We sat around the other night swapping stories about the old days back on Fellowship Street, when certain cultural norms were still in place, and teens either let their parents know what was up, or heard about it. Expectations were different back then, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
From my parents’ perspective, it was reasonable to expect that plans for a Friday night would be outlined earlier in the week, and run past Mama for approval, before permission was granted. Therefore, if she had to invoke Papa’s name, she could use it as leverage. The conversation would go something along these lines.
Strolling in from the Radio Shack, our bachelor quarters, early on a Friday morning, I might greet Mama with, “So Glen is driving to the game tonight. I think John is going too, but he might have to work. Everything OK?” I always asked, even though it was never OK.
“This is Friday morning. Why do you wait until now to bring this up?” Mama was not so much unhappy, as she was frustrated from the repetitive nature of the conversation.
“To bring what up? The fact that there is a game, or the fact that Glen is driving?” I didn’t even suggest that it might be the fact that I wanted to go.
“Why don’t you ask me these things earlier in the week, so I have time to think it over?”
“I couldn’t ask you earlier because Glen wasn’t sure he was going, and John might have to work. And I could have come in last night, after I got home from work, and woke you up to tell you...but I didn’t think you would appreciate my sense of timing. Now Glen knows that his parents don’t need him at home, and he wants to drive. Can I go?”
“Where is the game?”
“It’s against Mater Dei, but what difference does that make? If it were against Damien instead, would that make it different?”
“Listen here. If you expect me to give you permission to go to this football game, I suggest you stop giving me lip service.”
“Lip service? Mama, we go through this every week. There’s a game every Friday. I want to go to all of the games. I arranged with Augie to have Fridays off, so why do we have to go through this drama every time? How am I supposed to know on Monday, what is happening on Friday? Why can’t I be like all of the other kids I know, who ask their parents on Friday morning if it’s OK to go out Friday night?”
“I’m sorry if you think it’s drama. I have the right to know where you are going. And I do not like having things sprung on me.”
“Mama, what is being sprung on you? This is a football game we are talking about, not a trip to Tijuana to look for...never mind.”
“You just wait until you have children of your own-then you’ll understand.”
“Yes, I will understand not to torture them unmercifully. Heavens to Mergatroid.”
“All I am saying is I do not like to have last minute things sprung on me...”
And so it went. I pushed, and she resisted, expecting that I would eventually get it together. But getting it together entailed a reforming of the fabric within my generational framework. It wasn’t going to happen.
We had a multitude of battles, with each of us winning our share, but there was no conflict more volatile, or more controversial, than the big deal at Big Sur. This is that tale of the one really big war that I had with Mama when I was seventeen, back in the summer of 1970.
When my friends and I first came up with the idea of going on an epic journey upon graduation, it was such a great idea, that we knew we didn’t have a chance. Still, we hashed it over every time we got together from about February on, as we approached June.
John was eighteen, so technically he could do what he wanted, but if you knew Mrs. Hartnett, you knew John wasn’t going anywhere, unless she gave her blessing. And Glen and I were only seventeen, so any thought we had of getting out of Dodge was solely in the hands of the folks. Eddie and Bill weren’t even part of the plan yet.
“We could go up to Sequoia and camp, and then head up to Oregon,” said John. “My friend Ivy lives up there, and we could go see her.”
“Not THE Ivy,” said Glen. “Well, I guess there’s only one Ivy. How did you get her address?”
“Hey, G.W. Ass. What do you think I am? A numbskull?” John used the moniker we were most likely to throw at Glen Wass, when we wanted to annoy him. We all had a multitude of catchy names, that were strictly verboten in parental company. Mine was Fart O’Neill. We didn’t use these names around adults because we didn’t want to get our mouths washed out-metaphorically, by this time of our lives-with Ivory Soap.
“No, John Hardnuts. I think you’re a numb-nuts.”
“I’ve been writing to her all along; it’s just that I don’t feel I have to keep you informed of my love life.”
“Yes, well, I am sure Peggy would be thrilled to hear about Ivy...”
“Hey, What is this? We weren’t talking about Peggy.”
“No, but I bet Peggy would like hearing about Ivy, because then she...”
OK. OK. You made your point. Besides, I don’t even know why we’re talking about going to Oregon. Like our parents would ever let us go.”
Now I spoke up. “Listen up, you jabonies. We will soon be high school graduates. Adults. What is unreasonable about us going on a camping trip?”
John spoke up. “Nothing is unreasonable about it. Just ask us. But don’t ask our parents, because they have a thousand reasons.”
Glen spoke in a sing-song voice, “Where would you be sleeping?” He’d mimicked his mom.
John was next. “What about Church? How would we know you were going to Church?” Mrs. H. took her maternal responsibilities seriously.
