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You Went to Woodstock?

R-13471089-1563892691-9421.jpegThere’s not been an event in my life that’s made me feel more like a hot shit than going to Woodstock.

On August 15,1969, everyone I knew in my small circle of dope smoking friends were either headed there, planning to meet there or trying to get there. Hundreds of miles of caravans disrupted the pastoral dairy farms of lower New York state, rolling upcountry from the Jersey Shore. Reveling to the world’s greatest rock and roll bands melded our bodies and souls to three days of peace and love.

Throughout the festival Wavy Gravy danced to the microphone with updates on the number of cool cats sitting on the hillside of Max Yasgur’s farm. When he exclaimed half-a-million, whoops and whistles rose up to the spirit in the sky. All the hippies in America, maybe the world, had come together. I was right where I was supposed to be.

My friends and I told and retold Woodstock tales for a time afterwards. And then it was over. Or so it seemed.

Eight years later as I stirred spaghetti sauce in my Sandburg Village kitchen in Chicago, my ten-year old son and his friends were snickering in the doorway.

“Go ahead. Ask her.” My son elbowed his friend.

“Did you really go to Woodstock?” He asked.

“Yes, I did.”

“See, I told you.”

“Wow. What was it like?”

I brought out a small box of photos and souvenirs including my prized ticket to Woodstock to show the unbelievers. Until that point I’d kept Woodstock quiet.  No one in my new crowd of straight and sober friends was or ever had been a hippie. Woodstock wasn’t yet a badge of honor, rather the confession of a derelict life.

But after wowing those ten-year old boys, I knew I was on to something.

In 1969, half a million was only .2% of the population. By 1979 we were an elite group, only 500,000 of us. In 1994 I interviewed for a twenty-fifth anniversary story in a local Chicago paper. The Presbyterian church showed Woodstock the movie and asked me to give a talk about my experience. 

My ten year old grandson called one day in 2007 and asked, “Regan, my dad said you went to Woodstock. Is that true?” I assured him it was.

“We just watched the movie. It looks pretty wild.”

That box of souvenirs mysteriously disappeared after I showed it to his father’s pals at the same age. My grandson didn’t need proof to tell his friends though. Unbelievable reality turns believable with age. He asked about my favorite Woodstock band. The next Christmas he gave me a complete set of Janis Joplin.

Using “Woodstock” in the description of my upcoming book on Amazon optimizes search engine results. Even in my seventies friends introduce me as “…she went to Woodstock.” What are they implying? Drugs? Hippie? ‘60s radical? Or simply that I used to be a hot shit badass.

Another Mother for Peace

Another Mother for Peace
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Another Mother for Peace poster

In 1968, Jim Kelly and I moved to Lansing, Michigan with our toddler son. While Kelly studied for his Masters of Social Work at Michigan State, one-year-old Joe and I marched with the national anti-war organization “Another Mother for Peace” to protest cereal companies that advertised during violent cartoons on Saturday morning TV.

We returned to Belmar, New Jersey, at the end of the school year and moved into an old Victorian beach house where Kelly painted the exterior in lieu of rent. At the end of the summer, we moved in with Kelly’s parents while he sought employment. Built-in babysitters allowed us to frequent our favorite saloon, McCann’s Tavern. In autumn, 1969, I got word that the Vietnam Moratorium Committee was planning what would be the largest antiwar protest in United States history. il_570xn-259808473

I set about convincing our drinking group at McCann’s to drive the four hours to the March on Washington. Ramparts Magazine had taught me everything I needed to know about the War. This publication gave birth to my congenital anti-war condition with stories such as an expose about a Michigan State University group that worked in Vietnam as a front for the CIA.

In McCann’s we debated off and on about driving to the nation’s capital in the dead of night. Even though everyone just wanted to drink and have a few laughs, I kept it up. “Forty-five thousand American troops have died in the past two years. If we don’t end the war your military deferments will be rescinded and you’ll all get drafted into the Army.”

That did it.

Two carloads of us drove off at McCann’s last call. Since I had lived in Washington as a teenager for a few months with my father, I drove the lead car, pretending I knew the directions.

When we arrived, yellow school buses were parking bumper to bumper around the White House so President Nixon wouldn’t see the protesters. We headed to a Jersey Shore friend’s place near DuPont Circle to sober up and eat. Reeking of coffee and cigarettes, our speed-freak friend had been up all night working in a restaurant but he hitched on to our party and created an all-out breakfast banquet. They all fell asleep. I dropped a diet pill and took off for the Lincoln Memorial.th-7

Peter, Paul and Mary and Arlo Guthrie belted out tunes between speeches from anti-war Senators Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern. Peace hero Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose book on baby care taught me how to be an engaged mother, told us half million idealists that we were all noble. Pete Seeger led the crowd in the singing of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” I have loved sing-alongs ever since.

Back at the crash pad I hustled my friends outside to join the protesters marching toward DuPont Circle. We all got tear-gassed, screamed for mercy, helped each other to our cars and tore out of town.

The war ended six years later.

No one got drafted.