Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Era of the Hippie

When I wrote about becoming engaged yesterday, my thoughts went flying back to the early 70's when the world as I knew it was all about being a "hippie." Interestingly, at the time neither Dave nor I thought we were true hippies but when I look back upon those revolutionary times, we were in the midst of it all like many of our age group. Rather than a black and white category of hippiedom, like everything, there were gradations. Dave's brother was 8 years older and his sister was 5 years older. They were not a part of the movement.

The civil rights movement was separated from us in Montana but we were not isolated from the Vietnam war. Because of the draft, it affected all of the boys my age. We were unified against the war. The anti-establishment views most of us held were as a consequence of that war which had continued relentlessly our entire childhoods. One of the events that catapaulted us into hippiedom and solidified us as a group was Kent State. How I viewed it at the time was that students were peacefully protesting the Vietnam war and particularly the invasion of Cambodia. In a heavy handed attempt to quash any opposition to the policies of our government, the National Guard was called in. In May of 1970, when I was a junior in high school, the National Guard opened fire on unarmed university students and killed four of them.

It is difficult for me to express the hatred we felt toward the "establishment" after Kent State. It is a horrible feeling to think your own government wants to kill you. The profound impact of that day in May in 1970 on the baby boom generation resulted in a great divide between kids my age and adults more than any other time in our history. We included in the definition of "establishment" university administrations, local, state and the federal government, the military, the police and pretty much everybody our parents' age. No longer could we salute the flag or say the pledge of allegiance. The world we had been taught about in elementary school in the late 50's and early 60's had been turned completely upside down. We believed the original values of our nation embodied in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence had been trashed. The older people looked at kids as unpatriotic and protests as terrible. They were the WW2 generation and they could not fathom questioning the flag or our government's choice to wage war. To rebel, we rejected everything that symbolized their generation. Suits, ties, dresses, high heels, girdles, bras, hats, cleanliness, teased bouffant hairdos, crew cuts, and martinis were looked upon with utter disdain.

Montana, particularly Missoula more than Bozeman, became a crossroads and a refuge for those we regarded as the true hippies. Always, I had great admiration for many of these folks who began to live their beliefs. After Kent State, a lot of students dropped out of society and these are the people that I regarded as the true hippies. They traveled aimlessly from place to place and many joined or formed communes. Multitudes of kids headed up to Canada to escape the draft or to hang out outside of the United States. Banff, Alberta became the mecca. When I graduated from high school, one of my best friends, Tina, and I took off on our own to Canada. Dave and a bunch of his friends joined us once we crossed the border. We camped along the way, picked up hitchikers who were just kids like us, and found ourselves in Banff. I remember I sent a post card to my parents and told them we had become "bona fide" hippies. It was exciting to witness the movement first hand and to be a part of crowds of kids who had decided American society was not cool anymore. But of course, my friend and I and Dave and his friends returned to Montana, American society, reality and college. Nope, the colorful VW bus with endless wanderings was never a part of our lives.

While we were in college, many hippies continued to pass through Montana on their way to Seattle or California and college campuses without the presence of the National Guard were friendly places to stop. In fact, MSU had a large courtyard made of bricks and we were told the bricks were loose so that students would have a way to defend themselves in case the government decided to shoot at us. I'm thinking now that I am 55 that perhaps this was an urban myth. I have specfic memories of meeting people on campus who were just visiting and sitting on the lawn at outdoor rock concerts listening to stories. In addition, certain folks stayed. Missoula even now has aging hippies crawl out of the woodwork when they have Hempfest. I had a young English professor who drove from Seattle with her husband and two small children in an old broken down station wagon and they ended up in Bozeman. To me, they were true hippies. They had left behind the big city to eak out a living in a small college town in Montana. The couple asked me to baby sit their children every now and then and I always got a kick out of seeing in plain sight in their house a little crop of marijuana plants. I discovered from a google search today that she and her husband are still professors at MSU to this day. Both of them have become successful authors of several books.

MSU, being out of the way and calm, also was a refuge for many students from wealthy families back east who were terrified of the campus unrest in the rest of the country after Kent State. Ironically, these parents probably had no idea that MSU and the UM were hippie pit stops. A lot of these kids managed to get lacrosse teams organized and they loved the great skiing near Bozeman. I became good friends at MSU with a girl who was actually an heiress of a wealthy Texan family from a major US corporation. For her own protection, they sent her to Montana. I never did get the feeling she liked it much. I do not know whatever happened to her.

So, were we hippies or were we not? The following were definite characteristics in addition to hair to my waist and Dave's long hair and beard:

1. Tie dye. Indeed, I tie-dyed a few things. It was fun but it was difficult to keep the t-shirts from bleeding on other clothes when washed.

2. Jeans. Jeans were everything. Kids today do not realize that before us, jeans were not a regular part of the typical wardrobe. We were not allowed to wear jeans to school--until college. My favorite pair of jeans were a work of art. I sewed wild colored trim on the bell bottoms. I embroidered different symbols all over the legs including Canada's maple leaf. I wore them constantly and washed them infrequently.

3. Work Shirts and underwear shirts. We found our blue work shirts at stores that sold work clothing and boots. I also found the long underwear shirts at the same places.

4. Natural Linen. I made Dave a peasant shirt out of natural linen and then I embroidered it with all sorts of symbols like the peace symbol.

5. Macrame and beads. I learned to do macrame and we used it to make plant hangers and decorative items. Also, I made earrings, bracelets, and necklaces out of small different colored beads.

6. Earth shoes. Dave and I both had Earth shoes with reverse heels.

7. Waffle Stompers. Mine were blue and were the original light hiker.

8. Head shops. Since a lot of the clothes we liked to wear were unavailable in mainstream department stores, we'd find Indian print shirts and bedspreads in places like this.

9. Pachouli oil. It was the smell of the times. A whiff of this now sends me back 35 years like nothing else.

10. Long peasant dresses. I had a couple and I made them myself. The material was various shades of brown.

Clarification: As I wrote this yesterday, I was having a hard time putting it in past tense as the images in my brain were of me back then. Also, I never thought of my parents as a part of what we rejected. They were cool. My Dad let my friend and me take his new Jeep Wagoneer to Canada. And my Mom made me the coolest vest out of moose hide. My Dad had killed a moose which we ate and he had the skin tanned. I think I was the only person in the world with a moose hide vest. I rebelled in two ways against my parents. 1) They were smokers and I did not like that. 2) My Mom played bridge and tried her best to get me interested--wouldn't do it.

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blurry picture of me with my Indian print shirt--the Tetons

Being a hippie was definitely the style of those days back in the early 70's and there was a certain way of life and a rebellious mindset that went along with the dress. I remember thinking I thought it would last forever. The jeans part certainly has. Did we truly change America?

No and unfortunately the answer is one word----Iraq.