Then I got into the act. “You’re not even eighteen years old, Mister.” I could do my mom pretty well too. “What makes you think you can traipse all the way to China by yourself?” (I wasn’t by myself-I had John and Glen.)
Glen spoke again. “You know, I gotta tell you. I’m pretty sure my dad would be OK with us doing this, and if it’s OK with him, then it’d be OK with my mom.”
John and I looked at each other. “Have fun,” was all he said.
But then I started to think about it. “Listen up. We are about to walk across our high school stage; we are all working steadily, and we all made the Honor Roll. We’re all enrolled to start college in the fall. We should be able to do this. We’ve earned it.”
John looked at me and laughed. “Who are you trying to convince? Us or your parents?”
I went on. “No, seriously. Let’s pitch it at them. Let’s schedule a meeting with the parents and see if we can convince them.”
John said, “What about Eddie? Or Bill?”
Now Glen spoke up. “What about them?”
“Well, it’s just that when I was telling them about your idea, they wanted to come along too.”
“Is there room in the van?” The van was a 1964 Ford Econoline, with a home welded, very sturdy rack, perfect for sleeping bags, and boxes of food.
Glen pushed his glasses speculatively back up on the bridge of his nose. “There’s enough room if we want there to be enough room. I mean, sleeping five in the back of the van...” His voice trailed off.
John spoke up. “My mom really likes Eddie, so that will help out.” Eddie was actually Steve Haskell, and why we called him Eddie was baffling. You would have thought we could have been a little more creative than that. Steve was no Eddie Haskell. He was as polite a guy as I had ever met. Actually, we were all pretty polite around adults. If any one of us was Eddie Haskell, it was Bill, but only in the sense that he was a bit more daring than the rest of us. That was my take on it.
And so it came about. We did have that meeting at John’s house. All five prospective voyagers were represented by a parent. We were held hostage by forced good behavior for weeks prior to the meeting, but even though everything was on a wait-and-see basis, we knew the instant that the meeting was scheduled, that it was a done deal. The protest we would have raised, if they had pulled out the rug at that point, would have been heard in Oregon itself.
“So, one final thing we want to discuss is alcohol and girls.” Mrs. Hartnett was the speaker. That’s two things, I thought to myself.
Bill chimed in. “We’re always happy to talk about those things.” He jumped imperceptibly as one of the feet from the tangle under the dining room table came into contact with his shin. “But that’s all we do is talk,” he finished lamely.
We were nodding in four-part harmony with Mrs. Hatnett, as John assured her that we were not going to be trying to pick up any girls.
“Humph. I should certainly hope not. You boys-no, you young men are going to have to live up to the ideals we have instilled in you.”
John started to shift uncomfortably in his hard-backed chair.
“Mom,” he began, but she turned to him.
“Now John. You know very well that I believe you are good boys. But I also know that good boys have the same temptations as bad boys and I want to have your word that there will be no shenanigans on this trip.”
“Of course not, Mom. What do you think? That we’re planning a big party up North somewhere and that we are inviting all of the girls we know to be part of it? Come on.”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it past you to try and pull the wool over our eyes.”
“You haven’t told us yet about Church. How do we know that you will go to Mass each Sunday?”
I spoke up. “We will have all day Saturday to find a church to attend on Sunday.” It sounded lame even to me. As though we were going to spend all day Saturday looking for a church.
The others glanced my way, as though to remind me that the only thing we had unanimously agreed on, was that I was to keep my mouth shut. That way, no one could get mad at me afterward for being the cause of our being refused permission.
Surprisingly, Mrs H. was mollified. “Fine then. If you can follow the rules that we have set down, then I feel you have earned our trust.” And here she leaned forward. “But if you break your word, my, my, my,” and she let it go at that.
High school graduation ceremonies had only been over for six hours when the five of us took off for a journey that surpassed any of our wildest dreams. we had met several times to plan menus and organize the van. We had the music system all set up, and Eddie had talked his dad into selling us the groceries for our trip at his cost.
We slept in a K-Mart parking lot one night, and we slept in the brand new, not-yet-opened lobby of a mountain chalet, that we decided was left open by mistake, after someone had turned on the heat to ensure the pipes did not freeze. This was up in Oregon, so it still got cold at night.
We visited my cousins in Yuba City, both on the way up, and on the way back down, and we did well on our promises. We even slept in the vestibule of a church one Saturday night, because it was cold outside, and the church was warm. We were out of there before it was light, and then back again for Mass at seven o’clock, and no one was the wiser.
We visited the vaunted Ivy, only to find to John’s crushing dismay, that not only did she have a boy friend, but that he was spending that night with her. I guess Peggy would have been happy, but I didn’t think John was going to consult her on the matter.
