When I Was 17, It Was a Very Good Year




Somewhere, buried deep in one of my jewelry boxes is a little costume jewelry necklace. It’s gold (not real gold), about 18-inches in length, with a boxy number 17 in the center. I remember exactly how I acquired it. It was a few days after my 17th birthday, and I was “malling” with my best girlfriends. We stopped at one of the anchor stores and there was a display of these numbered necklaces at the one of the jewelry counters. All the teen numbers were there, and of course I selected a “17” necklace for myself. I wore that necklace a lot throughout the following year.

I often look back fondly of that time in my life. It was the late-70’s, and I was a teenager with great friends, my own car (’76 Ford Maverick), and enough spare time to spend at the mall with my friends. Not a care in the world, and enough money in my pocket (from working at Dairy Queen) to buy records and a few trinkets. Gas for my Maverick, was another matter.

I was too young to be seriously concerned by the gas shortages in the early 1970s, but I was there when they returned in the late 70s. The nation was still struggling from “The Great Inflation of the 1970s”, and I remember everyone saying that once gas reached $1 per gallon, they’d start walking (no one started walking). I also remember the gas lines at the stations. However, being a teenager just meant turning that into an adventure with my friends. We’d meet up, pile into a couple of our cars and go line up for gas, with our 8-track players blasting whatever cool tunes were hot at the time.

With full tanks, we were ready to go wherever we wanted. If the car ran low on gas, we’d just head to the closest friend’s house and swap. Of course, our outings were teen hangouts. We went to the drive-in movies every Monday night in the summer (dollar night). There was a place called Raceway that had pinballs machines, little cars you could ride around a track, foosball tables, and video games like Space Invaders and Pac-Man (and later, Ms. Pac-Man), but my game was Skee-Ball. You see, we won tickets on Skee-Ball, and could trade them in for all kinds of crap. Oh, not junk like pencil erasers or giant sunglasses, but quality crap, like a Budweiser lamp, or a radio in the shape of a Holstein cow. As much as I wanted that bovine radio, we girls decided to pool our Skee-Ball tickets and get the Budweiser lamp—with matching 16-oz glasses—for a friend’s wedding shower. It was decidedly the coolest gift she got.

I was, on occasion, a “bad girl”, albeit rather innocuous—especially considering the era. There was one local restaurant that didn’t card you for drinks. The legal drinking age was 18 at that time, and at 5’ 10”, I had no problem passing for one year older. I really wasn’t much of a drinker—hated beer—but I could manage a watered-down banana daquiri on occasion. Actually, I thought they tasted better with no alcohol in them (such a “bad girl” I was). Once in a while, someone in our circle would have access to pot, and if we gave a free chocolate shake to the guy who ran our local convenience store, we could score some free rolling papers… strawberry rolling papers, which apparently upped the coolness factor.

I was talking to a friend recently, and with various states legalizing marijuana and opening distilleries around the country, I wondered if I would patronize a shop if one opened near me. But you know… I think I’d rather spend that money on a nice brisket. Priorities.

Anyway, I phased out of all that by the time I graduated high school. I think I was trying to be more mature or grown-up, but I did walk away from it. I left the Dairy Queen for a new parttime job to cover expenses while I went to college. I soon made new friends, and had new interests, but I still hold a special place in my heart for all those teenage memories, the fun adventures, and the friends I left behind (or the ones who didn’t seem to want to grow up with me or weren’t ready yet). But, like the song says, “When I was 17, it was a very good year.”

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Elle & Company