Don’t make fun of my feet—they have walked all over the place including seven countries and climbed Enchanted Rock and Ole Baldy. It’s now too late for me to climb Machu Picchu. They have taken me to Church to ask for forgiveness, they walked me to bury loved ones, they have walked me to embrace loved ones and run to lovers, they have played on sandy beaches, they have never run a marathon but it’s never too late to walk one, they have jumped into puddles gleefully as a child, they have stood tall in difficulties, they have been tired, they have sometimes collapsed, they have arthritis, they have worn killer shoes, they have been massaged by my husband who does so willingly, they were kissed, I’m sure, as a baby.
copyright Elaine Carter
Although she was raised on Long Island, New York , Ellissa Brewster has been a Texan most of her adult life and has enjoyed the good Corpus Christi life since 2006. She has worked as an organic farmer, a Montessori teacher, a journalist, a writing tutor and an ESL tutor. Most of her writing experience has been based on personal interviews related to public relations. Her work has been published in Tierra Grande magazine, The Business Journal of Corpus Christi, and Inspire, Coastal Bend Magazine. Ellissa’s hobbies include bird watching, gardening, book club, registering voters, and writing about her family’s history.
When you are a kid, things just are the way they are. You don’t have the perspective to judge if things should be different, nor do you know at the time which experiences are so unique that you will remember them 60 years later.
I grew up in Corpus Christi as a second generation Mexican American. I realize now that my family did not have as much as some people did, but we were happy. I did not feel as if we were suffering—life was the way it was. Sometimes I overheard my parents worrying over the bills. Sometimes we had a car; sometimes we didn’t.
I was the oldest boy in a family of eight. I worked at my father’s shoe-repair shop after school and on Saturdays. I helped out: took out old stitches from shoes, removed heels, cleaned the machines, swept, got change, ran errands, things like that. I was six when I started. It was a job. It was expected.
But on some Saturdays, I got a break to go to the movies with my friend Jerry. I earned the money for the movies from shining shoes with my shoeshine box. On the side, I had painted my slogan, “Best Shine.” In the summers or on breaks from school, I carried my shoeshine box to the local Wee Mart convenience store. There I shined shoes for men who sat on bar stools drinking beer in the “bar” section of the store. I charged 15 cents a shine (5 cents more than most boys) and that money was mine to keep or spend.
From my father’s shop, Jerry and I walked to the less-expensive movie houses, such as the Grande or the Amusu, which showed second-run American movies in English, or the Melba, which had Mexican movies in Spanish. Admission was 15 cents at these theaters, and we usually had a nickel for candy or a drink.
When I was 12, I got a new job as a paperboy. Before school, my dad would drive me on the route. We rolled down the passenger-side window, and I balanced on the window ledge with my legs inside the car. I hurled rolled-up Caller newspapers into yards, alternating over the car roof and to the side. In the afternoons, I tossed the Times from my bike. The rolled-up newspapers had enough weight to toss easily, but the Saturday Evening Times was so thin that my brother and I had to fold them into triangles—then they would whirl through the air like flying saucers.
I gave the money I earned to my parents to help with the family’s expenses. A couple of times, when my parents could not make the $60 mortgage payment on our home, they used my paperboy money.
On my first day of training for the paper route, the neighborhood manager took me along with some experienced paperboys on a tour of the neighborhood. I was the only Hispanic in the group. The boys were saying, “The Mexicans [customers] are no good, they don’t pay.” However, my manager Bill Carter was kind. He told the kids not to judge people like that. Before that day, I had not thought much about Mexicans being different from other people in a negative way. It was more a puzzle than an insult to me.
One year, I got a Big Box of Games, which included checkers, steeplechase, Parchisi, Chinese checkers, and other card and board games. However, my big present came from a man named Joe Simon, who owned the Nueces Furniture Store on Chapparal St. Now this was big.
I got an invitation to attend dinner on Christmas Day at the Robert Driscoll Hotel. All the paperboys in town received invitations, and our managers encouraged us to attend. Joe Simon was footing the bill. Before noon, my father drove me and my brother, who was also a paperboy, to the Robert Driscoll Hotel. I will never forget the distinct aroma and the luxuriousness of this place. We walked into the plush lobby with its stuffed wine-colored chairs and thick embossed wine-colored carpet, and we were dazzled. The aroma of coffee and a turkey dinner greeted us. Christmas music was playing. A sign told us where to go, “Paperboys: Terrace Room.”
The entrance to the Terrace Room was to the right of the lobby. The room was huge with a stage and many tables covered with linen tablecloths and the biggest, most splendid Christmas tree I had ever seen. There must have been 300 excited paperboys in that room. The room filled with boys’ voices and the sounds of those on the stage. My brother and I sat where we felt most comfortable, with the other Hispanic boys. We had a good view of the stage from our table.
I could not believe it. I had heard of the Galvans, renowned local musicians, and Bobby Galvan had even visited our school. However, I did not expect to see Ralph Galvan, the most famous Galvan Brother, playing songs like “White Christmas,” and other Christmas favorites to a group of paperboys on Christmas Day. Waiters brought us plates of food—a complete turkey dinner.
