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Back Roads: 1968 exhibit brings back memories, questions

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Arleta Fenwick of Chatfield and her grandson, Ryan Boysen of Rockford take a music quiz at the 1968 exhibit at the Fillmore County History Center. She said she got nearly all answers correct.

FOUNTAIN — With nostalgia tempered by trepidation I walked into the Fillmore County History Center 's "Coming of Age 1968" exhibit, prepared to face my past and my life today.

That was a year of incredible music, with such greats as the Beatles and The Doors. It also was a year of shocking assassinations — of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. And it was a time people experienced shining dreams of a better society, along with the dark reality of the Vietnam War.

I saw it, remember parts of it, was one of thousands who dreamed of being a part of changing the world. We youths thought we had the answers, if only someone would listen. We took to the streets, we sang about it, talked about it, hoped for it. Little ever came of it.

I legally came of age that year because in early September I turned 18. I could smoke (I didn't), vote (I did) and get drafted (I wasn't).

That was the first of the two great bookend birthdays. Now, I'm fewer than two weeks away from the second great bookend birthday when illusions, or delusions, of not really being a senior citizen will end as I turn 65.

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Could I be that old? Could the crazy year of 1968 be that long ago? I got a euphoric/dreadful reminder of that year at that traveling exhibit of the Minnesota Historical Society now at the Fillmore History Center in Fountain.

Outside the exhibit hall were four mannequins dressed as the Beatles, my favorite rock group. They were geniuses.

Inside, I immediately saw a poster board of newspaper stories of Fillmore County men killed in Vietnam. I protested against the war but also felt guilty that some other guy was over there fighting or dying when I was safe at home. I didn't understand what it was all about, what it was all for. I was so confused.

A video kiosk in the exhibit captured well that tortuous year. You could tap on several clips of the hopeful lyrics of the Beatles, but also of the chaos of cops beating protesters during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. You could tremble with delight at Apollo 8 — the first NASA mission to circle the moon — and shudder at the assassinations of King and Kennedy.

The exhibit also shoved my impending 65th birthday in my face.

I couldn't think of how I was once young and full of optimism and questions, then not wonder what became of that optimism and those questions. I still am not sure what I've become. Some dreams have been realized, such as finding a great mate; some will never come, such as being a star athlete; most are still in limbo, such as finding the meaning of life.

I left the exhibit more muddled than when I went in. Maybe there are no answers to that year, that decade.

As I drove away to go fish trout, I put on the Beatles greatest hits album and sang along. On the stream, fishing was slow but as I walked back to my car, I belted out a favorite Beatles tune to the goldfinches: "And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain; don't carry the world upon your shoulders."

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A video of the Beatles was one of the clips you can watch at the 1968 exhibit at the Fillmore County History Center in Fountain.

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