This is an excerpt from Big Deal at Big Sur, a piece I wrote about my own travels after graduation.
Big Deal at Big Sur
Mama and I 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, and as we approached June, we had managed to gain permission from our respective parents.
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.