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Fresh memories a half-century old

A collage that reader James D. Riordan made

A collage that reader James D. Riordan made during his junior year at Boston College near the end of 1969. It now hangs in his home in Old Westbury. Credit: James D. Riordan

In my writing room at home hangs a framed circular collage of magazine and newspaper cutouts. I grew up in New Hyde Park and East Williston, but assembled the collage in my dorm room at Boston College in the waning days of 1969. The collage was filled with the things that I felt most strongly about, and some things that populated my nightmares.

Around the edges of the frame are the numbers 60 through 69, representing the years in clockwise order. The centerpiece photo of an American soldier in Vietnam dominates the piece. As he strums on his guitar surrounded by sandbags, I imagine the faint sound of the Bob Dylan’s 1960s anthem, "Blowin’ in the Wind." Across his chest, the word "peace" in cutout letters represents the hope it might come soon. References to the Vietnam War, and photos of the My Lai massacre, generals and privates are placed alongside the elected officials who sent them to that fruitless conflict. 

Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — the men who started the war, perpetuated it and finally ended it — are surrounded by images of the protests that sprung up all around the country. I attended my share of those demonstrations as my "2S" student deferment was running out. The words "Waiting out the War" at the bottom of the collage expressed my hope that all the protests might slow the killing and end the war before I was caught up in it. Sen. Bobby Kennedy looks out with a pensive stare; the hope that he and the Rev. Martin Luther King represented was extinguished far too soon.

But then there was the music scene that defined my generation — Woodstock, the Beatles, Dylan, the Stones and the British invasion — and the tumultuous wave of change that that vibrant musical energy ignited in us all. The sounds of that time and the memories they awaken in me are imprinted deep within my brain. There are cutouts of the moon landing and pretty girls and even a sailboat. Even then I wanted to own one, and would 30 years later.

Just below the soldier’s guitar is the word "Time" — the singular commodity we all possess. It’s the thing we never seem to have enough of, the thing we wish we could alter, buy more of or roll back. In the end, it is the fuse that burns through every living thing — a relentless adversary.

Fifty years ago, I made that collage to try to capture that period inside a frame. Today, those memories storm back into focus when the first chord of "A Hard Day's Night" roars out of my car radio. It’s the 1960s, I’m riding down the Meadowbrook Parkway toward Jones Beach on a hot summer Saturday morning with my friends. We’re all screaming out the lyrics in unison, and I’m young again.   

Reader James D. Riordan lives in Old Westbury.

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