Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Things I Notice Now: Some Thoughts on Turning 70

I was born on a Friday morning, Valentine's Day (February 14), 1947.  Obviously, I don't remember any of it, but from what I've been told, there was nothing unusual about my arrival into the world.  Nor was there anything unusual about the news on the day I was born:  a look at the front page of the Boston Globe shows stories about the beauty pageant winner at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival; there were financial problems at the Boston Elevated (the city's public transportation system); President Truman's mother was recovering from a hip fracture; and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was accusing the Soviet Union of failing to pay its war debts to the United States.  I was the first child of Beatrice and Samuel Halper-- my father, like many of his era, had fought in World War II and when he came home, he and my mother were eager to start a family.  I was thus part of the Baby Boom generation.

To say the least, it's been interesting living through these past six decades. Much has been written about all of the social change that occurred during that time, but suffice it to say that growing up in the 50s, I never expected I'd have the life I ended up having.  In fact, I was frequently told I'd never have much of a life at all; people I knew said that I couldn't be successful because I was too different, not feminine, ugly, strange.  I didn't like the things girls were supposed to like.  I was told my chances of ever getting married were slim.  (Note to those who told me that:  my husband and I will celebrate our 30th anniversary in mid-March.) 

I don't know why I was so different, and I am sure my parents worried about me:  I remember them trying to get me to conform to the norms of the 50s, but more often than not, I just couldn't do it.  Being traditional never came easy to me.  On the other hand, we all develop survival skills, so I learned at a young age that if I could make people laugh or entertain them in some way, perhaps they wouldn't mock me as much.  It's a strategy I used with varying degrees of success over the years.  Perhaps that's what drew me to radio:  when I was on the air, I could entertain people, but they wouldn't ever see me, so they could imagine I was attractive or sexy or whatever.  And I hoped that if my listeners ever met me in person, they wouldn't be disappointed.  I'm sure some of them were-- I'm much more confident when I'm performing for an audience than when I'm socializing. (That's still true for me even today. I can give a talk to several hundred people and not be nervous at all, but invite me to a party and I'm the person in the corner who barely says a word to anyone.)

But if you had asked me in the 1950s, I would never have expected I'd have the career I wanted, or meet some of the famous people I met, or discover a certain Canadian rock band, or get a PhD at age 64, or live to see new technologies that enabled me to be in contact with people all over the world instantaneously.  On the other hand, I never expected to endure antisemitism or sexual harassment; I never thought I'd see the number of newspapers in Boston shrink till only two were left (growing up, my parents were avid newspaper readers, and they taught me to do the same... one of my earliest memories, in fact, is my father coming home from work, sitting in his favorite chair and reading the evening paper); and I never thought I'd lose my mother to cancer when she was only 71...

And here I am, turning 70.  I had cancer two years ago, and although I've had other health issues too, thus far, all indications are that the cancer hasn't recurred.  Perhaps I'll be lucky and live a few more years.  There's so much I want to do, so much I want to accomplish, and it's hard for me to picture myself slowing down.  I worry about remaining relevant in a changing world-- I mean, when I was growing up, a person who was 70 was considered "old."  But I don't want to be thought of in that way. Yes, I've certainly aged and I can't deny that. But we Baby Boomers have redefined (and resisted) what it means to be old, and I hope I'll continue to be out there participating in this great adventure we call living.

And it truly has been an adventure:  I mean, you are talking to someone who lived through all kinds of political turmoil over the decades, from the Cold War, to Vietnam, to Watergate; from Kennedy's assassination to Nixon's near-impeachment; from war protests to peace marches; from the era of segregation to the election of the first black president; from a time when women politicians were rarely taken seriously to a time when women politicians can be found serving as governors, senators, and attorneys general.  And as I think about my 70th birthday, I find myself with very few regrets. Yes, there are things I could have done better, and things I said that came out wrong... but that's all part of being human.  I did the best I could with the cards I was dealt, and I hope that in my years on this earth, I've made a positive impact.

I don't know how many more years I'll have, but I know how I want to live them:  doing my part to honor the values my parents taught me; trying to live an ethical life; and when I get discouraged or frustrated, remembering that there are folks whose situations are a lot worse than mine.  Growing up in the 1950s, I genuinely did not know what was ahead for me, but few people predicted I'd accomplish very much.  I hope I proved them wrong, and I hope I ended up with more friends than enemies.  I hope some people are glad they met me. (And those that aren't, I hope they won't trash me on social media-- after all, it's my birthday!)   And I'm proud that despite the various obstacles and the ups and downs I encountered over the years, I never gave up, I never gave in (though at times I wanted to), and I kept on trying to move forward.  And as I look back on my life thus far, it may seem like a clich√© for me to say this, but it happens to be true:  I have a lot to be grateful for.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for the good wishes, Tbone. Sending Valentine's Day love in your direction, and hoping all is well.

  2. Donna,

    I know you because I am a huge fan of Rush but as I have read your posts blogs and life stories I have really come to know you and am so happy you are on so many people's lives.

    I can't believe you write people said you were ugly. When I look at all the pictures of you reposted by fans, I always thought you were very pretty. And now that I know who you are today, you are more beautiful than ever.

    Ok, enough mushiness. Happy Birthday and many more.

    1. The problem, Dan, was that when I was growing up, there was a certain "Playboy Bunny" standard of beauty, and girls who didn't measure up to it (which meant most girls) were mocked. I didn't look like the ideal of that era, so people said I was ugly. Later on, some people said I was cute, but nobody ever thought I was pretty. In the end, I learned to live with it and not let it bother me. But when I was a kid, it was difficult to have people make fun of me. Maybe that's why I try to be a mentor to kids today, because I remember how it felt to be different and very alone back then. Thanks for the kind words and you are not mushy at all. Hope you had a great Valentine's day and I send lots of love!

  3. Donna, after reading your post again I would say that your legacy as well as your record of fairness, compassion and respect for others proves that you have been a beautiful person in the complete sense of the word. That is much more valuable than skin deep good looks on a bimbo. Intelligence is sexy and I declare that your hubby is a lucky man. I'm a softie at heart so please excuse my Irish temper in the past!

    1. Tbone, I try to excuse some of the things you say, but at times they can be very hurtful. I wish you wouldn't say them, but then, I guess we all say things we don't mean sometimes. Thanks for reading my blog, which I am sure is frustrating for you sometimes given our political disagreements. I appreciate the compliments, and I hope I've been respectful of you in our conversations. As I said, I want to honor the values my late parents taught me. Sometimes I succeed better than others, but I do keep trying. Much love to you and your family.

  4. BTW, I always was bored with the cookie cutter bodies portrayed in media and print. It puts pressure on young ladies that they don't need, ESPECIALLY in this day and age. I have a daughter so I completely understand that. Beauty is a multi-faceted complete package that is in the eye of the smitten beholder! My wife is not perfect by the "physical ideal" that is portrayed around us but she is damn sure perfect for me!!!