Category Archives: hippies

Where Were You?


It was a crisp morning that bright autumn day in Fresno, with just enough breeze to blow the bangs on my forehead. I could see the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance as I walked the three blocks to my elementary school with my little sister, meeting my best friend at the corner as usual. I dropped Katy off at her half-day Kindergarten room and Cheryl and I walked into Mrs. Quick’s first-grade class to begin the earnest work of learning to read and add. Several hours later, we broke for lunch. I picked up Katy to walk home and have a sandwich with our mother and two younger siblings.

When we walked into the house, our mother cried as she explained that President Kennedy had just been shot. She made a plate full of PB&Js while staring at the 15″ b&w TV and never took her horrified eyes from the screen as we ate silently. A grizzled, gray-haired man whose face I knew from the evening news kept shuffling papers as they were handed to him and looking confused. I’d seen my mom upset before, I’d NEVER seen Walter Cronkite rattled. My knee started jiggling up and down under the table, causing a glass of milk to spill.

My mom sent me back to class a few minutes later (she even scheduled doctor visits for after school). The streets were bare, no traffic anywhere. The kids on the playground still shouted and played, but when the bell rang we were greeted in classrooms with lip biting, red-eyed teachers.

Poor Mrs. Quick, her blond bun pinned tightly to her scalp, tried to calm us down but we six-year-olds were confused and scared. An announcement bell sounded over the intercom before Principal May Iveson told us the president was dead. A woman screamed in the room next to ours, and Mrs. Quick told me she was going next door for a moment and put me in charge.

My parents were politically liberal, aware of progressive movements if not active (they were working on their fifth kid in seven years and had no time for anything else). At some point, they’d explained who the president of the country was, and with my newfound knowledge of George Washington, I’d made a leap in logic. “The president, the father of our country, has been shot. A bad man murdered him,” I said to my classmates as we talked it over. “America’s daddy is dead.” That was how I interpreted the news, and it’s stayed with me through all these years.

Classes were canceled as parents came for their kids. Cheryl and I walked home, stopping to watch the school custodian lower the American flag to half-mast. Our usual after school conversation dwindled away and at the corner we whispered, “…’bye,” to each other, going home to a world already changed.

Not a soul was in sight. The trees, bare branches reaching to a cold, uncaring sky, looked pathetic. Dusty crumbled leaves, as sad as I felt, littered gray gutters.

Later, there was even more confusion when Jack Ruby shot arrested suspect Lee Harvey Oswald before he could be fully questioned. Life was bleak. The funeral of President John F. Kennedy was the saddest event I’d ever seen on television. His children, my own age, brought home the tragedy on an intensely personal level. I stared at my father during dinners and worried what life would be like if he were violently ripped from us.

The ugliest side of politics won a battle that day, and conservative and liberal citizens drew into distinctly marked camps largely divided by attitudes toward the Vietnam war and age. Depending on which front my parents’ were fighting at the moment, they earned the titles ‘dove’, ‘liberal’, and ‘feminist’. I, self-identified by my pre-teen self, was a hippie.

Protestors were attacked by emboldened police departments, students beaten, gassed, even shot. Disenfranchised segments of the population demanded social justice. Civil rights were gained slowly for people now identifying themselves as African American, formerly known in polite society as colored people. In 1968, leaders Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

In California, a grape boycott created by César E. Chávez brought the nation’s focus on migrant workers and their mistreatment at the hands of what was just beginning to be termed Agri-business. Some people wanted to create better working conditions for the people crossing the border of Mexico to find seasonal work. Others wanted to stop their influx into the country. Crop-dusters dropped weed killer on the protestors. Yes, you read that correctly. Poison was deliberately thrown on men, women, and children, now the parents and grandparents of kids hoping for acceptance under the Dream Act.

The next year, following riots at a Greenwich Village bar called The Stonewall Inn, the birth of what we now call the LGBT Movement began. A little over fifteen years to the day of President Kennedy’s death, San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated.

Two steps forward, one step back. That’s the way Americans deal with progress, steadily dragging ourselves into the future with a political tug-of-war unique to our country. The death of President Kennedy heralded in a time of great division among our citizens which broke apart families and caused suspicion and judgment on all sides.

Jeeze, doesn’t that sound disgustingly damned familiar? Been there, done that just fifty years ago.

Wildflower Power

traf-and-genta-in-poppiesportraitWildflowers are rebels, outcasts who refuse to grow well tended in gardens. They come and go capriciously, carried by seeds on the wind and appear sporadically as the seasons change. They are literally the hippies of the flower world.

