Sunday, February 17, 2008

#60

Subject met with me at her home in a rural woodland. Born 1948 Arkansas.


It was the ‘70s before I really connected with what the ‘60s were about. I had a strict religious upbringing in a family that had come up from dirt farms of the Ozark Depression – we didn’t have a television til I was 16. My big focus was getting away from home, which I managed to do at 19, when I became engaged and followed my fiance to California. My folks told me I couldn’t go out there because we weren’t married. I’ll never forget the incredible sensation of the plane lifting off the runway at the Fayetteville airport. The ground was dropping away and I was free to live life on my own terms.

I ended up working in a federal prison out there which was one of the best paying but most depressing jobs available. It was a correctional facility, so the inmates were younger or less hardened than the ones they sent to penitentiaries. I sat in an office and typed all day, transcribing caseworker dictation about an inmate’s background, crime, education, psychology. It was an amazing education about a whole world I had never known – mostly lower class urban kids who had a lot of illiteracy, addiction, and no real idea of a career except crime. There were a few middle class kids caught in the early days of the drug war for bringing kilos of marijuana across the border, and lots of guys in for refusing to be inducted. I was shocked by many things there, like the attitudes of everyone who worked there as a career person – they were hardened about the inmates and thought they were all scum and treated them accordingly. It seemed to me that attitude pretty much precluded any chance for rehabilitation. There were “girls” who were allowed to wear makeup and shave their legs and function as female, which the guards said kept pressure off the new ones who came in. But new admissions were mostly raped anyway, and “turned out” to be “owned” by one gang or another. The gangs were organized around skin color. Before this I had no idea about homosexuality, forced or otherwise, or about gangs. I had no knowledge about the urban underclass, or the desperate conditions of reservation life for Native Americans. Within months I had a lot of ideas about how much it all needed to change, and finally I took a lower paying job on the nearby Air Force base, typing reports for an engineering group who tracked downrange telemetry on missile shots.

Right after Bobby Kennedy was shot, my fiancé and I drove to Las Vegas and got married. Our lives revolved around our work, going to the officer’s club after work, drinking and going to parties. I tried to participate in the wives’ groups to exchange recipes and gossip, but it bored me terribly which I thought meant something was wrong with me. We were also going to night classes at the local community college, and going to art shows, and visiting scenic spots and spending lots of time on the beach. We bought a sports car and went to Vegas as often as we could manage, and I felt like we were successful. Although we watched TV and knew about the protests and other stuff, we were very distant from it. We didn’t see anything in the protests that made us feel connected to it, except the general idea that the Vietnam war was wrong. But as more of the officers, especially the pilots, came back from southeast Asia, there was more exposure to a different point of view. And exposure to marijuana. One time we decided we wanted to try it, and one of the engineers at my work said he would bring us some. He came by our house later with a shoe box, and hurried away. Inside was one joint, which we smoked and didn’t feel anything.

The last year of his service in the Air Force they sent him overseas and I came back to Fayetteville to finish my degree. Things at the University had changed tremendously in the three intervening years. It was like a different world. Everyone wore patched jeans and long hair and there were war protesters with their signs lined up at noon every day on the sidewalk across Maple Street from the Union. I really didn’t fit in, but felt OK about it because I was married and older and more self confident. Slowly I met people and began to question my lifestyle. At one point, a person introduced me to marijuana and this time I definitely felt something. It was an amazing experience. Within the next few months, I had tried opium, hash, LSD, and mescaline. Each new drug brought a new set of experiences, mostly a continuing expansion of my thought and understanding. At that time, the drug experience was approached reverently, at least within my circles – I had an experienced guide for my first LSD trip, and there was always the intent to explore spiritual questions or to expand understanding. We kept our experiences ‘pure’ – especially for tripping – no alcohol or other drugs to adulterate the trip, except maybe near the end to help come down.

In the summer of 1972, which I spent with L. in the Philippines, there was an occasion when I had a long conversation with three young local men who explained their point of view about the “imperialist” Americans. They were part of a communist underground trying to get Marcos out of power. I had never considered the “ugly American” viewpoint before, but they explained how the U. S. wasn’t in foreign countries to help the people there – it was about getting what we wanted, exploiting natural resources or using cheap labor for corporate profits, and extending our military power base. This was just one more revelation.

I think the most important thing for me in shifting to a new awareness was sex. Sexual freedom helped get rid of the fundamentalist brainwashing I’d heard all my life where women were vessels of sin and forever subordinated to male domination. Fortunately for me, it was part of the times to participate in “free love.” It helped me gain confidence in myself as a human and as a woman.

