I grew up with hippies as parents. Mom will claim that she was not a hippie but everything about her said hippie. Long hair, homemade clothes, homemade food, large garden, no running water, married to my artist dad, from Boulder, Colorado—you get the idea. If it looks like a hippie, acts like a hippie and smells like…to be fair, Mom wore Shalimar perfume rather than the heavy scent of body odor, vegetarian flatulence, doobies and patchouli that hung in a dense cloud around most of our friends, who, incidentally, could usually be found in a van with curtains in our driveway if they weren’t living in a teepee in another friend’s yard. Or they could also be off in Hawaii living on a naked commune getting some woman with hairy legs pregnant, sending us postcards of said naked pregnant stranger. I remember asking my dad, “why do Frank’s farts smell like that?” “Because he only eats fruit,” dad replied.
Take away #1: Real hippies stink. Mom was not a hippie.
Take away #1a: Vary your diet.
Take away #1b: Stay upwind from Frank.
During this time of growing our own food, raising chickens and filling the back yard with giant dye tubs and tables of melted wax for community Batik projects (hippies can’t afford art or nice furniture so they make their own wall hangings and sofa covers) I became this strange person who saw the world the way my genetics made me (overachiever type) while looking at this almost dreamlike world form around me. There were parties where people sat around on the lawn in small groups talking while I diligently pumped the keg and made sure that everyone had a full glass. There were people laughing hysterically then abruptly staring into space. There were women with lazy eyelids putting flowers in my hair and talking about how you could use the pollen from dandelions as eye makeup. Great idea—as a four-year-old allergy sufferer I really appreciated her hippie wisdom/completely stoned out of her mind style thinking. What else has living so close to the earth (read broke and subsequently homeless) taught you? That plant over there makes a great toilet paper? Why can’t I just use toilet paper instead of kill that plant? There is plenty of toilet paper over there in the outhouse.
Take away #2: Don’t take advise about cosmetics and toiletries from stoned hippies.
More at the jump…
Yes, we had an outhouse. A two seater. With oak seats. Yes, I said a two seater. I’m sure this brings up questions for you, like “why two seats? Did you go right next to…” The answer is, yes. If you are hippie with a child and you have no running water, it is much more convenient to have a two seater. There is no waiting. Except the two hours of waiting in your bed denying that you have to go because you don’t want to walk out to the freezing outhouse. We had an outhouse because we were living naturally. We had oak toilet seats were because we were uppity. It was something we would brag about to our guests. These smooth wooden toilet seats were one of the amenities of staying in the Davis’ driveway in your van. Until the one of the toilet seats split and it would pinch your legs. You couldn’t tell it was split by looking and by the time you realized it, you were already jumping off the seat trying to hold your stream long enough to get to the other toilet hole. After that, the toilet seat was just another thing we needed to replace and since we were sick of not having running water, we just got an indoor bathroom instead. Which was great—we were like other families now! Of course here was a caveat: our bathroom had a curtain where the door should be and it was located right off the living room. So if you or your guests had to go number two, we could all hear and smell everything you did. This made for some interesting muscle control exercises and strategically timed water faucet usage. Yes, now we had water to waste (or at least to save our pride)! And we still had the nice oak toilet seat from the outhouse in this new bathroom because we were still uppity—as challenging as that can be while everyone hears you fart.
Before the indoor bathroom addition, we had a pump connected to a cistern in the kitchen instead of a faucet. Baths involved heating several large pans of water up on our stove and pouring the water into the sink or a galvanized tub, then getting the pans heated again so the bath could last a little while. I remember a time when I was wanting so badly to stay in the tub but the water was taking too long to heat. I had this dilemma of whether to freeze and be patient for what would wind up being a luke-warm bath or just give up and get out. I love baths. Hot baths.
Take away #3: Running water is a luxury for some people. Lots of people. Even today. Don’t take it for granted.
We had about an acre of property on which we used to grow vegetables, had erected Frank’s old teepee for my playhouse when he moved to Hawaii, and the rest was filled with fruit trees, wild plants and weeds. Before we started mowing this yard, it was filled with little pockets of fascination—fat grasshoppers, baby robins, lady bugs, toads and mice. One year we found a toad that must have weighed four or five pounds burrowing into our cellar and the next spring, we saw her again under the moonflowers. Interestingly enough, dad had previously told me not to eat the moonflowers because if I did, I would either die or see giant frogs eating me. Turns out that if you don’t eat the moonflowers, you just see a giant frog under them. Each summer we would walk through the weeds and herd the grasshoppers and tiny little toads the size of your fingernail by the hundreds. After we started mowing, they disappeared. It illustrated to me how important preserving even the tiniest little habitat can be. One year I found a baby robin perched on my dad’s sculpture. I fed him for weeks, constantly and that winter he stayed in the garage. The next year he selected a lady robin and used the nest in which he was born and flew south during that fall. Usually, I spent most sunny days looking closely at flower petals and seed pods, examining every part of every insect I saw, eating wild gooseberries and digging in the dirt. I learned that a ladybug larvae looks like a little Gila Monster. I learned what every cocoon I found held inside and what those little guys looked like when the cocoon split open. The way I think was heavily shaped by living that lifestyle.
