these years later.
It is unfortunate that my diaries are so stark and devoid of neat information. Five children in grade school take up most of one's time and, then, I was also a college student. In 1968, I invented democratic dishwashing, which worked extremely well. I filled the sink with hot, soapy water and another for hot rinse water before we began to eat. I mentally counted all the dishes in play, divided them up equally for the kids, me, and my ex. That was the number of dishes each had to wash, rinse, and place on a rack to drip dry. No drying as the towel could become a source of contamination by dirty hands, by dropping it, etc. I put the dishes away later. Each child did an equal number of silverware. It was so popular that my ex and I had little to do and could linger at the table over coffee; the kids were free to go play.
I was given a book on time study by my grandfather when I was eight. I read it and memorized it during my childhood. In that big old house of three full floors, I once donned a white jacket, pinned a duty to my lapel, went through the house to check the timing of each and every possible bit of work we needed to do to keep the house neat and clean with as little effort as possible. I wrote it out and, years later, sold it to a Portland, Oregon, housecleaning service. I still have the sequences; they work. I offered the children a small hourly sum and gave them a list of duties. If they fulfilled them, I paid them. If they didn't do them, they could start anytime later and do them without penalty. They just would get paid later than the others.
Time study is based on ease of work in as little effort and time as is necessary. That suited me and my children perfectly. My grandfather was the Chief Draftsman at Cleveland's Browning Crane and oversaw the drawing of the first backhoe. I still have a photo of it. My father was a time-study engineer after just one year at Case Institute of Technology. The job paid well but he was usually hated by factory workers. He drank a lot, too.
As I mentioned to Gilles when I had nothing to offer him for 1968, I knew my family's history as Founders (Adams, Allens, and Warners). We have been here since 1635 or three hundred seventy-three years. This is why so many of my articles are aimed at undoing the current fascist trend in American life which only serves capitalists, not the people. We've always been down to earth humans as we still are. Most Americans are, too. So many seem to feel they are gods now rearranging people's lives all over the planet with war and hatred, using God as their leader.
I left the only church I ever belonged to after fourteen years when the priest asked me to put more money in the basket than I had with the coins I would find in the couch cushions. We made $350.00 per month and fed seven people with that, including all the other expenses. I had to shop at five or six places to afford enough. I had to learn before 1968 how to cook correctly for all of us. I still have that system, too.
In conclusion, the experiences I had in 1968 served me well all my life. Those experiences led to the School of the Art Museum of Chicago, to school bus driving, to a drafting job which led to mechanical designer to hypnotherapist to neuro-linguistic programming to computer technology to bookkeeping to a farm full of goats unto today when I am 69 years old and writing for all of you. Thank you.
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