My wife is former Air Force and has a very negative view of hippies. She is a naturalized citizen and did not grow up in America in the 1960’s, as I did. During her eight years of service, she watched videos of soldiers returning from Vietnam being surrounded at airports and called ‘baby killers’ and ‘war mongers’ after grueling tours of duty. Many hippies were war protestors and were described as dirty, lazy, sex-crazed, drug-using bullies. To this day, that’s the way she thinks of them.

I, on the other hand, was just a handful of years too young to have been a love child of the6a00d83451574769e201b8d17ddd08970c 60’s. I was only eleven in 1968 and had to watch from the sidelines as people my babysitter’s age got involved in social issues like civil rights and fighting for equality. The hippies embraced bright colors (remember Day-Glo?) and looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Their clothing was sexy, freeing, and exotic all in one. The ones I knew personally were college students, young, vibrant, beautiful souls trying to make the world a better place.

They spread love instead of hate and faced power with peace. Flowers became a symbol of the movement when they were inserted into tflower_power-bernie-boston-1967-145c3005be51255d642he barrels of guns held by soldiers called out in response to peaceful protests. As a form of protest, it was visually arresting. Even as student protestors were gunned down by their own government’s forces, they answered with the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Peaceful resistance, they told us, was the only way to change the violence in the world.

But the propaganda machine, paid infiltrators, and the inevitable righteous zealots shaped the national conversation to the one that was fed to our military stationed overseas, including my wife. Her version is the one that most younger Americans hold because they weren’t there. They don’t know. They know only the characterization of hippies, not their character.

And protests of any kind, speaking truth to power, calling attention to social issues, standing up for those undervalued or mistreated, have become anathema to American Citizens Joe and Jane. We, those who sit before our national network television or our backlit computer screens, have bought into the idea that we should only protest on social media, without muss, fuss, or interruption of the daily duties of corporate America.

imrs-phpColin Kaepernick, Megan Rapinoe, and others like them are protesting peacefully when they refuse to stand for the national anthem. They are not hurting anyone, or blocking buildings, or bringing traffic to standstills. They are not yelling, disrupting, or forcing their behavior on others. They are exercising their RIGHT as an American citizen to protest when they disagree with their own government’s behavior. They are breaking no laws. Let me repeat that for emphasis. THEY ARE BREAKING NO LAWS.r126245_600x600_1-1

These young athletes are the wildflowers among us. They refuse to grow in the shade of our carefully tended national garden, instead insisting on their right to raise their heads defiantly to the same sun and stand proud, free, and beautiful. They won’t be planted, tended, and harvested at anyone else’s pleasure. Their peaceful protests have brought attention to a situation they feel strongly enough about to risk their careers. This is their country, and they’re not happy with the way things are going in their government. They must vote to change things, speak up to be heard on issues important to them, and protest effectively when they feel their government is doing something wrong.

That’s their duty as American citizens, not standing while a song is played over the loudspeakers. In America, patriotism cannot be mandated by the government. That is precisely what makes us a democratic republic and protects us from tyranny.



Young Adults… Great Models for Moving Literature

 This is the beautiful face of my favorite young adult. She lives near me, visiting when she can. Smart, suspicious, silly, sensitive, and strong… and that’s just the S’s. Of course I love her, who wouldn’t? But I’m also, in the interest of full disclosure, her nana. My wife is her maternal grandmother.

But I’m not only impressed with who she is as a young adult, after all I’ve known the special person, “M”, since she was born, and she was a freakin’ awesome baby/toddler/big girl/pre-teen before. No, I’m also impressed by her group of friends, and so many like them around the world.

Young adults these days are rockin’. They embody many ideals, tempered with a world-weary acknowledgement of the commercialism of their learning environments. They know social media is self-serving, and have learned the hard way that many messages are commercials disguised as truth. Young adult these days, however, are savvy. They question, not just values, but power. They are demanding answers, and when those aren’t forthcoming they dive headlong into research.

World-wide, nearly instant research. The world is much smaller than it’s ever been before. With the proliferation of videos, kids are finding out that people are much more the same, than they are different.

Which is great, because the next older generation is getting that all wrong, accepting wide divides between people and being prodded into conflicts which settle nothing, but greatly stir dissatisfaction and inflame passions.

Personally – and remember you heard it here first, folks – I believe that a new ’60’s type revolution is on the brink of exploding. I think today’s young adults are watching the posturing and posing of their elders, and are about to do what another group of young adults, who have been neatly categorized and dismissively labeled as ‘hippies’, did fifty years ago.

Their music tells stories of rebels, and vigilantes. The depths of despair are appearing in their art work across genres, as are the heights offered by hope. They are demanding better educations, and holding their educators to ever rising standards. They are remembering what so many of their elders have forgotten:

Love Conquers All.

Yep, young adults these days totally rock. “M” and her friends – here’s to you! Go get ’em, kiddos.