Take away #4: Kids should be raised in areas with wild nature and be allowed to explore it on their own.
At school I envied, really envied those kids with Wonderbread and bologna sandwiches. My mom packed roast beef sandwiches on homemade bread and soup. The other kids made fun of my lunch, which led to butterflies in my stomach, which led to me tossing my lunch and most of my mom’s Tupperware in the trash instead of eating. I got to go to the playground early this way. This is where I met Andy. We were the first kids out on the little patch of ice outside the cafeteria. We’d slide around on it and talk. His parents were old. Grey hair old. He had nephews and nieces that were several years old than him. I think he said his mom had thought she had gone through menopause and then got pregnant. His lunches were sandwiches with homemade bread and soup. He threw his away too. We became best friends. Or at least he was my best friend. We had a lot in common.
Take away #5: The children of 1970’s hippies have a lot in common with children who have old parents because old parents grew up without running water. Pioneers were the original hippies. Actually cavemen were the original hippies. Which explains the smell.
Take Away #5a: I wish I had one of those sandwiches right now.
Take Away #5b: Sorry for throwing away all of the lunches you made and your Tupperware, Mom.
So there I was, a four-year-old over-achiever looking at this world that seemed a little “other” even to me. I really had nothing to compare my family’s world to and yet I could see that while some of the pieces fit for me, I was a little different from most of the people with whom we spent time. It wasn’t bad different, just different. But then I went to school and realized that here I was again, different than most of the kids there. Some of the pieces fit for sure—I loved school and the chance to play with other kids. But I felt a little bit fringe, like I had to try really hard internally to look like I felt like I was fitting in externally. For example, we didn’t have a television, a dishwasher, a microwave…even after we got running water while I was in kindergarten we lived primitively. Instead of watching television I read—a lot. I read hundreds of books by the time I was in second grade. Big books. Chapter books. But when I got to school I was hanging around with kids who watched TV. Lots of TV. They talked about unfamiliar things. Conversations felt like private jokes designed to keep me out. When I was in sixth grade or so, I bought the family a TV. A 13” black and white with a long antenna. We got cable and I figured out that if you placed a match with part of the sulfur scraped off behind the channel 18 button (MTV), you could get Showtime, The Movie Channel and HBO. And the Playboy Channel. But I didn’t watch that. Ultimately, this television led to the destruction of my sister’s desire to read for most of her formative years and my coincidentally seeing David Lynch’s Eraserhead twice in one evening as a while I babysat. Even at the age of 14, that movie struck me, I realize now because I understood, in some weird way, how out of touch the main character, Henry Spenser felt. Or that anyone might feel as out of touch as I did, if only they would watch this weird-assed movie and try to make sense of it. When my parents got home, I told them about the movie and they told me that I must have dreamt it. I believed them. It wasn’t until I got to college and was describing this weird dream I once had that a friend told me “That was Eraserhead.” Even my realizations had been turned into dreamy observations that made no sense. I was never sure if what I felt was typical childhood angst (is childhood angst typical?) or if growing up hippie in the 70’s put me in a psychological purgatory until my college days in Boulder where I easily found other angsty people who liked to read books and watch David Lynch movies.
Take away #6: Reading is good and television isn’t bad. If you are watching the right things, your mind can open up, even if you live in a sheltered little world in a sheltered little city.
Now I am over David Lynch for the most part (although proud to live so close to many of the Twin Peaks filming locations) and no longer feel angst or out of the loop. On the contrary, I have many close relationships with like-minded people who appreciate a nice perfume, enjoy running water, are fascinated by seed pods and enjoy books AND television. Thanks to Facebook, I’m even in touch with my old pal Andy. Turns out my problem wasn’t that I was an over-achiever raised by hippies but that I was just an introvert with social skills. An introvert who looked like an extravert. The psychological purgatory I lived in was more about my needs to simply observe and go away to process what I have seen vs. the expectations that I interact completely with whatever is happening in the moment. It just took a long time to recognize that. Grateful I finally did. Grateful for all of those strange experiences. Now that I am out of the purgatory, I see how the constant processing about the effects of growing up in an unusual way is probably what ultimately helped me discover this whole introvert thing.
Take away #7: At some point the way you were raised doesn’t matter as much as what you do with it all and how you let it make you a happier you.