May Day! Mothering Rough Seas

May Day! Mothering Rough Seas

For a few years, my son and I lived at the Jersey Shore with his stepfather, Jack, on the confluence of a fresh water river and a saltwater bay. The east-west Toms River begins in the swamps of the Pine Barrens, widens and swells its way east, eventually slamming into the Barnegat Bay. Sailors love the Toms River, especially during the summer’s prevailing southerlies.

I am not a sailor. 

In our family, swimming, passed down from one generation to the next, was a right of passage for a three-year old.  Water is in our blood. Our sandy backyard, bulkheaded rich brine that nourished vibrant sea creatures and, in turn, fed migratory bird colonies. Life on the water with my inquisitive six-year old was pure joy.

Jack arrived home one day with a used polystyrene Sunfish trailing his ’65 Mustang. For fifty dollars, the previous owner threw in a booklet on ‘how to sail’. A 1971 ad in Boating magazine called the thirty pound Sunfish the “Volkswagen of sailboats. A perfect learner’s boat” 

I called it a styrofoam bathtub.

Joe and I practiced our new book-learned sailing skills, 100 feet offshore, moored to the bulkhead. On our first untethered day at sea, Joe rigged the sails. We lulled away the dead calm until Joe spotted our German Shepherd swimming our way. As she approached the boat, I stood up, pointed toward shore and shouted “go home!” Which of course she did. She was, after all, a German Shepherd.

The next time Joe and I unmoored, we sailed expertly into the middle of the widest part of the river. We took turns at the tiller, successfully jibing and tacking as the wind took us west. But then we tacked to come back downriver. The sweet southerlies that had funneled us upriver suddenly turned on us like a mad dog turning on its master. The rogue wind bared its teeth. Thunderclouds whipped up the tide. And the sail luffed out of control. We. Were. Trapped.

The boat, too light for wind-churned waters, threw us around like a sea monster. I reassured Joe we were safe since we were both good swimmers. 

“We can’t leave the boat,” pleaded Joe.

“We won’t!” I assured him. But truth is, he’d seen the thought to abandon the boat cross my brow. I could swim to shore with one arm around Joe’s chest but I couldn’t pull the Sunfish with the other. 

Private docks, woods and marinas dotted the riverfront. I spotted a sliver of sand and rowed furiously. We pulled the boat up, tied it to a tree and ran to the door of a stranger who drove us home. The next day the Coast Guard towed our Sunfish home. 

“No markings on this thing,” the officer said. 

“You should name her ‘May Day.’”

At twenty-seven years old, I had no reason to believe motherhood would come naturally. All my choices to that point had been daring, radical, reckless.  Only four years before, I’d taken LSD, left toddler Joe with his father and trekked to Woodstock in a station wagon full of Rolling Rock chugging hippies. I was separated from them on the first night while swooning over Richie Havens’ performance of “Freedom”. During the muddy aftermath, I smoked opium with a stranger and hitched a ride home with him to New Jersey.

Ancestral maternal instincts swelled up out of nowhere that first day battering around in the Sunfish on the roiling Toms River. No matter how afraid I was, I had to show no fear, lest my six year old become traumatized and frightened by open water for the rest of his life. 

“Let’s try again,” I announced one day and we eagerly sailed into the prevailing southerlies on a sunny calm morning. Upriver, nature turned against us again.

“We need help,” Joe shouted in the sea spray. And we beached the boat once more.

Our sailing adventures made for wild-eyed good stories with our friends and family, but I feared my recklessness may have given Joe a subconscious dread of the sea  into adulthood.

I needn’t have given it a second thought. In his fifties now, Joe and his family leave their midwestern flatlands to vacation on tropical seas—snorkeling, bodysurfing and scuba diving. 

But.

No sailing.

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.

Shutdown Week 12: Anti-Racism ABCs

Shutdown Week 12:                                                                                       Anti-Racism ABCs

Dystopian streets boarded up to thwart theives don’t scare me.

Eking out alfresco cafes here and there in the pandemic shutdown, I find a seat.

From my lone coffee chair I hear neighboring chats.

Great pseudo-intellectuals compare this 2020 spring to 1968.

How shallow the words ring from fellow boomers conflating serious demonstrators, hothead window smashers and professional ransackers.

I was there, you know”, I want to interrupt and say, “in 1968.”

Jacketed in fringed denim and tie-dye.

Kaleidoscope eyes spiritualized reality.

Lucy in the Sky laid down groovy colors on the streets.

Marching on Washington.

Not Lake Shore Drive.

Or Union Square.

Progress not perfection drove our activism.

Quaker’s silent prayers for peace undergirded our courage.

Rolling Stone Magazine announced tickets to Woodstock, a music festival for serious protesters, hippies and dope dealers.

Sinners-turned-saints came marching in with sit-ins and shut-downs.

The mailman delivered March on Washington alerts from the Vietnam Moratorium Committee and Another Mother for Peace.

U fought for civil rights having gone your whole life without knowing one black person.

Violence erupted when non-violent Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis.

We never stopped writing letters, and when we could afford it, we telephoned Washington; the Vietnam war ended, racism didn’t.

Xgen’ers and millennials are younger than me now, older than I was then.

Yeastlike, they rise in the cities demanding “Defund the Police”. 

Zenlike, cities bow to the anti-racist revolution, even my city. Maybe.

Applauding the masked and unmasked demonstrators, I have hope.

