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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Boxed In or Not?

Theme Thursday - Box
"What will the neighbors think?"  That's what I often heard from my mom and dad when I was young and impressionable. It seems it was lots about appearances, making sure that our family looked "normal".  And we were normal, meaning we were as dysfunctional as everyone else; but no one was owning up to anything.

Thinking outside the box, only a popular phrase much later on, was a revelation when I experienced it for the first time. In fact, I slipped outside the box before I even knew what that meant. I was 18 and newly arrived as a freshman in Berkeley, away from home for the first time, unless you count my one very homesick adventure at a depressing church camp.

I arrived in all my innocence and was amazed at what I observed. For the few months, I walked around campus decked out in my Sally Sorority denim skirt, madras shirt, and scuffed loafers, wearing the startled facial expression of a deer caught in the proverbial head lights. In fact, I was so engrossed in what was happening around me, I didn't have much energy left over to put into my oops situation that was sadly reflected in my first semester's slumping GPA.

Balance ensued eventually, and I learned to hit the books while sampling the varied experiences that Cal had to offer: toga parties, Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon, keggers, Malcolm X, the Smothers Brothers, Ronald Reagan, the Big Game, a worldly and sophisticated roommate from New York, JFK at Charter Day, Harry Belafonte, and on and on. Then came the Free Speech Movement and, like witnessing  a UFO landing, I was wide-eyed with incredulity. Question authority? Take over the administration building? Holler and picket? Who did these things? Well, a lot of people, apparently. I'd never seen anything like it.

By the time I finished my four year adventure, I was not the same person. The safety and the narrowness of the box in which I was raised will always be a part of me, and there were many useful lessons learned growing up in Santa Rosa; I am not totally knocking it. In fact, I am grateful for it. However, I am so thankful that my parents, as conservative as they were, encouraged and allowed me to try my wings when I was still, as my father always told me, "wet behind the ears". It was a profound and beyond-the-text-book-experience that shaped, in so many ways, who I am today.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.


  1. A very interesting post, Jan. I went to University late in life .... well, in my mid-30s. And when I finished (graduating with Highest Honors, thankyouverymuch) I, too, had the feeling that I was not the same person as when I started. It was more like a butterfly emerging from the confines of its cocoon. A true metamorphosis. Good post. I very much enjoyed it.

  2. Fabulous. I hated University and never really got much into the lifestyle there. A broken heard then a new boyfriend seemed much better distractions. It did help me grow though and made transition into the grown up world a little easier having felt that I'd kicked up my heels and waved a plaquard or two!

  3. great post. my years at university scare me when i look back on them but they in many ways opened doors i still walk through today.

  4. Yes.Bless The Box Builders!We All Need The Respect & Comfort That A Good Nesting-Box Brings.
    Happy T.T.
    Regards From Tony.

  5. I was right there with you through this story. Fantastic to have grown up safe, unrealistic as that was. Thank God for that background, though. Good story!

  6. Excellent. My University years contained LOTS of growth for me too. I do hope that my kiddos do not "experience life" to the extent that I did back then but it certainly made me think outside my very sheltered box!

  7. Your years at Berkely sound very exciting. Being from the midwest, we always heard what a cool place Berkely was. Thanks for sharing your adventures : )

  8. While I never had an experience like this at a big school, I do remember those times very well. You took me back.

  9. Parents who know how to let go but still keep you safe are a blessing indeed. Happy TT


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