It’s easy for the women of my generation to believe we aren’t old. We have the freedom to dress any way we like, behave however we please, do anything we have the energy and the money to accomplish. Birthdays be damned–it’s easy to make ourselves think that 70 is late middle age. We still listen to rock and roll (although it’s probably not what our grandchildren listen to). We still wear jeans (but the cut is more relaxed than what we looked for thirty years ago). We still travel (or we plan to as soon as covid has disappeared). Wotthehell, as Mehitabel once said, there’s still a dance in the old dame yet–except of course we’re not old–absofuckinglutely not. We’re getting older.

However this week I time-traveled back into the late 1960s, and let me tell you, nothing makes you understand the truth of passing time like returning to the days when you were truly young.

A few days before I turned 74, a friend gave me a copy of The Ladies’ Home Journal from August 1967. Although my mother was a devoted subscriber to this magazine, I’d stopped reading it years before this issue came into our house. By then I was getting the Village Voice every week (in Anchorage, Alaska yet!) and reading Camus. 

So it was with real curiosity that I scrutinized the pages of this magazine which made two things quite clear. Apparently two worries preyed on the women of that time–fading hair color and vaginal odor. 

“What does douching have to do with your husband?” “This new product will become as essential to you as your toothbrush.” “She spent an hour bathing and dressing but one oversight stamped her careless. How could she risk her marriage this way?” “Does she or doesn’t she?” “Blonding simplified.” And for those who had covered those two basic qualms, Lustre Creme Shampoo was ready to assure them that “Pink is for Girls.” 

Although a full-color four-page fashion spread showed “the latest looks from Paris and Rome,” all of them with hemlines that reached mid-thigh, the ladies (or were they ‘girls”) were given American role models. Mary Lindsay, Nancy Reagan, Erika Kirk, Lenore Romney, all good wives of prominent politicians, wore “the contemporary fashion of the day–The Knit Dress” made in America, daringly grazing the knees that were  all swathed in nylons. (Remember nylons? Of course you don’t. But there’s an ad to jog your memory–”Sears Cling-alon Stockings fit any leg.”)

Half of the magazine is devoted to food, a section that is absolutely bloodcurdling from a 21st Century perspective. Recipes from “Grandma’s Kitchen” swim in butter, cream, and bacon fat, with a “Homemade Mustard” made from flour, sugar, salt, cider vinegar, and dry mustard. “No-Cook Frozen Desserts” depend on refrigerated pie mixes, cake mixes, and puffed rice cereal. Exotic Hot and Cold Soups, claiming global ancestry from the Ivory Coast to White Russia, all had their bases come out of a can. An ad urges “Don’t just have a steak cook-out. Have a bistecca di Firenze, instead.” And guess who reminds their readers just where Firenze is? Why it’s that lovable old Italian, Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, who makes that steak Florentine with a can of his Spaghetti Sauce with Meat.

There are no cigarette ads–Virginia Slims were still to be invented. There are no ads for wine to accompany those grisly meals–nor do cocktails appear, although this was the era of the two-martini lunch. But there is a two-page spread for the Literary Guild of America, offering Philip Roth, Graham Greene, Bertrand Russell, and the Complete Works of Shakespeare in two volumes, all in hardcover, four for a dollar. (The only women who are part of this offer are Amy Vanderbilt and Fannie Farmer.)

There is however a condensed version of a novel by Martha Gellhorn included in this issue and the sort of short story that was a routine fixture back in the days when magazines still had fiction editors. Dr. Bruno Bettelheim quite daringly discusses Parental Nudity in a Dialogue with Mothers and there’s an article that takes up a surprising number of pages as it reveals The Real Svetlana Stalin Story  (written by two men). 

For real culture, the Longines Symphony Society offers “100 chances to win A Sensational Mercury COUGAR Sportscar, Fully Equipped and complete with all deluxe accessories,” to anyone who buys their four-record treasury, Port of Call…Romance.

But sprinkled among etiquette advice (“May I type my condolence letters?) and financial tips on how to spend “your husband’s salary” are small cracks that will eventually shake the world of LHJ readers. Can This Marriage Be Saved delves into the difficulty of blending families of divorced partners and another explores Why “Good” Sons Become Draft Dodgers.”

Yes. All of this is straight out of the Dark Ages, but those are the years in which I grew up. Quite clearly, this 55-year-old magazine from 1967 showed me that now at the end of 2022, I’m old. 

I admit it but I’ll be damned if I’m going to live that way. 70 may not be the new 50, but it’s not the old 70 either and thank goodness for that. Thanks for taking me back into time with the privilege of returning to the present, Ladies’ Home Journal.