Black lives may finally matter in myth

Curious covid coronavirus city, Chicago.

Remembering Woodstock

Remembering Woodstock

My estranged husband dropped by my friend’s place at the Jersey Shore on Thursday afternoon, August 14, 1969 to fetch our child for the weekend. I lay in bed smoking pot with my sister’s boyfriend next to the crib where the two-year old slept. The three of us had a grand argument. Grabbing his toddler son, my husband screamed I would never see either of them again as he bolted from sight.

The next morning, I hopped in a station wagon headed for Three Days of Peace and Music in Woodstock, New York, with my sister, the boyfriend and a few merry-making hippie wannabes. The car roof was overloaded with tents, sleeping bags and cases of Rolling Rock. We squeezed a change of clothes, toiletries, hallucinogens and festival tickets into our Army surplus backpacks.

Turning off the New York state highway onto the country road leading to Bethel, we fell in line with a flotilla of vehicles undulating in three lanes up a two-lane road. We shared joints and beer with new friends and danced alongside cars with tunes blaring from their radios. After a few hours we pulled into a roadside clearing and set up camp with other squatters.

Concealing our festival tickets for fear someone would pickpocket them, we stepped into the twenty-minute march to the festival. We came up over a rise to the clear acoustic sound of “Freedom”. There were no ticket takers, no souvenir stands, no fences, no security guards. All of life gently moved downhill toward the music, each group plopping down on each perfect spot with Richie Havens in sight.

Wavy Gravy announced 500,000 people, don’t eat the brown acid and free food in the Hog Farm tent. A lone helicopter whirled in and out of a landing spot near the stage. Cardboard crates full of donated ice cream sandwiches, oranges and apples were arriving on the helicopters and getting passed overhead one to another. 

Paranoia ignited my companions who returned to camp one by one. They believed the government had gathered all the hippies in one place to drop bombs on us. I 184629_133318706737279_100001774502093_210241_2876134_nremained. Rain fell sometime in the night and the day. I crawled under a stranger’s tarp slept off and on, waking for Santana, Canned Heat, The Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival and then that Texas twang from my hero …take another little piece of my heart.. Janis Joplin. Sly and the Family Stone rocked the muddy land as I wandered through the thinning crowd.

On Sunday morning I found myself among a group of tattooed bikers. I thought I should be afraid but they shared their drugs, food and drink. We were at perfect peace as Jimi Hendrix and his band, Gypsy Sun & Rainbows came to the stage, nine hours later than scheduled. He lifted us all into the fifth dimension throwing down his crazy electric Star Spangled Banner. We claimed Hendrix’s version for our ourselves–our own national anthem because we loved America too.

The party was over. I stood alone on a muddy, garbage-strewn hill. A friend appeared who had stranded his car on the festival road. We laughed and cried moseying along the road with other stragglers searching for their rides. Squinting through the sunny Monday, we drove down New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway landing in the sobering net of the state police. I gulped down a stash of opium saving us from legal harm.

Down from heaven to home, I faced the consequences of my humanity, vowing to clean up my act.

 

Heads Up! Who Said Pot is Not Addictive?

Tricia Thack and I left our husbands in New Jersey and headed to Vermont soon after I returned from peace and love and LSD and pot at the Woodstock Music Festival in August 1969. I had a 2-year old son, she had an infant and toddler daughters, so together we rented a first floor 4-bedroom apartment in a 150-year old Victorian on the Villageth Green in Pittsfield. We drew close because we had a love for beer, pot and men. New Jersey friends up for ski weekends on nearby Killington mountain, and new friends from the places we worked in the resorts all flocked to our door for after-hours hoopla.

We reveled in breaking the chains of constraint that kept us from having fun. We were always broke. When our kids needed winter clothes I, having been taught by my mother, shoplifted from stores in Rutland. Tricia spent a lot of time on the phone begging her husband and parents for money. We waitressed, cleaned hotel rooms, babysat and tried to budget. But all our money went for booze and drugs and we had trouble holding onto jobs.

Once I drove 150 miles down to Boston to buy a kilo of marijuana in a carful of other amateur pot-buyers. We heard it came from Mexico by boat and was free from sticks and seeds, insuring a higher potency than what we’d been smoking. Somewhere in the supply chain the pot was dried, pressed into bricks and wrapped in plastic. I’d never bought pot in a brick – it was a get-rich-quick scheme dreamed up by the local ski-bum-Unknownpusher guaranteed to turn our $300 investment into a $1000 profit.

In the car we had a load of fresh-rolled joints and a case of Rolling Rock to fortify us for the 6-hour round trip. At our destination, I simply handed my cash to the leader of our pack, too stoned to get out of the car. We partied all the way back up Interstate 91.

I can’t remember when someone passed me my first joint – late teens? early 20’s? I don’t know where or when. Such is the nature of cannabis. You lose track. I saw God many times, in the consciousness-raising vapors arising from Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones and The Doors. My foray into pot dealing withered on the vine though. I smoked it all up, shared it with friends and strangers alike, unable to make any kind of clear-headed money transaction.

Tricia and I used to laugh that we ingested more drugs and alcohol in an hour than Wizard of Oz star Judy Garland did when she accidentally died that year after swallowing 10 sleeping pills and a few glasses of wine. The delusion of our invincibility propelled us to smoke more pot, drink more alcohol and swallow stronger drugs.

Against all odds I survived my addictions.  But pot? Man, it still calls my name in the night.