Growing Up White in the Sixties

a fictional memoir

Paralleling the turbulent civil rights era, GROWING UP WHITE IN THE SIXTIES is the coming-of-age story of Steven Abrams as he learns how prejudice affects the people he loves.

There are three major divisions to the book. Early chapters introduce readers to Steven's grammar school years, living in Los Angeles.

Five year old Steven is introduced in "Hoppy, Gene and Roy." He meets Marco, an older Hispanic man who symbolizes the childís love of cowboys. Also representing wilderness, Marcos launches Steven on the road to observing the world around him. This is where Stevenís first experiences with prejudice occur.

The story of Stevenís immigrant parents and their reasons for coming to America are told in "My Parents." He rides a bus in "Charmed," encountering a black man who scares Steven's mother. He sees that circumstances make, but dignity rescues, victims of prejudice. This unifying idea continues in "Spicks and Wops," as Steven observes two kids turning prejudice upon themselves to expose the futility of hatred.

"Assassination" examines a class of sixth grade students who dedicate a tree honoring President Kennedy. Following the Watts riots, Steven's parents exile him to the city of Eureka. In "Uncle George," Steven sees that bias can also be directed at people regardless of race.

Steven's teen years move away from direct contact with bigotry to more subtler forms of exclusion.

Camilla is the most notable of Stevenís three close friends. He meets her in "Dreamworld" and "What I Learned About Myself This Summer." Steven joins a youth group on a summer-long wilderness excursion. The trip ends in death and the students unknowingly witnesses a murder. The suggestion of sexual abuse in "What I Learned," shadows the suggestion that events in youth influence later decisions in life.

A distraught Camilla introduces Steven to sex during "Crossing Lines." He doesnít realize that Mikey, Camilla's overprotective younger brother, has witnessed the act until the boys present an essay assignment in class the next day.

Steven and Rob are outside the hotel where Robert Kennedy is murdered in "Brothers." Overwhelmed by events, he reacts to another schoolmate who celebrates the separateness of race.

After a car wreck, "The Funeral" examines the feelings of teenagers who don't comprehend deathís affects on them.

A summer camp counselor job leads to "St. Elmo's Fire." Steven is one of The Professors who is called upon to interpret natural history. An electrical storm involves them in the atmosphere in a way they never imagined. "Be Prepared" is the humorous story of a broken dishwashing machine, the affects of ingesting too much soap and an entrepreneurial kid named Kenji.

Steven and his friend Rob play hookie from high school to watch some hang gliders. They learn in "Sky Pilot" that knowing what to do isn't always enough to save someone's life.

Misplaced marijuana exposes the growing estrangement between Steven and his parents in "Dope."

"It Could Happen to You" reveals Steven's evolving awareness that the adult world isn't benign. On a cross-country hitchhiking trip with Paul, the boys are accepted by the race and class they've been taught to suspect. Meanwhile, Steven's parents gloat over a story their friend tells about surviving a mugging. The power of words to hurt and destroy is obvious.

With "Money," Steven is a college freshman helping with a mountain climbing demonstration at the local NAACP fund raiser. The benefactors are white and bleeding heart liberal Steven feels there should be a kinship between them all. Heís shocked to discover otherwise.

A rose and a lab rat in "No Difference" teach Steven to be suspicious when told differences donít exist between choices.

In the final section of GROWING UP WHITE IN THE SIXTIES themes of loss and assuming adult responsibilities predominate.

"When I Grow Old It Won't Matter What Color I Wear For I Shall Be Old and Nothing Will Matter" covers his parent's last days and Steven's slow realization of how deep love is, even if you never see it. Heís amazed at how parent-child roles reverse.

In the pivotal chapter, "Growing Up White in the Sixties," Steven embarks on a canoe trip with Camilla. Tragically heroic, Camilla serves as an enigmatic symbol of all that is wise and unwise in maturity. Along Utahís Green River, the meaning of growing up white during the civil rights era is finally made plain. Steven sees that his generation grew to maturity during a time when self-growth and awareness were more important than engaging with the world. Paradoxically, it's no wonder he never appreciated the times he lived in - he simply wasnít aware of anything further away from himself than himself.

Steven reunites with Camilla, Rob and Paul for a climbing expedition to Nepal in "The Sky is Falling." His friends are killed when meteor storm forces their vehicle off the road. Numbed by the loss of his friends, Steven realizes that life is a circle and he has returned to where he began. Like the Buddha, his next journey towards truth is about to begin.

"Ephemeroptera" follows Steven and Mikeyís hike into the mountains to spread Camilla's ashes. As the ashes are carried away with the wind, a mayfly crests the ridge, followed by another and another. Adult mayflies lack a mouth and cannot eat. They live only a few short hours in order to reproduce. This metaphor on the transient life of nature drives home the major theme of GROWING UP WHITE IN THE SIXTIES: the relationship between existence and awareness.

 The complete manuscript of GROWING UP WHITE IN THE SIXTIES is available for reading in PDF format


Growing Up White in the Sixties





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