Sunday, December 8, 2013

I Was Not A Hippie

Me in '73
As I rarely get fan requests for blog pieces, I ought to respect them. While discussing the quixotic, hippie film Brother Son, Sister Moon, on the inspiring life of St. Francis of Assisi, music by Donovan, a friend ask me to explain whether I had been a hippie. As a tail-end baby boomer, I had not. The story takes a while to explain.

The extremes of the 60's frightened me even if the quiet, suburban life outside of Seattle was rarely touched by the turmoil of those years. At least my parents were suspicious of the Birchers as well as excitement on the Left. And there were hippies in the neighborhood. My definition should be understood. I saw hippies as youthful rebels against what was supposed to be the norms of middle-class, suburban life.

The Establishment scared us in Junior High with films about LSD. I saw the after school specials about asking Alice and running away with hippies. My parents lived and taught the prohibitions on smoking, drinking, and illicit drugs from our religious Word of Wisdom. Call it a repressed childhood if you must, but I wanted to be safer than sorrier. Then my 15-year-old hormones got the better of me.

Ramona* was exotic. The red, hooded cape gave that away. Her favorite adjective was "goodly." She was interested in how mummies were prepared including the removal of the brain through the nostrils. And she was reading Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave. What was there not to like?  Slender hands were so soft and nice to hold. And it was all so innocent. After a lot of hand-holding, I learned that  kissing was fun.

Herman, the male friend I spent most of my time with at the time, was heavily involved in this story in that he was sweet on Maggie, Ramona's good friend. It was a great foursome. There were never official dates, but a group of us teens hung out at school, parties and ice-skating. I still tell teen boys that ice-skating is magical because it is the perfect opportunity to hold a girl's hand. Yep, that did it for me.

The open-concept high school gave us a lot of time to hang-out. The group met at a specific table with us four, a sister of Maggie, and a couple of others forming the nucleus. Then there were a lot of loosely connected friends. We were hardly the popular crowd - more like a group of misfits who liked each other without concern for any pretensions of popularity. We were non-exclusive too as so many wandered in and out of our connections. Friendship and teen romance was great. My academics seriously suffered, but that's maybe another story.

Here's where I tread carefully. I'm still surprised that I didn't get into worse trouble than I did. While never tempted by tobacco, drinking, or pot (marijuana), I sure was by the sex. Ramona was not of my strict religious background. She came to church with us a few times and I went to hers. It was in a mainstream Protestant tradition with a lot more stagecraft than we got in Sacrament Meeting. And we could hold hands in either chapel.

As I said, the kissing was great. We didn't get much farther. There was always something that held me back. The worst thing was lying to my mom about where I was going and even sneaking out some nights to visit Ramona when her parents weren't home. Herm and Maggie were there too, so it was still a party - a kissing party. Ramona had me come to houses where she was babysitting after the kids were asleep. Those times, we were alone. I got pretty good at subdivision skulking. It was all an adrenaline-charging adventure.

The crisis point came with the academics catching up. My parents played it really well that left me a choice that I made to change to a traditional high school where I would attend scheduled classes and have regular assignments to follow. That saved me from academic disaster and maybe from hippiedom.

It also broke me free from the social group. It couldn't be maintained the same way without the constant, school-day contact. I still saw Ramona a few times along with the other friends. They seemed to take it as some kind of betrayal that I had left. I took it as a loss.

Then there was the vivid break with Ramona. Guilt and fear had stopped me from serious sexual situations, yet I longed for her and what else I could not understand. I had a teenager's tantrum once on a Sunday that is somewhat blocked out of my filtered memory, but I'll never forget what happened next. My mom said, "If she's the only thing that can make you happy, then we'll take you over there." And they did.

It was an unusual sunny, warm day. Ramona went for a walk with me in the bright woods. I had left my tie in the car, but was still in white shirt and Sunday pants. Ramona was in shorts and a loose, white buttoned blouse. She still smelled nice. We held hands. It was uncomfortable as I tried to tell her that I just couldn't do certain things. I think it came from the shock of some things Herm had told me about how you knew whether a girl was a virgin when you went all the way with her. I didn't say much to Herm at that but was thinking, "What?! Is that where this is going?" I didn't think that was right. I had been brought up with certain rules, standards, and plenty of guilt. I was afraid of sex. And I think that's OK for a hormonally charged almost 16-year-old. "Why?" she kept repeating in a whining plea. I had no answer. That was the last time Ramona and I held hands.

