Today I received an email from Jennifer Hodge at Gather asking me to post my article, "Alaska Bound" to the new group Boom. So I thought to myself, hey if she likes that one, perhaps she would like my Forrest Gump story on Woodstock. No, I wasn't with Forrest at Woodstock, I was just remembering a comment Tonia made last March on my Woodstock article, when she said to a certain degree I reminded her of him. No I don't think she was referring to my limited intelligence but rather to the fact I seem to be a real product of my generation. As I said in my comment back to her: "I have been caught, unaware at times, like Forrest, in the middle of some very big happenings of my generation…protests marches, Volunteer Corps, Woodstock, Alaska Native Land Claims, and Commune Living in Southern California." With that in mind, I decided to repost "this blast from the past"! I'm sure, Tom Brokaw, the author of Boom would justget a chuckle from it.
I Never Heard Jimi Hendrix Play
It was the summer of '69 and I had flown home to Massachusetts from Alaska where I had been a Jesuit Volunteer. The previous winter I had spent at St. Mary's Mission as a high school teacher. St. Mary's was a boarding school for Yu'pik students residing in Southwestern Alaska. In May, along with a fellow volunteer, I had traveled down the Yukon to Kotlik to work with another Jesuit priest. Escaping Kotlik, Harry and I "hitched" rides with various people going to their fishcamps and ended up in Emmonak building pews for the new Catholic Church. After two weeks of pounding a hammer, we decided it was time to go. Harry was going back to Montana for a short visit with her Mom before going to the University of Texas for grad school. I, on the other hand, would be back in Alaska at the University in Fairbanks as a graduate teaching assistant in the History Department. I had ten days to kill…so I flew home.
My arrival home caused quite a stir in our little town where everyone knows everyone's business. Over the year, Mom had extolled my virtues…you would think I was some Mother Theresa or something! Everyone wanted to know about the Yu'pik people, the work of the Jesuits, the role I had played…all abit too much for me! How could I tell them I went there on a lark, that I had the most fabulous adventures that in no way had anything to do with bringing "religion to the Natives", and that I had learned more from "the Natives" then they from me! Anyhow, after three days of this nonsense, I jumped when two friends I knew from high school asked if I wanted to go to a folk concert with them. Mom was aghast when I told her I was thinking about going to the festival.
"Will you be home for Sunday Mass? Father Gibbons wants you to give a little talk about your time with the Jesuits at the ten o'clock Mass."
"You know Mom, that's really not me. The last thing I want to do is get up on the altar and act "holier then thou"…that's just not me Mom. Anyhow, Sherry says Creedence Clearwater is going to be there….and they have this great song called Proud Mary, and you know Dad sent me the LP and we used to blast it out the Boy's Dorm on Saturday Morning Work detail. The kids at St. Mary's really thought the song was about them. It really became the theme song. So, anyhow, I'm really thinking about going."
"Well, where is this concert", Mom queried?
"Oh, yeah, that's another thing…it's in Vermont, I think, a place called Woodstock or something…so anyhow, we're going to be gone for a few days. Don't worry, Sherry has some relatives up there and we are staying with them", I lied.
So, at 5 A.M. on a Thursday morning Sherry and Claire picked me up in Claire's little volkswagon beetle. We had one pop-up tent borrowed from Sherry's little brother, two sleeping bags, a cooler filled with cheese, deli meat, some fruit, Twinkies, Mint patties, Mr. Goodbars and two bottles of wine. It's a good thing we left when we did, because as you probably have already suspected, the little folk festival we were going to wasn't in Vermont but in New York. After many mishaps on the road, a gentle awakening on Sherry's part as to our mistake when she checked the tickets, and a flat tire, we arrived at Max Yasgur's dairy farm in the late afternoon. As yet, there was relatively few people there. We claimed our spot, set up our tent and went off to Clear Lake for some swimming. Down at the swimming hole we met some interesting people and decided to move our tent closer to theirs. That evening we sang songs, exchanged stories and had a mighty fine time around the camp fire. Late in the evening we fell off to sleep to the sounds of hammering and sound testing up by the stage area. Morning came late for us and we were totally surprised to find people, many, many people had come throughout the night. What once was a fairly vacant field was now clamoring with all sorts of people. After a breakfast of twinkies and coke, we headed back to the lake for a bath. Coming straight from "bush Alaska" , I was amazed by the outfits and "the looseness" of it all…what an adventure! I was like a little kid in a candy store, my eyes wide open, taking it all in.
Over the years, much has been written about Woodstock…how it defined a generation…blah, blah, blah…so I'm not going to write about that. I wasn't into drugs, nor "free sex", and although I saw some of each…truthfully, I saw lots of it…..that's not what I most remember. When I think of Woodstock, I think of swimming in the nude with lots of people who were not conscious of whether they were fat or thin; the National Guard dropping "care packages" to wet, soggy people who shared the manna from the sky, and the incredible music always in the backround.
We left Woodstock on Sunday afternoon, long before Jimi Hendrix played. I had a plane to catch…and a new adventure on the horizon. Little did I realize, that in the eyes of my sons, many years later, that brief week-end would "define" who I was with that generation!