I did a few political things – went to some meetings and tutored local black kids; signed petitions and distributed literature about saving the Buffalo River; went door to door for the McGovern campaign. But I felt like most of the ‘60s had gone by when I wasn’t looking. By now, most of the generation was looking for a way out. We joined in the exodus from the city when we bought a gas station/grocery store/apartment in a nearby small town about 10 miles from Fayetteville. Unfortunately, the oil embargo of ‘73 didn’t help our situation and our marriage ended that year.

I met my second husband at the station, and then sold the place in ‘74 and moved into a cabin on land his parents owned in that area. A few months later we got married and ended up on a few acres where we built a small house and started our family. We heated with a wood stove, and carried in drinking water while pumping the spring-fed pond for the first year. We jumped into the whole back-to-the-land farm thing – goats which I milked, hogs, chickens, dogs, cats, a horse, even a calf or two at one point. We put in huge organic gardens and I learned how to can, freeze, dry, and otherwise preserve food. We stored salt, bullets, batteries, and the other supplies we knew we would need when society crumbled, based on what we learned from reading the Foxfire books, Mother Earth News, the Whole Earth Catalog, and from talking with all the other people around here who were doing the same thing. We didn’t know if the ‘end’ would be nuclear, or some kind of political collapse, or what. We just wanted to be sure that our family could be part of the new tribe that sprang up to build a new, better world.

I found it calming to live my life based on what Mother Nature demanded. But with three children by the early 80s, we had to find ways to make money and so we spent more time in town. Some of the animals had to go, and the garden shrank. The more I was in town, the more I paid attention to political issues. In the1980s, I became involved in the local NOW chapter in working on abortion rights. We held demonstrations and vigils and other activities over the 4-5 year period I was on the executive committee. Also I organized a parent-teacher group at the school, and we raised money for playground equipment and other worthy goals. Then in the late ‘80s I became intensely involved in environmental work. In the meantime I had built a successful self-employed career and the farming activities continued to shrink. I felt bad about this, because I felt like I was betraying what I really believed in. But on the other hand I wanted my kids to have piano lessons and dance class and karate. We transferred our kids into Fayetteville schools trying to get them a better education than the small rural school offered, and I was the mom-taxi driving them in every morning and doing the after-school rounds. I wanted my kids to have full exposure to what society had to offer while at the same time to know how to grow their own food and survive on the land. I felt then, and still feel, that they will see a time in their lifetimes when they will need to know those things. It may have been difficult for these kids to grow up in an “alternative”home, at least in some regards, but I think that what they learned will be important, especially knowing how to keep up the establishment front while simultaneously carrying on subversion if necessary.

The 60s thing that has become most upsetting to me is that the corporate/establishment propaganda machine has mostly succeeded in twisting the accomplishments of the 60s generation into some kind of dirty word. Every where I turn there seems to be some kind of perverse co-opting of the generation’s identifying characteristics. Like the music – Beatles music, which I consider holy, being used for TV ads to sell something. Or images of people reveling in pristine nature displayed in ads to sell big gas guzzling autos. Never does anyone give any credit to the ‘60s visionaries who pushed for organic food and natural medicine and improved education and rights for minorities and women, and environmentalism. These things have become part of the culture, but everyone acts like they just sprang fully formed from the head of some corporate Zeus. In the meantime, while everyone is busy benefitting from what the ‘60s generation has wrought, the actual members of the generation are defiled in every possible way – arrested for using the drugs that enlightened us, rejected in the workplace because of long hair or other personal features that have been proud symbols of the movement, ignored, disenfranchised, insulted – even the word “hippie” has become synonymous with “loser,” or “dirty,” or some other denigration. Oddly, I never considered myself a hippie. To me, a hippie was someone much freer than I ever was, someone who knew what was going on during the 60s and was part of it then. So I never felt authentic, but more like a copycat who came along later and said, yeah, me too.

I’m sad that often we are so terrified of ostracization that we fail to stand up for what we believe in. Most of us managed to fit in by disguising our appearances and hiding our beliefs. I can take small comfort in the fact that if “they” didn’t fear us so much, they wouldn’t go to so much trouble to vilify what we stand for. That means we have power, but then, it is power only if we use it. I think as we get older and can free ourselves from the demands of wage earning and child rearing, we will gain greater confidence and assertiveness about our power. Hopefully that will translate into a greater fulfillment of the vision we can bring to the world. I hope it for myself as much as for everyone else of my generation.

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