One evening, Herm called me up and announced that he and Ramona had "gone all the way." It was a blow of betrayal I never expected. In desperation, too guilty and ashamed to talk to my parents, I grasped for somewhere to seek help and comfort. The bishop would have been worse than my parents as he seemed totally clueless as to sex not to mention basic communication skills. Guys in the ward used to joke about going in to ask him what masturbation was. And I will never understand how this happened, but for some reason I called my home teacher. I now wonder not only how I came to that idea but what he must have thought. And he was the right one to call as he listened and comforted. I don't remember what was said, but it worked.

Later I was told that Herm and Roman hadn't done "it," but had concocted this plan to hurt me (then later self-fulfilled their fraud). I still can't understand the whole thing. I also saw Ramona's dad and little brother that summer at the National Scout Jamboree. Her dad and I always got along. Once at their house near the holidays, he offered me peppermint schnapps that I politely declined. He worked for the brand new Environmental Protection Agency and drove an EPA car at the Jamboree as part of some enviro-outreach program. Her little brother told me when I asked about Ramona and Herm that he had never seen anybody hate so much. It was a modestly pleasant surprise that he sympathized with me.

Now I'm getting closer to why I did not become a hippie. I had the most miserable summer of my life when I turned the big corner to sixteen. Passing my driver's test was one of the few bright spots. And I felt like I had no friends to share it with. I drove down the hill and picked up a church kid who was a year behind me in school. He still is a good friend. But there was a hole in my heart for the friends lost.

And having apparently failed the full rebellion with my previous friends, I was a 16-year-old looking for a cause to rebel for. The problem I had was that the church kids my age and older hung around in a group that I wasn't in. And that was good. Some of them had a little trouble with their boys-will-be-boys rebellions getting out of hand. And then it hit me. I could rebel against the conformity of rebellion! It had bothered me for some time that the older hippie-types were all rebelling in pretty much the same way - the clothing, long-hair, drugs, sex, and rock & roll. We've addressed the drugs and sex. I still love the music. But I could make a statement with the clothing.

One of my Scouting friends from a town a ways from my home had become my pen-pal. We wrote and drew cartoons for each other, his much better than mine. We had friendly arguments about Nixon. Yeah, in those days I was a teenage Republican. He inspired me in his manner of dress. He kept his hair long but wore narrow jeans and buttoned white shirts to school just to be different from all the non-conformists. I went a step further and cut my hair real short. There were members of my ward who were suspicious that I was on drugs. No, that was sadly behind the Sacrament table with the Priests in bell-bottoms, colorful shirts, and dark sunglasses. I wore white shirts, narrow ties, and slim-cuff, polyester pants to church. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was a few years ahead of "New Wave."

So there it is. I was a rebel but not a hippie. My rebellious phase did not last long as our family moved to Wyoming near the end of my junior year. There were no hippies in Wyoming and not a lot of non-conformity. I did get some letters from Maggie. Her family moved to California and I'm afraid she went a little further into the drugs and etc. Supposedly, she, Ramona, and another friend spent some time in Carmel as "witches." Maggie was explicit in describing her experiences and sincere in her friendship at least by mail. We shared things in writing I don't think we ever talked over with others. She had a difficult family situation. I had my own challenges too.

Now, the moral of the story . . . I'm still confused. Fifteen years of age is just too early then and now for anyone to start having sex. There is not enough emotional stability or financial security to start playing around with procreative powers even if only for entertainment purposes. Whether it was my church teachings, family standards including some bred-in guilt, or simple misunderstanding from immaturity, I don't understand how I didn't get into serious trouble. I think there are things about this story that I will never understand or will only do so in a brighter world where mistakes are understood, forgiven, and over-powered by all-consuming grace and love. That's all I can figure for now. And I do hope and pray that the same grace and love can overpower my old friends.

*Names are changed so that only those who know this story may be able to identify the players. Of course, memory-based history is inherently subjective. There may be other memories and interpretations out there.


  1. Ok. I feel like a bit of a stalker, as I've read this a number of times over the years, and yet again today. I have nothing profound to say, other than thanks for sharing. I value and appreciate it. I'm not sure I'm ready to let it all out like you have, but see a day when I'll need to. Thanks for your example.

    1. s'alright, Cousin Colin. Thanks for understanding.

      An interesting comparison is the haircut when I received my Eagle Badge. The one above would be Fall 1973 (oops, your Spring). In the Eagle Award pics of Feb. 1974, My hair had just recovered from being cut much shorter. I need to find that pic in between.


Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!