Positively Haight Street, 1968

Audio: Positively Haight Street (click arrow to listen)

58. Haight sign1968 was the year Eldridge Cleaver published Soul on Ice. He and his wife Kathleen, who had the most immense head of hair I’d ever laid eyes on, banked at my teller window. It was the year of the Yippies, Black Panthers, and the SDS, the year Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis—sparking riots across the nation. The day after his murder, hundreds of black kids from Poly High rolled down Haight in a tidal wave, smashing storefront windows and overturning cars.

1968 was the year of sweeping anti-war protests, the Tet Offensive and the My Lai massacre, the year the Viet Nam war ripped our country inside out. It was the year of the Democratic National Convention and the Chicago riots. Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Bobby Kennedy at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel, women were branded as bra-burning feminists, and 32 African nations boycotted the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Richard Nixon was elected president, and Apollo 7 and 8 were launched.

59. Cathy Clemens, senior picture 1966I existed in the eye of this turbidity—not oblivious—but not overly concerned or connected to the world’s chaos. Dressed in my starched white button-down blouse, navy A-line skirt, pantyhose, white flats, Coral Sea lipstick and a helmet-head Summer Blonde flip, I watched with detached interest the swirl of humanity through the plate glass windows of my dad’s five-and-dime and the corner bank across the street.

In my world, 1968 was the year the neighborhood stores closed, leaving empty shells with boarded windows. The customers were fed up with grungy panhandlers constantly asking for spare change to feed their mangy bandana-necked dogs, tired of stepping over stoned fourteen-year-old runaways who looked like five miles of blank road, and had it with being hustled by dreadlocked junkies, spaced-out punks, and blissed-out barefoot bums. The regulars hailed streetcars to Irving or took the bus over to Market, then eventually moved out of the Haight altogether.Carl John Clemens 10-7-67

1968 was the year Daddy’s store closed. The Summer of Love, the riots, and the changing times did my father’s business in. I find it worthwhile to note that his history echoed the same song from fifteen years earlier, the times again cracking my Dad’s foundation and walls. Once again, he sold his stock, boarded his windows, and locked his front glass door, and—once again—left town.

Noreen Clemens early 50s1968 was also the final straw for my mother. That was the year she ended her life in a small hotel on Whittier Boulevard, closing a chapter on mine.

© 2015. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

Note: recorded at Radio Magic, Sonoma

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  1. Elke Matzen says:

    For sure, you are very brave and I love your stories, but this one in particular! It resonates with me, strongly! I was aware of some of the explosions in the world around us in 1968, but everything was so violent, I kept my eyes open and steered clear of aggression. I was not political at the age of 18! Politics was not a subject discussed in my home…my parents, having survived WWII in Germany, forbid it. In July that summer my family went to visit their relatives in Germany, and my girlfriend and I drove cross-country from Connecticut to San Francisco, (unbeknownst to my parents) to experience the “Summer of Love” one year too late! hahaha! I stood with her on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, feeling exhilarated that we had reached our goal and had survived the long trek cross country in my little black VW bug!!!…when who should we run into, one of our high school classmates, a guy who was always a jerk to girls, at that very spot! Why was he there at that very moment??? A strange and most accursed twist to our joy! Well, sorry to say, he didn’t live long after that. Never did hear what happened to him…just that he was dead.

  2. Rose Mary Schmidt says:

    Wow that brings back memories! Beautifully scripted!

  3. Painful year to remember and yet we must. Thank you for the insight Catherine.

  4. Janet Rhode says:

    Hey Sister! Yes – scary – awesome – amazing times! Also the year Kristina was born! I love your writings!!

  5. Juliette andrews says:

    You are brave and thank you for sharing. J

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