“I first met my friend Gretchen 50 years ago” I told the kids when I introduced you, without actually having done the math.
It wasn’t until later that I realized,
“Damn! That’s true!”
It was the Spring of 1972 when we met at that Summerhill school in rural Maine, two Antioch College students on the same work/study assignment. Neither of us knew each other before, though we had lived one dorm apart back in Ohio.
And so it began. The mutual recognition through music, through teaching, through playful humor and the shared sense that “Heck! Why shouldn’t school be fun?” We played cards with the kids, walked the surrounding hills, sang songs and sometimes even joined them in an illicit nighttime kitchen raid.
None of us knew what we were doing and Summerhill proved to be a failed idea: “Leave kids alone and they will naturally gravitate to their interest and ask you the deep questions that will give rise to a meaningful teaching curriculum.” Not exactly. There was a lot of sleeping until noon and those endless card games, but hey, for these middle school kids already damaged by repressive schools, maybe that was just what they needed. At least for a short time..
Back at Antioch, the bond deepened, ending in the infamous Drake House where twelve of us lived, you and Nancy, me and Bobby forming the “the third-floor-hard-core-four.” Instead of the school cafeteria, we cooked our own meals, ate dinner each night on our porch bantering with the passerbys on Xenia Avenue. One meal we made our own fortune cookies with messages like “You will get older as time goes by.”
And damn if that wasn’t true! 50 years later, here we still are, still carrying the same playful spirit that had us playing Red Rover at your Virginia house, Wind-Up the Bunkin at the Mime School in Maine, dancing in wild abandon on the Antioch front stoop in Ohio. Each visit like the next minute in what would become a lifetime conversation.
That Spring in Maine opened a beckoning path to you and you returned to live your whole life there. Mine led me to San Francisco and though we lived at opposite ends of the country, the thread was long enough and durable enough to stretch all the way across, unbroken by either distance or time. You studied mime, taught, found true love and a miniature communal Drake House, raised a beautiful son and recently turned to poetry, now published. I kept on with music, taught, married and raised two beautiful daughters and wrote essays with poems on the side. We met on either coast perhaps once every five years ago or so, but when Souls connect, time is incidental.
The years have chipped away at us, changing our bodies, but not our spirit. We have grown larger with grief, more loving with loss. The country took a shocking left turn away from the peace and love we were sure would blossom from our efforts, yet our heart of hope still beats. Yes, we are startled, stunned, stupefied and staggered, bewildered and bowled over, astonished and astounded by it all, but nevertheless we persist.
“Red Rover, Red Rover, send that one— the corporate raiders, the NRA, just about the whole damn Republican party—on over” and we grab hands and hold the line so they can’t break through.
And then fall down, still laughing.