1970 was a beautiful year in America, and spring was the most beautiful time of all. What I mean is that things were, generally speaking, irresistibly pleasing to the eye and appealing to the heart in 1970, more so that in any other year in my memory. As I remember it, most everything in the world was new and shiny in 1970.
Oh, I know that the country was in turmoil. The war in Vietnam was raging on, and social and political upheavals of previously unimagined kinds were causing a lot of tension. I couldn’t tell you what the economy was like, just that I was a nineteen-year-old college freshman and, as such, I was always broke. That didn’t matter.
I didn’t have much in the way of money or possessions, but what I did have was a keen eye and appreciation for the uncommon beauty that surrounded me every day. Wherever I turned, whatever direction I looked, beauty reflected everywhere and on everything, radiating constantly from a single source.
In late March, 1970 I used essentially all of a year’s earnings from my part-time job to buy a new car. Well, it wasn’t really new, but it was new to me. The car was a three year old Opel, a sporty little red wagon with large yellow fog lights attached to the front bumper. It was easy on gasoline, and it was a good bit newer than the aging Ford I traded in to buy it.
I bought the Opel on a Friday afternoon, and I was determined to take it out for an extended drive on Saturday, the following day. I had never been to Callaway Gardens, a botanical resort area about two hours south of Atlanta, but I had heard from those who had visited that it was breathtakingly beautiful in the spring, awash in an explosion of spring flowers set against beautiful, wooded stands lining quiet ponds and waterways. It sounded like the perfect destination for a day junket for the little red Opel and a perfect backdrop against which to appreciate the source of all beauty in my world, a girl named Mary Ann.
To this day, to this hour, I recall every detail of that spring day and our trip to Callaway Gardens. I recall the two-hour drive south from Atlanta, the fresh spring countryside passing outside the Opel’s windows and the enchanting sounds of the conversation and laughter coming from the passenger’s seat. I recall the delightful spontaneity and seemingly endless variety of enchantments in the girl who walked with me for hours through the gardens and along the water’s edge. And, I remember most clearly those things, urgent things, I wanted to tell her on that day when it seemed important that actions speak louder than words.
At the end of that day I returned her to the door where I’d picked her up hours earlier. I didn’t kiss her on the porch steps, tell her how I loved her or do any of the things that a young man in love might do. I thanked her for the day, and kept her pretty face constantly in my mind as I drove home in the dark.
1970 was a beautiful year in America, and spring was the most beautiful time of all.