K-- spoke with me between grocery shopping and making connections with her sixteen-year-old daughter. Born 1944, Boston area.
My father was professor. When I was in college, after I graduated, I went to Berkeley, and bam! I had grown up with the understanding that when you finished high school, you went to college. I didn’t know what I was doing. After two years, I questioned what I was doing seriously, but then I thought, well, I’m halfway through, I might as well finish, so I did. I had a roommate who had finished six months earlier and went to finish up at Stanford, and she was out there, living at Berkeley, so that’s where I headed the day I graduated.
I found a whole different world -- it was ‘66. The free speech movement had been underway for a year -- it was pretty interesting. My friend and roommate got involved with the Communist party - she was real political so I was becoming familiar with what was going on real fast. What with barricades in the streets and the army there, holding it under curfew for awhile, it was pretty intense, and I got a dose of what front line politics could erupt into. I felt real confused by it, torn in a couple of different directions, one to be out there and march in the streets, but at the same time I knew that those people were getting dragged off to Santa Rosa prison, having to lay on the pavement face down in the hot sun all day -- it didn’t matter how old they were. That was pretty scary.
And at the same time, I started reading books that were more spiritually oriented and being outdoors, started smoking marijuana. So a lot of things were starting to open in my brain, new places I’d never been before. In that confused state, Ram Dass came to town, right in the middle of -- the place was under siege -- and he showed up and spoke at the high school, and said some things that made my choice clear. I found that I couldn’t participate in the confrontational situation, that that wasn’t the path -- it didn’t seem right to me to be doing that. There were ways to participate but to actually get out there and confront the police in the streets felt like it was just creating more conflict.
I was working at a business I had started there. I had started working at a copy service first, Xerox copy services which was pretty new then, and the man who owned it had a side business using the machines doing library reference research for a lot of laboratories and things, R&D labs. At some point the next year, he decided to leave town -- so I bought the business from him and did that for a number of years. That was kind of fun, the library research aspect of it. I applied to grad school at Berkeley and got into library science, took a few courses -- I didn’t really want the degree -- I just wanted the information to help me do what I was doing.
I had access to all the libraries there -- the library system there is pretty amazing. I had access to all the stacks. Basically, I was locating material for people. R&D labs in medicine, physics, NASA -- all kinds of sciences around -- the Bay area was incredibly loaded with that kind of stuff. Their librarians would send requests for material -- and my business was literally right across the street from the campus -- that was fun. To locate it, especially when things were some obscure paper from someone in Poland, and the paper was in Polish -- I had to learn to transliterate the alphabet and figure things out.
Then, I figured out I didn’t have to be in Berkeley to do that. I could live out in the country, come to town once a week -- so I started to move out. I wanted to get out to the country, that back to the land kind of feeling. I wanted something more quiet. I moved out in ‘70 -- it wasn’t as intense by then in the city. A country life appealed to me -- all my summers had been spent in rural Wisconsin, where my family came from.
I had been involved in women’s consciousness raising groups at Berkeley. That was not an issue thing, but more a personal pursuit.
When I first moved out, I moved to Sonoma County -- before I met H -- I lived there until late ‘72, and then briefly moved back to town and started apprenticing with a man there who was doing commercial plumbing. I began to learn the plumbing trade. Then in ‘73, I met H--, moved north, did some plumbing jobs -- I plumbed the fire department.
I loved living primitively. It was real nice. Even now sometimes I think about it -- I’ve gotten used to air conditioning and electricity. When we moved to Arkansas, we lived for a long time without electricity or plumbing. When we bought a house in ‘80, it was really different -- there was electricity in the house. I knew there was electricity in the house, it was almost like I could feel it or sense it or something. Having lived for ten years without it -- it was real strange. It wasn’t something you could hear -- but I could feel it. It passed eventually, I got used to it. Having it was nice, turning lights on.
All those years out of the mainstream I was doing something different because I liked it better. It was an adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I gained that knowledge that we can survive, and I could do it again if I had to. We could certainly all get along with a whole lot less and still be happy. A lot of peace, and yet there was always this little tickling --- I remember sitting on the hill in front of our cabin in California overlooking the valley, and thinking, jeez, this is nice, and there would be this little voice saying, yeah, but what else, what next? There’s a world going on out there -- I never felt like I’d be there until I was 80 years old. I didn’t know what would come next, but somehow I just didn’t feel like it would go on forever.
I’ve never had a career -- I’m not working right now. I’ve worked as a secretary, done a lot of waitressing over the years. I’ve been involved in natural foods on and off a lot -- my whole diet started to change when I was in San Francisco. I started paying attention to what I was eating. I didn’t eat meat for a long time, but it wasn’t a religious thing.
As a parent, I tend to wait until she asks. I haven’t told her about drugs yet -- she hasn’t asked. I’ve talked to her about it in terms of her making wise choices, but she’s never turned it around and asked, did you ever? Until she does, I don’t think I’ll bring it up. We talk about smoking -- she knows I smoked cigarettes. She wants to get our reaction before she does something, but sometimes I think she’s already done it. I know she’s already smoked. Just the other day she was asking about drugs -- I said, well, I guess I’d be a little disappointed because I think you know better. When I was growing up, we didn’t know as much about how harmful it could be -- and she said, you wouldn’t be angry, ground me, put me in Charter [a treatment facility]? And I said, baby are you kidding? Give me a break. Then she said, well, I couldn’t smoke at home, could I? And I said, no. I try to be honest with her.
Both of us have quit -- I had no choice -- I got pneumonia. I smoked cigarettes from the time I was 15 until I discovered marijuana. Then I developed a kind of chronic bronchitis. Whenever I’d get a cold, bam, it would go to my lungs, and I would always have these horrible chest infection things. But I kept smoking marijuana until around ‘76, when I got pneumonia real bad, ended up in the hospital with an IV in my arm -- they didn’t tell me this, but H said for awhile they didn’t know. I mean, I was in the cabin with a fever of 103 for three days, dehydrating real bad -- anyway, while I was there in my delirium, I thought, oh, smoking -- this is not good. I got the message, thank you very much. I quit. That was a lot of years -- I smoked a lot.
I think we’ve made a difference, but I don’t know if it’s all real great. I think a lot of change for the good has resulted, particularly in environmental issues. That battle, that consciousness has changed. In general tolerance. There’s still a long way to go. It’s a process. But we started the process with an intensity that has kept it alive.
The whole drug thing was kind of negative. It was so much easier then, and it wasn’t quite so scary. I think that the whole drug thing has gotten so out of hand and there are so many scary drugs out there, things that are real dangerous. I mean, the drugs we used -- marijuana, acid, mescaline -- I don’t think they were scary. Now all kinds of things can really destroy people. And I think that was a path we opened. And the use is different. Recreational.
The sexual thing -- I think it needed some breaking down. I was pretty promiscuous, a lot of sex without much else. It seemed just fine. We didn’t have AIDS to deal with, a major difference. From my perspective now, I’m not so sure. It’s not like I’ve become a prude or anything, but I question it more. I was in my 20s -- my daughter is 14. I’m hoping to hold her off for a few more years. She has not asked me about my sexual background. I’m not quite sure how I’ll talk to her about it. She’s quite sure she can do anything at her age that I did in my 20s. I’ve felt real lucky that she’s been at school with H. She likes having him there because he’s a popular teacher, and that helps. One more year, and then we’ll have to turn her loose at the high school. At her age, I was a pretty straight and narrow kid right through high school, played on the basketball team, went to my church youth group, did the whole honor student thing.