Archived Opinion

My own 1971 history project

My own 1971 history project

My boyfriend and I recently bought a vintage house. It was built in 1971. When the realtor gave us a tour, I furrowed my brow trying to imagine our blended family of seven settling into such an abode. Prior to finding this house, we’d been looking at modern homes with open floor plans, bright and airy kitchens, two-car garages and large closets. 

About a week after viewing the house and dismissing it, my boyfriend looked at me seriously, prepping me for a sincere conversation. He knows when I make up my mind it’s hard to change it, but he asked that I hear him out. He said the house had potential, was located in a great part of town, and most importantly, had room for such a large brood. 

Truth be told, there were some things I loved such as the classic step-down living room signature of 1970s homes, the spacious outdoor entertaining spaces, the large rec room downstairs and it being in an older, established neighborhood where the landscaping was robust and beautiful. 

We walked through the house a second time. I opened my eyes and tried to envision the place after some changes and updates. My biggest annoyances were the wall-to-wall carpeting in every room, the dated kitchen, rooms that were cut off from one another and the lack of an HVAC system. The exterior brick was an ugly, boring municipal-looking color. Nonetheless, these were components that could be altered. We decided to purchase. 

After seven months of ownership, we ripped out carpet and put in hardwoods, installed an HVAC on the top floor, knocked down a wall between the living and dining rooms, painted the exterior brick white with black trim and kept the mid-century modern look when it came to furniture and decor. Now, not only do I adore the house but am excited to continue renovations. Yes, the bathrooms and closets are small but that’s OK. We 21st century folk may be too spoiled when it comes to those spaces anyway. 

Our house was built half a century ago. Ironically, the most recent issue of Bon Appétit highlighted the year 1971 with the subtitle, “How 1971 Changed Food Forever.” Wonka & the Chocolate Factory released and was the first and perhaps only movie produced by a food corporation, Quaker Oats. The first frozen margaritas appeared in Dallas when a restaurant owner fashioned a margarita machine out of a soft-serve ice cream machine. 

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General Mills offered the world two “vitamin-charged” cereals in Count Chocula and Franken Berry. Meanwhile, competitors over at Post introduced Cocoa and Fruity Pebbles. Hamburger Helper hit grocery store shelves, which was helpful due to post-Vietnam food prices. This same year, Chicago restaurant owner, R.J. Grunts, popularized the salad bar and Chez Panisse welcomed its first diners, igniting a national interest in local food. 

The year 1971 brought several other monumental events that changed American culture forever. McDonalds introduced the Quarter Pounder and a little shop called Starbucks opened in Seattle. FedEx launched, making cross-country shipments easy and fast. Intel released the world’s first microprocessor, which some say was the start of the digital age. National Public Radio (NPR) broadcasts for the first time, the voting age is lowered to 18 and Walt Disney Resort opens in Florida. 

Charles Manson and three followers are sentenced to the death penalty. Apollo 14 returns to Earth after the third manned moon landing. Black Panther party member Ericka Huggins left prison May 25, 1971. She was hungry and had been during her entire sentence. Upon her release, she joined the Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program, which fed schoolchildren at no cost and laid the groundwork for modern activism. 

Buying an old house makes a person step into the past. Sometimes I like to think of the people who walked the same floors, who sat on the same deck or pulled into the same carport. I wonder who planted that butterfly bush out back or the Bradford pear that blooms on the front knoll. I like feeling connected to and curious about those who came before me. 

The year 1971 was a mere blip in the grand scheme of American history, 365 days that held a lot of action and innovation. We’re now living in another time that’s seeing dramatic changes, technological advances, social injustice and political unrest. 

In 50 more years, I’ll be 91-years old, and I’m sure there will be a 41-year old woman who buys a house or picks up a magazine from 2021 and is intrigued about all that happened during that momentous year. I like to think of her. She gives me courage to stay positive and do all I can to make this world a better place while I’m here. 

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist with the Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living, and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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