An American Latte

Old typewriter

“Hi! Can I take your order?!”

The barista was young – with more spring in his voice than ever was in my step. I really doubted that he shaved. Or even knew how.

“I’ll have a decaf latte,” I placed my order.

And then, feeling brave.

“Double shot of vanilla,” I added. And not the sugar-free.

“And your name?” he asked, poising the black marker at the top of the paper cup.

“Darlene,” I said, and then quickly added, not willing to risk another “Darling” scribbled on my order. “D-A-R…”

“I know that name!” he said proudly. And then, finished spelling it aloud as I did, “…L…E…N…E.”

Maybe he did know how to shave.

He took my stare of amazement as a challenge and explained.

“I have a cousin named Darlene,” he told me, with a victorious smile. “She’s 65.”

65? Really?! Who dragged age into this conversation? Of course, my grey hair sneaking out the sides of my son’s old baseball cap might have been a hint or two. Do I politely nod and let the subject drop? Not willing to “date” myself? Or do I keep the ball rolling, possibly revealing my own age?

Gulp.

Aw hell, I took the plunge.

“Your cousin’s probably named after “Darlene” from the Mickey Mouse Club. A lot of us with that name were named after her. So when you see a “Darlene,” we’re usually from around that same period of time.”

“It’s such a great name!!!” he said, scrawling the name on my cup.

I smiled. It wasn’t so bad admitting my age range. I mean, I’m sure he could tell I wasn’t twenty. Even though I must admit that in my heart I am still twenty, especially when a cute young man (guy? dude?) like this takes the time to even talk to me. And when they actually look you in the eyes and smile, well, there’s no difference now at 60-something and when I was really twenty. So yeah, I looked him in the eyes and I smiled my most fetching smile.

“I really love that name of “Darlene,” he murmured, softly. “It reminds me of Old America.”

Ohhh – Kay.

I must admit this made me pause.

I wasn’t aware there was an “Old America,” but I guess there is.

And I’m it.

I’m one of the Baby Boomers who was filled with idealism, hope, and promise. There were a lot of us, and we helped stop a war and impeach a President; we spoke out against injustice, worked for diversity and equity, and stepped up, when it was our time, to do our jobs, raise our families, and run the country. We didn’t always find our way; we might have stumbled trying to do so much, but we tried. And we believed that if we worked together – all of us, Americans – we could make anything better.

Old America.

That’s what the barista called it. Called those of us who grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club and the new medium of television, long hair and the belief that love would bring us peace. And he said “Old America” with respect. He said it with longing. He said it like someone sitting on the edge of adulthood, looking back at that time of innocence when all questions were answered. When we felt safe and sure about the future, and we hoped our children and grandchildren felt the same way.  He said it like he missed that Old America.

I know what he means.

I miss it too.

19 thoughts on “An American Latte

  1. I miss it, too, and that’s why I/we are back in the struggle to stop war, speaking against injustice, working for diversity and equity. Old America isn’t gone, it’s just gone to sleep. It’s time to wake it up. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  2. Charlie and Dan would’ve loved this! I often felt this way about their generation. Love the way you express yourself – it’s as if I can hear your thoughts.

    • Thanks, Kerry. Dad used to say to us when he talked about WWII, about the rise of Hitler’s and Mussolini, that some day it could happen here, as well. I used to tell him he was wrong. “That’s why we have three branches of government and checks and balances. So it can never happen here.” He used to turn back to whatever football game he was watching on tv and say with a shake of his head, “Well, I may never see it happen. But don’t be so sure – one day it can definitely happen here.”

  3. I miss exactly the same world with the same feeling though not from the U.S. The UK shared much of that public conscience with you and I really thought we were getting somewhere. But, those of our generation who got into power didn’t bring about the changes we hoped for or maybe it was just the wrong group of us and we’ve had more wars since then.
    Can’t we find anyone with a conscience who isn’t tied to money who can start to change the world? Maybe there will be more people missing that generation.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • It was reassuring to me to see someone so young aware of that Old America. It gave me hope that if we keep persisting…and resisting…together (and that is the key word) we might be able to “get somewhere” with our good conscience still intact. Today filled me with hope, and I send that hope across the pond to all of our brothers and sisters in the U.K. And HUGE HUGS to you too!

  4. Darlene…you and that cute little girl on the Mickey Mouse Club. I wanted to be her! I am 65 and had someone (a man…gasp) say the other day, “You don’t look a day older than 60!” I know he was trying to compliment me but my heart dropped for a second. Sixty is so much older than who I feel I am on the inside. And “Old America.” I know some of that is the normal nostalgia that everyone feels about their childhood, but there was something really, really special about that space in time right after WWII. So much promise and possibility. Things began to change…people began to speak out…to care. I hope too that it’s not dead, but just asleep. To know that there are young people who may yearn for that is encouraging. It scares me to hear the voices of those that don’t understand what that was like and don’t care. They seem to want to throw out the entire country and start over with something completely new. Maybe that shouldn’t scare me, but it does. That doesn’t sound like Old America, or even New America. It doesn’t sound much like America at all.

    • Wow! What great words, Linda. You summed it all up so beautifully. That young “dude” gave me a feeling of hope again, and that was the best tasting Vanilla Latte I’ve had in a long time.

  5. That was a cool story you told of the latte. Just to give you another perspective, I spent a good deal of my pre-adolescence enraptured by another part of the Mickey Mouse Club: Annette Funicello. Mine was a different type of endearment. It had nothing to do with idealism, the fifties, the good life etc.; I was just mesmerized by her bust. “What the heck is going on here?” I had no idea, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of her anatomy. It was similar to when I came back from the summer to start 8th grade and several of the girls had really “sprouted.” Man, I looked so hard, the air practically crystallized in front of my eyes.

    A little later something similar happened with the Donna Reed Show and Shelly Fabares. Yeah, now I have a clearer vision: of her singing Johnny Angel. [pause] Took a couple of minutes but I just found her singing it on YouTube. Boy, that was a syrupy song, and I lusted after her big time. Not exactly lust but something close to it.

    I do agree that Darlene is a beautiful name. Never even thought of it, but it rolls of the tongue wonderfully.

  6. My Spanish is very primitive, but most of the time, I can make myself understood. You talk about being served by a barista. I was taught that nouns pertaining to femailes end in an A so I thought it was a woman serving you until you referred to him with an English masculine pronoun and he began flirting with you. Thus he was a young man and should have been referred to as a baristo. That is, unless I am wrong.

    All I know is that my Spanish speaking female friends say I must call them each an amiga and my male Spanish speaking friends would be insulted if someone called them an amigo.

    • Thanks so much, Lynne. Whenever I put up a blog post I always look for you, and if I don’t see your name right away, I always wonder: “Gee, I hope she likes this one.” The insecurities of a writer! I once had a well-known actress say to me (as she watched me fret a LOT over a production of one of my plays): “I thought actors were neurotic, but writers are even WORSE!” Guilty as charged!

  7. As always- love how you put into words -expressing- a want, a need we all hope for – a better America. I don’t feel anything with what’s happening right now in DC, except a smile did cross my face when the ACA was still intact the other day. Little steps….God bless you Darlene! By the way, one of my aunt’s name is Darlene!

  8. Hey, Darlene, okay — I’m a big 6-0 and right purrrouuuud of it, too. I love telling people how old I am, there’s just something about that hit. haaa

    I love this essay. Right there with you. 🙂

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