Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For What It's Worth

How did I become a hippie?

As I sit here in my camo pants and “Peace is the Way” t-shirt (yes…it’s a statement), I think maybe I can begin to sort it all out.

Some of my earliest memories are of living in Florida near sugar cane fields. I lived there from my first birthday until the time I was five. I must have been about four or so when I recall hearing the word “nigger” for the first time. It came out of my father’s mouth. My father had a low opinion of the blacks that worked in the fields and wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings. I however, couldn’t reconcile his words with my reality. My reality was that as I stood in our front yard by the side of the road at the end of the day, the black men would walk by on their way home from work and hand my sister and I pieces of fresh sugar cane to chew on. They always had a smile and a nod for us, and that was as much a gift as the sugar cane. I liked those men. I knew that calling them, “nigger” was wrong.

When I was about seven, my family lived on a racetrack in Illinois where my father trained horses. Many of the people that worked at the track were Black or Hispanic. There was a black family who lived a few trailers down from ours, who had a son close to my age. One day when my father came home, he saw me playing with my friend and called me inside. He told me that I was never to play with “that boy” again. I cried and asked why and was told that he didn’t want his kid to be seen playing with “dirty little nigger boys.” This child was my only friend and I loved spending my days running around the racetrack with him. He wasn’t dirty either. He was always neat and clean and had excellent manners. I knew my father was wrong.

I was raised in the Mormon church and it was there I was taught about the story of Cain and Abel and the “curse” of dark skin. For nearly 150 years, the Mormon church denied its black members the ability to hold the “Priesthood” or entrance to their temples. They also have a strict policy, documented in many speeches made by their “prophets” of disallowing interracial marriage. During my school years, I was friends with the black kids in my school. I had a very difficult time understanding what was so bad about those great kids that an entire religion would want to shun them.

When I was fourteen years old, I took a bus ride from Cushing, Oklahoma to Clinton, Oklahoma for the purpose of attending my boyfriend’s 15th birthday party. My reading material for the trip was a Mormon publication of some sort. When the bus stopped in Langston, a predominately Black populated university town, a young college woman got on the bus and took the seat next to me. She looked at what I was reading and struck up a conversation. She inquired about the church’s stance on Blacks. At the ripe old age of 14, I was in the position of attempting to rationalize racism in defense of my church. We spoke for quite a while and she got off the bus before my stop came up. She told me that it had been nice talking to me, wished me a pleasant trip and told me that she would pray for me. She said it with not one ounce of spite or bitterness. I never finished that book. I pondered what she’d said not only for the rest of my trip, but also for many years of my life. I knew the church was wrong.

I remember in High School being on the debate team and being given the topic of Equal Rights for Women. I was supposed to debate why the Women’s Movement would be a bad thing. I had lots of material because once again, the church was opposed to the Women’s Movement. I had a difficult time trying to rationalize what I felt inside with what my church leaders were telling me. The church viewed the Women’s Movement as “anti-family.” I knew they were wrong.

Although the Mormon religion, as many religions do, discouraged reading or watching of material that was considered to be in conflict with its teachings, as I grew and moved away from my family’s influence and from the influence of the tight knit church group in which I was raised, I began to seek for myself what I believed about the world.

Not only did I read volumes on world religions and about other philosophies, I found myself in the world making friends with people of all colors and origins. I learned how those from other parts of the world viewed religion and race and equality. The more I became exposed to people from all walks of life and not just the church group I’d grown up in, the more my mind and heart opened.

My first exposure to the gay community was in a bar in Denver, Colorado. It was Gay Rodeo weekend there and the turnout at the bars was huge that Saturday evening. I’d never seen anything like it in my life. Being from Oklahoma and having been to hundreds of rodeos, this experience was really quite something. Cowboys in Wranglers and boots and cowboy hats were slow dancing. As my Granny would have said, “Well! Now I’ve seen everything!” I had my foot stepped on by a drag queen in stilettos that night. In heels, she must have been almost seven feet tall. She was gorgeous and funny and I forgave her for the enormous bruise she left on the instep of my foot.

Since that time, I have had the privilege of becoming friends with several men and women who are gay. I consider some of them my family and would do anything in the world for them and know they would do the same for me. I don’t view them as my “gay” friends. I view them as my friends. The movement to deny them their right to marry and to legally experience the same marital joys and heartaches that “straight” people are allowed deeply saddens me. I know in my heart that those who wish to deny them their civil rights are wrong.

I don’t know if it’s a culmination of all of these events and the rest that are too numerous to mention that have resulted in my liberal views now. What I do know is that my heart and head are no longer in conflict as they were when I labored under the yoke of my religious upbringing.

My dictionary has two definitions of hippie. Number 1 is: “a person, esp. of the late 1960s, who rejected established institutions and values and sought spontaneity, direct personal relations expressing love, and expanded consciousness, often expressed externally in the wearing of casual, folksy clothing and of beads, headbands, used garments, etc.” This one made me smile. I was born in the late 60’s and have always felt a connection to that generation although I was too young to have been a part of it. I don’t wear beads and headbands, but I do have a groovy collection of peace sign jewelry and clothing. The part about love and expanded consciousness, I like!

Definition number 2: “A person who opposes and rejects many of the conventional standards and customs of society, especially one who advocates extreme liberalism in sociopolitical attitudes and lifestyles." Hmmmm….I don’t like the word “extreme” because I certainly don’t feel that my viewpoints are extreme. I actually have quite a few “conservative” viewpoints. The rest of it I’ll take though.

One of my favorite quotes is from Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins. It goes thusly: “Real courage is risking something you have to keep on living with. Real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s clichés.”

All I can say is….right on.


Jennie................ said...

I think beads and headbands might be quite attractive on you!! HAHAHA

Linda Rae said...

About a year after my divorce, and still stinging a lot, I was in Provo, UT attempting to move back and finish school there. I was going to participate in a "singles" event in the Provo area by singing in the choir. I was sitting at the end of a row on bleachers waiting for the meeting to start. A General Authority and the local organizers of the event were talking just behind where I was sitting. The GA said, "If we could just get these people married, it would solve all this." I sat there stunned for a minute, then quietly slid off the seat and left--and did not look back.

lakeviewer said...

It takes a lot of courage to look at your family and what they all represent and declare yourself an adult, with a mind and a heart of her own. Good for those of us who have succeeded.

lakeviewer said...

p.s. I like your bedside reading list.

Amy said...

Jennie: I tried a headband with my hippie outifit at Halloween this past year and Eric said, "No." Apparently, the headband thing is not for me.

Linda: I've had an astonishing number of that type of thing happen to me. All added up, they constitute a small part of why I'm a "non-believer."

Lakeviewer: Thank you for your comment. I feel so content now with what I believe but it has not been an easy path, especially in the beginning, as I'm sure you know.

My bedside reading is a bit intense right now & I'm seeking something "lighter" to break it up!My poor little brain can only handle so much!