In the late ’60s and early ’70s, my family had some rough times. Within just a few years we were hit hard by my grandmother’s death, tight finances and Hurricane Agnes.
Summer vacation had just started in 1972. Agnes came smack in the middle of Nixon’s term in office. I can remember that the country seemed to have strong opinions of everything and the topic of the Vietnam War was on every one’s lips. Mad Magazine’s cartoons were full of kids fighting their parents and a country divided. The hurricane seemed a physical manifestation of what we were all surrounded by.
My Aunt Hannah and Uncle Gordie were kind enough to allow us to live with them until the high waters (of the hurricane) receded. It seemed like a month but may have only been a week that we had to live without our home and dog. During that time I was exposed to the lives of my two older cousins whose groovy long straight hair was something as foreign to me as having an older sibling. The family was conservative but the fluorescent giant daisies and shag stuffed animals they decorated their rooms with were very trippy to me. For all I knew they might paint their bodies and go-go dance like Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In.
Our return home was bitter sweet. Much of what we had owned was ruined and had been thrown away before us kids had even been allowed to set foot back into the house. Personal papers and photographs were set up to dry out on every surface we could spare. My school photos were all waterlogged and stained from the ink that had been on the pages of the keepsake album they were kept in. Like a groovy body painter, my face on those prints would be forever decorated with blue backward handwriting. Even though my parents must have shielded us from the worst of the damage, it was still shocking.
My sister and I, 7 and 10 years old, helped clean up little things as best we could. I can remember having no TV for a while and we would sit on the front porch listening to the AM station WKVA. We did this while cleaning “flood mud” off of things that were to be salvaged. Paul Harvey’s “good day” talk as well as the Porgy and Bess song that the station used for it’s jingle got old to me quickly but all of our record albums were not in a state to play. The vinyls were being salvaged but the cardboard covers were a stinking mess that had to be peeled off and discarded.
What my sister and I did manage to enjoy was a cassette tape player. We used it mainly for recording our shenanigans and interviewing other kids in the neighborhood but also had a few tapes of music. While I gently wiped the dried silt from the groves of our vinyl albums, I became hooked on one tape and would play it front then back then front again. It was Peter, Paul & Mary’s “Moving”.
Some of the sounds and songs were so haunting and I found myself exploring the different vocal parts of each one. This was my introduction to the tune
Puff the Magic Dragon and I challenged myself to try to sing each part in the three parts of their harmony. I didn’t contemplate the meanings of the songs like This Land is Your Land but their forceful conviction with how they sang the song felt real and meaningful.
Two summers later I sported sewn patches of Love and Peace signs on my clothes and duffel bag as I marched off to Girl Scout camp. I had won some money for my photography and was proud to have helped pay my way. I no longer confused Peter, Paul & Mary as makers of candy bars and knew they sang If I had a Hammer. I felt like I had a hammer and was making my way out of the turmoil. I was my own person.
At that time I was very erratically getting my menstrual period. Surrounded by young women of all ages at Girl Scout camp, my body instantly picked up on the mass of female hormones and surprised me with a rare menstrual moment. Mom had packed me 2 tampons. I can remember staring at the list of things to purchase at the little commissary. Tampax were expensive and I was too embarrassed to ask for them. I decided to make the two I had last.
I ended up ill with the shakes and a fever for a time that next week. I probably was getting Toxic Shock Syndrome but was healthy enough to have fought it off. I didn’t want to tell anyone that I felt bad because they might find out the secret that I was having my menstrual period. I have no idea why I didn’t want anyone to know. I had never been told it was dirty or naughty. In the end, I only spent a day and a night in the infirmary. I didn’t like missing out on what was going on.
I probably wouldn’t have admitted I was ill at all if I hadn’t had a few upsetting experiences with some of the other campers in my unit. One girl had tried to set me straight that the peace sign patch on my hooded sweatshirt was blasphemous. The golden yellow three pronged image set over the background of the night sky and earth was not a symbol of peace according to her. It was Jesus’ cross with the arms broken down. For the rest of camp I chose not to wear that sweatshirt in case I was offending anyone with the peace sign. I can remember feeling cold a few times when I should had been in the warmth of that hoodie.
The capper to it all was that almost all of the girls in my unit agreed that
Puff the Magic Dragon was about smoking marijuana. I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard but felt so confused and out of the loop that I was the only one who spoke up against that idea. The next day I had one girl later attack me and try to drown me in the lake for being a Christ-hating hippy. She was severely punished and I was left shaken.
The whole camp shared an unheard of moment of watching television. President Nixon was resigning and they wanted us to witness a moment in history. More heated opinions were whispered and harsh glances were thrown in my direction.The confidence I had when I had left home was stripped. Nothing seemed certain; the world was a huge place full of very different people and ideas.
I returned home a little jaded but much more self aware. I knew what could happen if I shared my opinions with some people and the draw backs of not being prepared to keep things like my menstrual period a private issue. It was a summer that solidified a real loss of childhood innocence for me. I walked away from the land of Honah Lee and have never been able to return.
All of this was brought back to the front of my mind this morning when I read that Mary Travers had passed. When I hear her voice rising and blending with the other two, I can still remember what it was like to be idealistic without the harsh edge of reality creeping in and forming me into a young adult. I will forever hang on to that part of me and vow to listen to her voice to make it so.