Sunday, September 6, 2009

Taking Woodstock

In 1969, I looked like this – hip hugger jeans, floral empire waist dresses and long, curly hair that I ironed so I could look like Joan Baez. It is 40 years later, and I am still dressing like that. Same style dresses, still in my hip hugger jeans, and with hair that I sometimes get tempted to pull out the iron along with pulling out the gray hair that gets past my dye. My cousin, in the photo with me, was always the neat and tidy one while I was politely referred to by my aunts as, "the free spirit". In 1969, the news was not all that good - the Manson murders had just taken place, and the evening news reported the daily trauma and death count from the Vietnam War that incited riots in colleges everywhere. I had just graduated high school. I was a shy kid in what seemed at the time to be a big school. I guess I was a non-descript student - not athletic (not that there were so many choices for girls back then), did not go to my prom and had no idea what my future was going to be about. So many girls were either getting married or going to college after high school. I was doing neither. During high school, I worked at a local handbag company and made friends with a girl who was around my age. She told me about this 3 day concert in August in upstate New York called Woodstock. Knowing it would be a stretch to get my parents to let me go to this event, I brought my friend to my home and introduced her to my parents. They liked her and somehow, they let me go. I think my mother might have convinced my father that this would be a good idea. She understood I was lonely and that going up to the mountains of the Catskills with a nice friend to an outdoor concert sounded like a nice, peaceful vacation. Memory doesn't serve me well after 40 years so a lot of what I did or saw isn't all that clear. But, this weekend, I saw the movie "Taking Woodstock". It all came back to me – I sat in the movie theater alone recognizing the Route 17 we took to get there, the grocery store we bought food at, the lake where people swam and the hill that some slid down on that Sunday when the rain came again. It was all there. Not the music, just us and this area in Sullivan County. Someone saw what I saw and brought it all back. At home, I was not the popular one, or the rich one or the going to college one. At Woodstock, while many of us were the shy one or the I-don’t-know-where-I-am-going one, that weekend I was surrounded by my kind. We all met and took this vacation from the reality of the world for just a few days. We helped each other with food, heard some of the concert and somehow, made it through the 3 days without incident. Last week, a friend invited Tony and I to meet his new lady and see his new home in Wurtsboro, NY. We had a lovely day in this town, which is near the Basha Kill, a beautiful nature preserve. It turns out, we are in Sullivan County, home of the Bethel Woods site of the 1969 Woodstock festival. The simplicity of the countryside came back to me. The natural beauty of the area, its undeveloped landscape, and its acceptance of the shy kid who didn’t know where her life was going beyond that August weekend – it all came back to me. For a short time that day, I did not work in corporate America or had responsibilities. It was 1969 again. I learned more about Woodstock in the aftermath than when I was there. I didn’t realize then that it would be this historical event and that my being there would be the thing that made me cool to my kids and interesting to others. I am not that shy kid anymore. I am not lonely, have direction and adult responsibility. But, I will go back to Sullivan County more now because it tugs at my desire to be that free spirit again even for a little while.