Now I have to ride my turquoise Schwinn, across the four lane arterial highway, where my mom got hit by a bus when I was in fourth grade. Another two miles down Balltown Road, and I bear right on Van Antwerp behind Stewart’s Ice Cream. At the Woodcrest sign, I hang a right, and coast down the steep hill to Linda’s new split level.
If I walk, I still have to cross the arterial, but farther up, opposite the Dominican Retreat. Then down Rosendale Road to Marie’s house, and left towards the 18th hole of The Mohawk Golf Club. I prefer cutting though the golf course. It’s a silent world apart, except for a few irate men in pants the colors of rainbow sherbet. I stroll across lush fairways, over crew cut greens spiked with festive flags, and through a short wood that opens onto Linda’s quiet lane.
I’m no longer going out with John Kersey. Nor is Linda seeing Chip Alesio. Not for any particular reason. School is out, and I’m drifting like a heat wave above the scalding asphalt.
Greg Meyers takes me out a few times. Our encounters are unmemorable save the fact that one night, on the way to pick me up, he runs over a mother raccoon. What to do with the baby circling the furry mush in the middle of the road? When Greg phones, I remember Smedley, an orphaned robin Linda nursed to adulthood. Greg secures the ring-tailed infant in his glove compartment, and at my suggestion, drops him off at Linda’s sprawling suburban home.
The black-masked baby is dubbed Nicholas and welcomed by Linda’s open arms, but her mother says the coon must remain in the family room on the same level as the garage. No one cares about the couch and chairs from the old house. The newly furnished living room is decorated with a sofa upholstered in avocado velvet. Linda’s mom has gone back to work as a Spanish teacher, and the wrought iron lamps and accessories reflect her enthusiasm for all things Latin.
Up another flight of stairs is Linda’s bedroom. No more rock maple Ethan Allen. A woven African chair with its grand circled back makes a cozy spot for cuddling the smuggled, wild thing.
This same summer my father buys a small, ocean-going sailboat and announces we’re cruising Buzzard’s Bay for our family vacation. We put the vessel named Dilly Dally in at Marion, Massachusetts and sail across to Pocassett, spending our first night of many at a public pier. From there we cross to Matapoisett, touring the shoreline dotted with gothic cottages, picket fences and beach plum roses in full bloom. We overnight at Fairhaven, West Falmouth, and go ashore in New Bedford to view the massive jawbones, and delicate scrimshaw at the whaling museum.
My father’s plan is to pass through the Elizabeth Islands at Woods Hole, and sail to Martha’s Vineyard. But thick fog and heavy rain keep us moored in Woods Hole’s enclosed harbor, the Eel Pond.
To get to the small town, we must row our miniscule dinghy. It accommodates only two passengers at a time. In my old Girl Scout rain poncho, I take a turn with my mom, rowing to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Before returning to the boat, I buy Black Like Me and Rosemary’s Baby at the Rexall Drug store. When it’s my brother’s turn ashore, he chooses Mad Magazine.
Dilly Dally’s cockpit barely seats two people on a side. The cabin barely sleeps four. My parents bed down in the bow. My brother and I sleep in the stern, our sleeping bags stuffed underneath either side of the cockpit. Only our heads stick out into the cabin. My skull butts against a teensy nautical sink, my brother’s a midget stove. This means, in the rain, inside the boat, for two days straight, I’m cocooned in my berth, blazing through tales of the segregated South, and a demonic incarnation in New York City.
When the sky clears, my father steers us under the drawbridge and through the narrow cut with its treacherous currents. In open Vineyard Sound, we are quickly out of sight of land, blown before the wind like a speck upon swells of living, breathing water.
We make landfall at Oak Bluffs and spend the afternoon as if on a fairy tale isle, riding flying horses on the carousel and touring gingerbread houses painted the colors of cotton candy. We spend days circling the island, enjoying Vineyard Haven, Menemsha, Gayhead, Chilmark, and Chappaquiddick. From Edgartown we head for Hyannis and sail by the Kennedy compound on our way back to Buzzard’s Bay.
Summer’s almost over when I return from the family voyage. Nicholas, the raccoon, is nearly grown and too feral to contain in the family room.
Linda and Laura call to see if I can go to Woodstock. “It’s a three day concert only an hour or so down the Thruway. Dale Eagan is driving, and our mom already said yes.”
When I ask, mine fires back a fast no.
In a few weeks, I start my junior year at N.H.S., and girls are allowed to wear pants! Not sleek, side-zippered slacks, but baggy men’s carpenter pants, overalls, and bell bottom jeans from the Army Navy. The unmistakable scent of marijuana hangs over the Crossroads, as students mingle in tie-dyed T-shirts and dashikis at the school’s central intersection.
At home, the National Geographic on our coffee table is devoid of pictures of giraffes and elephants. Rather there are photos from Viet Nam.
How could an Aquarian Exposition parked on an upstate pasture quake the foundations of my world? Did my mom know what would happen at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm? Whoever heard of black men like Richie Havens or Jimi Hendrix, playing anything but R&B? Whoever heard of a white woman like Janis Joplin wailing the blues? How did Grace Slick dethrone Donna Reed as the default female role model? Why were the Dead Grateful?
It seemed my whole generation came of age in three days of peace and music, only to find ourselves mired in mud. Were Bob Dylan and I the only two people on the planet who didn’t go to Woodstock? So many answers still blowing in the wind.