So we followed all of the ground rules, having decided before we left that beer did not constitute “liquor” so much as say, whiskey might have. Today, from the standpoint of a parent, that makes no sense whatsoever, but it was our defense nonetheless.
Girls never really entered the picture, simply because there were five of us, and one guy would have had to take a backseat to the rest; we put our love lives on hold. But a funny thing happened during the twenty-two days we were traveling.
Though John was seeing Peggy, and I was seeing Debbie, the Red Fox, when the girls started talking about taking their own graduation trip, we didn’t think anything about it. At some point along the way, Bill received a postcard announcing the glorious fact that they were going to meet us at Big Sur, on the last weekend of our adventure.
Say what? How did this happen? We literally had no control over it, as the planning had gone on during our absence. All of the seven girls had received permission for a weekend camping trip to Plaskett Creek, closer to the San Luis Obispo side of Highway One, than the Carmel side. What could we have done to stop them?
The subject had surfaced just before we graduated and everyone laughed at the idea of actually hooking up in Northern California somewhere, say Big Sur, and celebrating the end of our high school careers. No one thought it would ever happen, simply because we didn’t think the girls’ parents would allow them to go unchaperoned. There was no attempt on their part to conceal any of the facts. In the spirit of the new age of freedom, and approaching adulthood for us all, the parents of the girls gave their permission for them to go ahead with their plans.
Debbie was a gal I had only been seeing only since the run of parties had begun the week before graduation itself. She was actually Walt Cousineau’s brother’s girlfriend, but she was engaged in a running battle with him whether or not she should go all the way with him. As she explained it to me, she was saving herself for marriage.
Just having this sweet young thing confiding all of this good stuff in me, made me feel as though I were the man. The last thing, and I do mean the last thing, that I would ever have done, was to take a chance that I would somehow end up in the same category as Walt Cousineau’s brother.
I was very innocent at the time, and I swallowed every word she said. I have always considered this to be the most ironic aspect of the whole business. If we had been fooling around, I would have been consumed by guilt. But self-righteousness takes a back seat to very little, especially a critical mother.
We had a great time up there that weekend, and no one fooled around. Heck, we had all twelve of us sleeping in a six person tent, so there would have been little chance of pulling something off, anyway. We didn’t see the need for adult supervision, because we were all adults. We just saw the need to have a little fun.
However, the time came for the weekend to end. Since we had no intention of deceiving our folks, I drove back with Debbie and one of her friends, in Debbie’s car. I’ll never forget coming through the front door and seeing Mama standing in the middle of the living room, with the whole place a shambles.
The piano was in the middle of the room, if that gives you any indication, and everything was heaped around it, while the room was being painted or papered, or whatever was being done to it. At our house, you didn’t move the piano away from the wall to clean.
Mama stared at me, barely acknowledging my introduction of the girls. Sensing that all was not well on the home front, I diplomatically suggested an early departure to my two friends, and went back in to face the music, or the firing squad, it being pretty much the same thing.
Mama was pretty upset. I guess it was probably a combination of anger, frustration and disappointment. She’d been expecting the van to pull up, with all of those guys piling out, spewing tales of our adventures. She probably was hoping that we would move the piano back into place. Poor Debbie.
Instead, she indicated that I had clearly violated her trust. I had broken the most sensitive rule of all-fraternizing with the female species. Perish the thought. Though I strongly maintained my innocence of any wrongdoing, and she admitted that she believed me, I was still a permanent member of Mama’s dog house.
“How long are we going to hash this out? Why can’t you let it go?” I finally protested one night.
“I have told you why I am upset.”
“Yes, I know. You are worried about my reputation. Well, I am not.”
“Your reputation? What about my reputation? I have to hold my head up among my friends. You do not care.”
“I see. Because I did nothing wrong, that means I don’t care. It seems as though it would be the opposite. Maybe if I had done something wrong you could say I didn’t care about my reputation.”
“You just don’t get it. I am the laughing stock of my friends because you can’t be trusted.”
That was it. I did not do anything wrong. So I issued the one and only ultimatum I ever delivered.
“Either forget about stupid Big Sur, or I am so out of here. There are a million places I could move to...” But I was shooting blanks, and she probably knew it. In any case the war was over, and life went on that summer peacefully. That is, for about two days.
I had come back with a flaming red, three weeks growth of beard, and immediately picked a fight with Augie, the manager at Sunrize market. I was angry that he had promoted Jimmy Richardson to head box boy, as revenge for my taking off for three weeks, so I quit. I figured I could find a job anywhere I wanted, but found that I was wrong. Oh well, at least Mama wasn’t worried about Big Sur anymore.
We both grew a lot back then, me into adulthood, and she into a better understanding of a rapidly changing social and cultural world, outside of her home on Fellowship Street.