After the Summer of Love
To the Editor:
Herbert Gold’s “Remembrance of Cultural Revolutions Past” [March] overwhelmed me with memories. He certainly brought to life the sounds, smells, styles, craziness, and vacuity of the San Francisco that my husband and I knew in the early 1970’s. I don’t know how many times I had to listen to mercilessly humorless “politicos” preach revolution or analyze minute differences among uniformly leftist positions, or hear stoned-out hippies (originally distinct from the politicos) prate about “love and peace.”
For me, Mr. Gold’s reminiscence was especially powerful because I was somewhat friendly with his wife Melissa at exactly the time he writes about, when they were breaking up. Mr. Gold blames the breakup of his marriage on the times. I must say that, to me, Melissa did not seem a countercultural type. She was a lovely, very blueblood Wasp, somewhat reserved and very devoted to her three children whom she spoke about a great deal. She appeared to be very responsible. Though only a year older than I, she seemed from a different generation, a woman already with children and an older husband, more established in life than any of our friends.
But Mr. Gold reminds us of how powerful was the lure of the counterculture. People were seduced by, or forced into, the heady freedom that came with violating conventional morality. No insult was worse than to be called “straight,” “bourgeois,” or “uptight.” I knew many couples who tried to banish jealousy or experimented with open relationships; someone was always shattered, even if everyone denied it. Divorces like the Golds’ littered the landscape. If you believed in being faithful, you were the one on the defensive. It was easy to lose your moorings.
As Mr. Gold at least indirectly admits, it was rather unseemly for older people like himself to be acting like youngsters in what was, after all, a youth movement, and he thus had his own share of complicity in Melissa’s experimentation. Those under the age of thirty and without grown-up commitments could afford to be freer. To my mind, the most glaring feature of the time was less the rise of the youth cult than the disappearance of adulthood. Mr. Gold captures that beautifully.
Mr. Gold’s wistful nostalgia for his lost love and for the undeniable exuberance of that era, coupled with his keen awareness of its silliness and its tawdry endings, made me very sad. I cannot help thinking about what subsequently happened to Melissa herself, a swan who wafted into his life, loved him, seemed ready to nest permanently, and then seemed simply to sail away with her brood when the winds changed. Although Mr. Gold does not say so in his memoir, what followed for Melissa were two more husbands, and then death in a helicopter crash when she was only forty-seven.
Roberta P. Seid
Santa Monica, California
Herbert Gold writes:
I am moved by Roberta P. Seid’s eloquent letter, evoking her own remembrance of a strange period in the life of San Francisco and America, with its reverberations, for both good and bad, that still continue. I did not mean to suggest that Melissa, my former wife, and I were victims of “the times.” What I did and what that remarkable woman did was consistent with our characters, although certainly influenced by a moment when it seemed that all barriers should go down.
Melissa’s death in a helicopter during a storm was a tragedy for our children, for her many friends, and for the former husband who still treasures her memory.