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Fake Hippies

January 5, 2016

Yenne_1969 John Hayden Herman 03

John Herman in 1969.

“I don’t remember the first time I saw her, but I remember the last,” I told our children.  “Just think. If we had made different choices over the course of 1968 and 1969 she could have been your mother.”

I got some puzzled looks, but I knew I had them hooked.  Our three looked at me, then, perhaps confused or troubled, glanced away.  Even so, I had their attention and they weren’t going anywhere soon.

“In 1967, in the fall, just a couple months after starting at the university in Missoula, this one college kid, eyes darting, with neatly combed long black hair sidled up to me.”  He murmured, “’Do you know where I could get some pot?’”

“I felt both pride and hope.  Proud that my old army field jacket and scruffy beard made me look like a hippie.  And hopeful that I would find some pot smoking friends.  And, of course, some pot.

“No,” I had replied, ‘But I’d like to.  I’m still looking.’  We were both headed down into the Student Union.  For lunch.

“Meals at the University of Montana Student Union always went on for hours, and my new friend Larry Felton and I sort of stuck together as we walked down the reddish stairs to get food.  Larry looked a bit like Bob Dylan, only without the wild hair.  Larry had a brown leather jacket, blue jeans, tan work shirt with a bag of Bugler tobacco in the breast pocket, and old army boots.  The kind of old fashioned boots with stitching across the instep over the top.

“When Larry introduced me to a bunch of college freshmen men and women sitting at four tables that had been pushed together to form one long one, that’s when I first noticed her, sitting between two other women at the far end.

“In those days smoking was permitted just about everywhere.  I didn’t smoke, but most of the others did. We drank coffee.  Several of the freshman women smoked Tarryton brand, the men rolled their own.  I can see them now.  There was John Herman, Skip Reising, Steve Franklin, Jonna Rhein, Linda Sheble, Virginia Baker, Becky Cuffe, Kim Thompson, Scott Hendryx, Gary from New York, Mark Fryberger, Bill Yenne, Steve Spoja, Bob Verduin, Brenda Fleming, Jerry Berner, and me.  Oh, they weren’t all there, every time, but this was most of our group.  Some of us, like me, felt like a social misfit, even outcast.  I wanted to be an intellectual, which was better than being drafted into the army to go kill people in Vietnam.”

Here I looked at our children, a bit surprised that I still held their attention.

“Where was mom?” asked our middle child.

“I didn’t meet your mother for a year,”  I replied.  “A couple of straight kids—we called any who didn’t look hip straight—joined up with us later, such as Dana Graham, and your mother.

“We were the ‘in crowd,’ the main group of hip students, although we sometimes found a few other strays like Mike Crowley, and Anna and Steve who didn’t bond with us.  The rest of the students ignored us and left us alone.  Parents and peer pressure to remain straight was strong in those days.

“At first, our group was distinguished by our clothes and hair.  Boys grew their hair long, sometimes beards.  Girls almost always parted their hair in the middle and wore it straight.  Like Joan Baez.  None of us smoked any marijuana for a long time, although we had heard that it was available.  Well, you had to have a connection.  We talked about drugs, because that’s what was happening in 1967.  Larry Felton said he had tried smoking belladonna.  He had tried inhaling freon.  Said he almost saw God before the effect wore off.  For some reason, I don’t think anyone else tried the freon.  Some of us later tried belladonna but that stuff made for an unpleasant experience.  I mean, ultimately we smoked about as much weed as we wanted, but it took a long time, months”.

At this point I looked at the kids who looked back expectantly.

I continued.  “I was attracted to a woman at the end of the table.   She had long, straight, blond hair that she parted down the center.  I was taken with her wide distinctive smile.  She seemed shy and she we were in a journalism class together.  At first she seemed indifferent toward me.  She often seemed to hurry away.  When I asked her if she smoked pot she replied, ‘Herbs are not for me.’  Only she pronounced ‘herbs’ with a hard ‘H’ like the name ‘Herb.”  I thought her face looked sort of lamb-like.  I think I told her so, and she wasn’t offended.”

About then I remembered that things didn’t really go as I described to the kids.

I confessed, “I didn’t immediately take up with the hippies at the Student Union that fall.  No.  Even though Missoula was my home town, I didn’t know anyone there when I returned after my years living in Dillon.  You know, I looked up an old girlfriend from fourth grade, Virginia Stewart.  We met off campus at a religious place where she boasted about her fiancee, a soldier.  You can guess how I felt.

“Ended up feeling even more lonesome.  I hung out with some old high school Dillon friends, but none aspired to be hippies.

“I was sort of torn between worrying about my hair being neatly combed and worrying about my hair being long and wild looking.  It really did boil down to hair style.

“My friend Dave Duncan let me use his hair conditioner and although he had sometimes liked to drink, we were not 21.  We had been able to get beer in Dillon — Whitehall, actually, but we didn’t know how in Missoula.

“By the time cold weather hit, I had my first few encounters with Larry and the hippies of the Student Union.  I had a hard time figuring out what I was about.  I knew I didn’t want to go into the army but I wanted to smoke pot, perhaps drop some acid.  I also wanted to remain in college and be an intellectual.  A writer, perhaps.  My goals shifted around.  I found it easier to be against things than to aim for something.

“Also, once I did become part of the hippie group in the Student Union, we did a lot more talking than anything.  And cigarette smoking.  By Christmas I had learned to smoke.  I also got good at playing my cheap guitar.  Mostly ‘Desolation Row’ by Bob Dylan.”

I wondered how long I could hold the kids’ attention.  I sensed they wanted me to tell them the good stuff.

“I don’t remember the first time we smoked marijuana,” I said.  “I mean I do remember the first time I ever smoked.  With my brother and his friends in Eugene Oregon in the summer of ’67.  I just don’t remember the first time in Missoula.  By Christmas our freshman year many of us had smoked marijuana, but it was expensive, even then.

“I haven’t smoked any since 1978, but I understand that marijuana is many times more potent than it was in the ‘60s.  We almost always walked up Mount Sentinel a short ways to smoke grass.  Just us college hippies.  We didn’t mingle much with others.  Sometimes Larry or somebody would bring a cousin or someone to town from Billings.

I could see that my kids expected more from me than the story of my college drug use.

“What about mom?” our daughter insisted.

“She could easily have been another woman,” I said.  “The hippie women did have their eyes on us, and we had ours on them.  This was seldom obvious to me, but I remember a snippet of conversation I overheard between Becky Cuffe and her friend Jonna Rhein as we hurried somewhere through the cold weather.  ‘Which one of will get Dan?’ Becky said, with a laugh.  I knew that was just a joke, because Becky really liked John Herman, although I don’t remember ever seeing them doing any of the things lovers do, like walking hand-in-hand or cuddling or kissing.  People in our group just didn’t seem to do that.  Well, me and one of the women did, finally.  It was me and this woman.  Actually, she picked me and had to question me and tease me to confess that I really liked her.”

“I suppose that happens more often than not,” I said to the kids.

“Was she the one who would have been our mother?” asked our oldest son.

I pretended I didn’t hear him.


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