Born the end of 1945, I’m now almost 76 1/2 years old. That’s a lot of years to have watched people and events in the world, although I learn new things every single day. The observations here are based on what I’ve personally observed and lived through and I write this for those who live with the good things that have come from the past.

Growing up in the 1950s, my own childhood would be considered idyllic. We were a white family, living in a nice house, neighborhood and city, Tulsa, Oklahoma. We played in the yard, roamed freely, had advantages. I went to a lovely private school for my elementary years, a place where I was only around people like me, along with several who were very wealthy and had chauffeurs and cooks. We had a maid, but my mother worked alongside her to keep everything perfect. I think these are the “Good Old Days” that many idealize and long for. There are some things that were definitely sweet and innocent, but there is a reality that I began to see even then.

The only people of color we knew were people who worked for us or at the country club or restaurants. They all lived on the north side of Tulsa and my only views of their homes were when my mother would sometimes drive one of our maids home. My mother grew up very poor with a widowed mother during the Depression. My father grew up with a father who owned a growing business. As a small child, I only saw my grandparents homes as wonderful places to explore, but I would start observing differences early.

I was a quiet little girl who spent a lot of time reading and watching, listening and snooping around. Like most children, I saw and heard a lot more than I said. Children in those days didn’t ask as many questions and weren’t asked their opinions on much. My parents were great, but they weren’t sharing their everyday concerns and problems with us. I would now consider those days, in general, as the days of secrets and lies, not so much in my family, but in general.

After the war, women who had worked while their husbands served mostly became housewives and mothers. Men who were on the rise in companies were looked down on if their wives worked outside the home, seen as unable to support their families. If you wanted to be promoted, your wife was home building a beautiful home and waiting for you to arrive home after work with a clean home, cooked meal and children ready to greet you. My parents married at the end of the war and Mommy had worked for years so she was happy to assume this new role and teach us that Daddy was to be the center of our universe and we were to be forever grateful to him. The fact that he was a sweet man and they loved each other so much made this easy to buy into. Daddy worked hard, they entertained their friends, we had fun as a family and were picture perfect for the era.

Daddy always gave my mother an allowance. She used this to pay the maid, buy groceries and keep the household going. She handed him the bills and he took them to work and paid them. There were no credit cards in those days, but you could get a charge account at stores, with the permission of your husband. My mother was a good manager and managed to save money for herself out of her allowance. I always thought it was kind of sad that Daddy didn’t give her gifts but handed her a check through the years. I understand now that she was saving all of that until she had her own money and independence and didn’t have to ask him for every little thing. Not many women had this luxury or were smart enough to do this. I didn’t appreciate her independence until years later.

Women didn’t have that many rights in those days. Husbands had to co-sign or approve anything like the charge accounts. My mother didn’t have a checking account for decades because she had those charge accounts and cash. I remember when my husband and I were first married while in college in the mid-60s and applied for our first credit card, then a $100 limit, together. We had moved along by then to have joint accounts. Everything we ever did as a couple was in both our names. We never thought of doing it any other way. There was an incident when I was in my 30s where I was purchasing some clothing for him at a store where we had charged for years and the clerk said she would have to have my husband approve the charge. I was so angry. He couldn’t believe it. I can only imagine if that had happened over and over.

Back to my growing up and observing. While in high school, I began to notice that adults seemed to drink way too much. My mother never drank, but there was a lot of drinking. My father kept bottles of liquor in his desk drawer at work and had a drink when he got home from work. That was common. I’m sure he offered drinks to business associates who came by the office and had a drink or two when he worked late. I also began to hear things from the adult conversations. I realize now that many of my parents friends had affairs, but divorce was scandalous and the women had no way to make a living if they left their husbands, so they stayed. I watched many of them celebrate their Golden Anniversaries, knowing that their marriages had been up and down through the years.

I’ve also learned though the years that human behavior has not changed. There has always been rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, spousal abuse. Nobody talked about it. There were secrets everywhere. We know now that children suffered abuse from trusted teachers, scout leaders, church leaders, family members. Women were beaten and tortured in their homes. Before she died, my mother mentioned that one of the reasons that her mother never remarried after being widowed at 28 and left with three children during the Depression was that she was afraid of marrying someone who might harm her children. I found out as an adult that a boy I went to high school with, a handsome football captain, was beaten by his father. He actually lived away from home and snuck back before school every day so nobody would know. Brothers I met late in life were beaten regularly by their father who did everything he could to demean them in their lives. We had no idea that things like this happened in our idyllic “Good Old Days.” There were secrets everywhere.

My mother and I were talking about abortion many years ago and she told me she had one. Her doctor did it in his office, telling her she didn’t need another baby right then. She just took his word for it. She was so insightful and knew it was never a black and white issue. By the time I was in college, I had had a good friend commit suicide because she found out she was pregnant at 14, and saw girls leave school for time away with their far away aunts, where they either had abortions or had the babies and gave them up for adoption. Some of them were never able to have children after the experience. No telling how many girls I knew who went to scary people or did their own abortions. I once visited an abortion clinic when it was made legal and saw a 14 year old girl and her grandmother, a college athlete and his girlfriend, and mother of three who was alone. None of them looked anything but sad, but at least they were gently taken care of and able to go about their lives. I learned then that I had no idea what decisions people have to make and it’s none of my business.

