Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1979

I just got back from the movies a little while ago. Checked out Super 8, the Steven Spielberg-produced and J.J. Abrams-directed adolescent alien thriller, and boy did it make me nostalgic. It’s almost like it was custom made to appeal directly to me: the movie is set in a small town just outside Dayton, Ohio in 1979 and involves the Air Force, a boy with a crush on a pretty blonde girl, railroad tracks, and some cool music from Electric Light Orchestra, The Knack, and Blondie. What was I doing in 1979? Living in a small town just outside Dayton, Ohio. My dad was in the Air Force. I had a crush on a pretty blonde girl. We lived in a house just up the hill from some railroad tracks. And I rocked out on my transistor radio to cool music from ELO, The Knack, and Blondie. I even had the same Coleco Electronic Quarterback game as one of the boys in the movie.

There are a few subtle differences between my life and the film. The kids are a couple of years older, for one thing. I was in the 5th grade, and they’re middle schoolers. Plus, I didn’t come face to face with a snarling, grunting tarantula-like alien creature from another world. Other than those minor details, the movie certainly took me back to a place and time that I consider among the best years of my childhood. It was a happy sense of deja vu.

Our three years in Fairborn, Ohio – or technically, Wright-Patterson AFB – were sandwiched between stints in Hawaii. My dad was stationed there from 1977-1980, when I was 8-11 years old. Having been born – and lived most of my life – on a tropical island, Ohio might as well have been a different planet. A strange and wonderful new world filled with exotic discoveries like snow. And buckeyes. The 1970s never really felt like the 1970s in Hawaii, in much the same way that Christmas never really felt like Christmas: all the warm sunshine, aloha shirts and Hawaiian music masked the real world. Ohio, by contrast, was a polyester-filled, disco-drenched wonderland in a strange part of the country that isn’t quite the midwest but can’t really call itself the northeast, either.

Long before Nintendo existed, handheld games like Coleco Electronic Quarterback were all the rage. Ahh, 1979. (Courtesy of meristation.com)

And I loved it. I never wanted to leave.

We would wander down to those train tracks often, laying down pennies for the passing locomotives to flatten. It was the perfect place for a kid that age to grow up: our neighborhood had hills ideal for sledding, a giant field to run through, and a forest with a creek that led to endless opportunities for exploration. My parents bought a camper and we spent weekends camping. We would hike and fish and swim in lakes. I can’t imagine a more wholesome, carefree and idyllic place to spend those years.

About that girl. Her name was Kelly, and we were classmates in Mrs. Ricard’s 5th-grade class at Central Elementary in Fairborn. She wasn’t the first girl I ever had a crush on, but she was the first I ever thought I might be in love with. It sounds silly now, but man, some days she was all I could think about. One time she called me on the phone. I was thankful that I’d answered, because how embarrassing if my parents knew I was talking to a girl! There’s a scene in a favorite movie of mine, Singles. Steve shows up on Linda’s doorstep one night. When she answers his knock, he says, “I was just…nowhere near your neighborhood,” which earns him an invitation inside. Kelly lived a couple of miles from me, and one evening I did the same thing, sort of. Walked over to her house and just kind of loitered around outside, too scared to ring the bell. She saw me, and came out. I told her I was just passing by, and she smiled, because she knew I lived pretty far away. How did this burgeoning romance end? Unrequited, because the following year my dad was transferred back to Hawaii, and we moved thousands of miles away.

But.

I figured, even at a young age, that you only get one shot in life at showing somebody how much you care. So I wrote Kelly a letter, telling her how much I’d liked her but had been too shy to say anything. To my utter surprise, she wrote back and confessed to similar feelings. Talk about bittersweet. I wonder if my heart has ever hurt so much as it did in that moment when I read her words?

I often wonder what happened to Kelly. Naturally, I’ve searched Facebook, but have come up empty. Her name was common, and she’s probably been married forever by now, anyway.

I think sometimes I cling to the 1970s because they were such a happy and fun time in my life, pure innocence from another era. That might explain my obsession with lava lamps and vinyl records and vintage avocado green and harvest gold appliances and the Sweathogs and Saturday Night Fever. 

And why I enjoyed Super 8 so very much.

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31 thoughts on “Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1979

    1. Aww, thank you! :)

      Singles is awesome. I just watched it again a couple of weeks ago. I love everything about it…talk about nostalgia!

      Although, I can never look at Spam the same way now…

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  1. What a great post, Mark! And don’t give up trying to track down the girl. Try searching Facebook for classmates with less common names–someone is bound to know. I believe in that sort of thing!
    Kathy

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    1. I left the sappiest part of the story out, Kathryn. Suffice it to say, I’d love to find her…every so often I renew my search. I’ve tried classmates.com too, but she doesn’t appear to be on there. Too bad.

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  2. So thankful you never ran into any tarantula-like alien creature from another world!!!! Wow! Great post! Growing up with the ability to just explore like you did is such a great treasure as a child! I also love happy endings, so I hope you find your “Kelly”.

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  3. It’s funny that I’ve romanticized OHIO so damn much. But you have to understand, it was the perfect place to live at that moment in time. Someday I want to go back. Someday soon.

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  4. Dude! You really should have said at the header … SPOILER ALERT !! I totally did not want to know what was in the train yet, shit! Oh well, I’m still going to see it!

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    1. Santa isn’t real, either!
      Oops…
      Sorry, Ian. I didn’t mean to give anything away. Next time I’ll slap a big Spoiler Alert if I’m talking about something that just came out. Really, though, it doesn’t matter – GREAT movie. You’ll enjoy it!

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  5. You were already a favorite of mine, but the fact that Singles is a favorite movie of yours just bumped you up even higher. I may have to think of a delightful comment to leave you and report back later, I’ve got some Paul Westerberg to listen to. “All my life, waiting for somebody…” I’m so putting the soundtrack in right now. *Bliss*

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    1. You shoot me glances and they’re so hard to read, I misconstrue what you mean; slip me a napkin and now that you start, is this your name or a doctor’s eye chart?

      Best soundtrack ever!!

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  6. Kelly, if your out there look up Mark. It sounds to me that you two are destined to meet again and start up that romance that you were too young for before. What high school would she have gone to? Can you get any information about maybe the next reunion and crash it and who knows maybe she will be there or someone that knows where she is now. My high school has reunions every ten years.
    Loved your blog super fantastic.
    Theresa

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  7. I grew up next door in Indiana – kind of nice to hear such nice things about the eastern midwest that so many of us were so bored with.

    My mom still has the same avocado green kitchen wastebasket that she had in the 70s. Back then we had avocado-green wood paneling on the lower half of the kitchen walls and white/gold/green wallpaper on the top half. And a green refrigerator and dishwasher.

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  8. I lived there from 1976-1979 my father was in the air force he was a captian in the air force, my home room teacher was mrs. Lacey for 4-6 grades. I remember the art teachers name was mrs Gardner, and the priceiple was named Mr Horne. cant remember first names kinda curious as to what there doing these days,

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      1. and the music teacher was mrs. andrews, I hated hearing Peter and the Wolf over and over, You wouldnt be the mark back then with the real long blond hair?

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      2. Well – I did have blond hair, and it was kind of long…not excessively so, just a typical 70s hairstyle. I had Mrs. Shaw for 3rd grade, Mrs. Worthman for 4th and Mrs. Ricard for 5th.

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