Back to women’s issues, my college years were filled with experiences that shaped the women of my generation. My friends were very smart girls who were expected to go to good colleges and use our brains. The reality was that there weren’t a lot of career options out there encouraged for us – teachers, nurses, secretary were real choices. If you had to work, it was to take care of yourself until you could find a husband. A few were breaking out of that mold, but it was there. We were treated in different ways that the “men” we went to school with. While the guys had no curfews, we had to be in by 10 on weeknights and by midnight on the weekends. Women at Oklahoma State University were required to live in university housing (or sorority houses) until they were 23 years old or married. Many got married a young age then anyway. When I had my first daughter, I was 22 years old and the oldest new mother in Stillwater Hospital. College men were exempt from the draft for Vietnam if they were married, so there were many quick weddings. Some lasted, some didn’t.

I was not a big protester, although I certainly read all that I could. I marched for Academic Freedom, signed petitions to give coeds more rights on campus, and heard Gloria Steinem when she visited campus. Women were getting bolder about asking for their rights. When I realize now that my grandmothers couldn’t even vote until they were in their 20s, I realize how long it has taken for women to be recognized as equal human beings.

In junior high, I met my first Jewish friends. Their parents had their own country club because they weren’t allowed to join the other clubs until into the 70s or 80s. It didn’t matter how successful they were or how generous they were to the community, it took years for them to be accepted. I was proud when one of my good friends became the first Jewish President of the Junior League of Tulsa in the 1980s. Ridiculous that it took that long.

I had my first friend who was a person of color when I was in college. She was the only girl in our dorm and one of the few on campus. She was great fun and offered us insights into her life in Arkansas. Growing up in Oklahoma, you would think we knew many Native Americans, but nobody was claiming that heritage then. A friend I met as an adult told me how she was looked down on in Tulsa growing up, obviously not in my lily white neighborhoods. She earned her PhD and educated many of us on the reality of the tribes. Now everyone wants to find some Native blood in their family, a far cry from the earlier years in the “Good Old Days.”

When I was in junior high and high school, guys would ridicule each other using words like “queer” and “fag.” Talk about a big secret in those days. My mother had two women friends who came to visit us that she had known when she was younger. She just adored them and explained them vaguely, but I caught on that they were a couple. It was hard to conceive then. Through the years, I had friends who left their families as they came out, but remained terrific fathers and friends to their former wives. I remember a close friend from high school who called me to tell me she was gay. She had been through a horrific marriage and had a child. I took that announcement in, realizing how hard it was for her to tell me, and told her I was just happy she had found love in life. I got it. I had that experience more than once as friends came out and other friends found that they had gay children. Something I had not really had an opinion on was an issue I understood and could appreciate for my friends. I was learning how many people I knew who had lived secret or suppressed lives for so many years.

Religion was a mixed bag in our house growing up. I always leaned towards going to church and found it a place where I could spend time thinking and learning more about people. As I grew up and took leadership positions, it was apparent that the perfect life of church members was just a microcosm of society with adultery, lies, bullying and, we later, learned abuse. When I worked with Domestic Violence victims in the 1980s, we found that churches were one of the obstacles because they were still telling women that they needed to stay in marriages and obey their husbands and their wedding vows. Churches have come a long way. For all the attempts to be more perfect, the reality of being human is even more apparent under the spotlight of religion. I once told a grandson, who asked, that the difference in churches or congregations is in the people, the structure, the governance. You might feel most at home at one denomination in one town and another one somewhere else. They have their own identities. We are fortunate to be able to choose our means of worship.

Back to the women’s issues, the first big volunteer job I had in 1973 was to publish a cookbook as a fundraiser for an organization. The recipes were listed under our married names (Mrs. Alan C. Fraser). This amuses/horrifies me today because I had always taken pride in using my maiden name with my married name. We were young and proud to be married, I guess. In the decade to come, many of my friends found themselves divorced because their husbands had affairs and left them, unlike my parents’ friends who stayed together and probably led separate lives or made each other miserable in some cases. These women, in their 30s and 40s, found themselves with college degrees they hadn’t used and a workforce where they weren’t welcomed. I’m proud to say that many built lovely careers on their own. Actually, I found myself in the same position when I became a widow at 52 and had to build a life and career/careers. We were getting stronger and gaining more respect and resources. Women can be their own worst enemies and I’m always sad to see those who choose not to support each other.

I’m not going to talk about the diseases that ran through the “Good Old Days” and the medical breakthroughs that save people today or the children who had undiagnosed learning disabilities or the pollution caused by industries and the inequalities in pay between the workers and the executives. You get the point. The “Good Old Days” weren’t all bad, but they certainly weren’t times to return to. Sure, it would be nice to be as innocent as I was a child, but I grew up and learned and continue to learn.

People are capable of extreme good and unfathomable evil. We make strides and then fall back. As a woman, I can truly say I have watched so many advances made through the efforts of smart, determined women and understanding, supportive men. A few years ago, I thought I would be able to live out my life watching my grandchildren and their children and so on inherit a better life and world. Now I’m not so sure.

Many of my most respected friends are depressed and angry and concerned about the direction society is taking. Of course, I also have friends who are excited and even those who think we are going to go back to the “Good Old Days.” I think I’m most depressed about the polarization and the inability of anyone to sit down and find common solutions or even to recognize that some of these issues are a problem.

One thing I am sure of is that I have watched and learned over the past 7+ decades because of the people I have met who have taught me the reality about some situations in life. When I see things I believe to be wrong, I have to speak out because if I don’t, the results will be partly my fault. You can’t ignore problems and hope they will go away. Those weren’t the “Good Old Days” they talk about. They were just the Old Days. We are supposed to be getting better, or at least trying. Aren’t we?