When we were finished eating, Joe Simon gave a speech. He told us about how when he was six years old, he had sold newspapers on a downtown corner in St. Joseph, Missouri. He had to be tough to defend his corner from other newsies and to bear the cold on snowy days. Like me, he knew what it was to take on responsibility as a boy. He said he made a vow in 1906 when he attended a traditional Christmas dinner that a local restaurateur sponsored for newsboys. “If I ever have a chance, I’m going to give such a party for kids,” he promised.
He kept his promise after he started his furniture store in Corpus Christi in 1925. That year and every year after, for more than 30 years, he hosted a party and celebrated Christmas Day with Corpus Christi newsboys. After his speech, Joe Simon went around to the tables and shook all of our hands. He was a big, bald man with a persistent, genuine smile.
We got presents from the publishers of the Caller and Times newspapers. I do not remember the presents except for one: The United Artists Book of Happiness. I had heard of it because it had been advertised on the KEYS radio program. It was a slender coupon book with balloons and stars on the cover. Inside were ten $1 coupons.
This special book allowed you to go to movie theaters owned by United Artists. My brother and I had never been to such expensive theaters (where admission was 65 cents). For us to be able to go to the Ritz or the Centre was something special.
Right after the party at the Driscoll, my brother and I walked through the pedestrian tunnel that led from the bluff to downtown and immediately redeemed some of those coupons. We saw Rio Bravo, a western with John Wayne, Ricky Nelson and Dean Martin. We used some of the coupons to make pigs of ourselves at the snack bar, wasting coupons on too much popcorn and orange soda.
After the show, my brother and I waited by the newsstand on the corner feeling nauseated from all the snacks. My father drove up in his clunker of a car, we got in. My most memorable Christmas was over.
Emma Helene Guerra is a current student at Texas A&M University – Corpus
Christi studying English with a minor in Women and Gender Studies. She grew up in Edinburg, TX within the Rio Grande Valley. Growing up within the RGV gave her a unique aspect on culture, traditions, and her Mexican-German heritage. Guerra was able to release her first book of poetry in July of 2019 titled “a singular experience: the love, pain, and life of a young adult” which detailed her experiences with newfound
freedom after moving away from home and the rocky transition into becoming an adult.
She works daily on her writing to promote the representation for women, the Hispanic community, and the LGBTQ+ community.
I searched for another's love
but i couldn’t love myself. i
wanted a man to hoist me, all 200 pounds, away, i
wanted a woman with the touch of a goddess to heal me.
touch reverts to sweet hunger pains, causing my body to ache
for that physical sensation of another’s presence. something
my hands could not
where has she gone? that
woman who opened her heart so freely. i’ve
left her back in that year. she grew too heavy with
the weight of the night to bring her with me. i
simply do not have the strength.
my true companion. notes hitting a minor key.
all we seem to know
is how to count coins in the dark.
blind to where they come from,
blind to where they’re going.
Read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2020
Esther Bonilla Read was born and raised in Calvert, Texas, a small town in Central Texas. She graduated from Baylor University and began teaching school in Corpus Christi, Texas. This became home for her and her husband Nolan K. Read and their four children. She writes on a variety of subjects: her family; school; and of various incidents that have occurred in her life. She has been published by various newspapers; Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul and several anthologies and magazines. Her Book From the Porch Steps is available on Amazon
It was right before Christmas, and we fifth graders in Mrs. Pietsch’s classroom were an excited group of chattering students. WWII was over. It was now peace time, and it was a time to be happy.
Most students in our school didn’t have an abundance of material things, but we didn’t know that. And the students who had the least were the children of itinerant or sharecropping farm workers. Some came to school barefooted. Others wore the same clothes over and over. No matter how much starch the mother used before she ironed the girls’ dresses, they were the same ones worn week after week.
Suddenly midst the chatter we heard our teacher Mrs. Pietsch raise her voice. She told us to be quiet as she had an announcement. She asked, “Who took a five dollar bill out of my purse?”
Everyone was quiet. We looked at one another with questioning faces. Only the voice of two students walking down the hallway could be heard. Some students in our class whispered to one another. Two or three chairs scraped the floor. Then one boy laughingly said, “Ben took it.” I knew my brother Ben didn’t take anything from anyone. He never would.
Mrs. Pietsch recognized it as a joke. Nonetheless, she responded, “He didn’t take anything. His father used to work with my husband, and he is an honest man.” That put that suggestion/joke to rest.
Again quietness. Mrs. Pietsch continued with her Civics lesson. Still, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. A five dollar bill; I had never even held one in my life, and I think very few students, if any, in my class had experienced that either.
Mrs. Pietsch didn’t mention it again. Eventually, a friend told me which classmate had taken it. She left school during our lunch hour and walked to town with the money to buy her little siblings toys at Kress, our local Five and Ten Cent Store. It seems because it was winter the farmers had little work for their sharecroppers and money was hard to come by. The girl hated the thought that the little ones in her family would wake up and have nothing on Christmas Day. Thus, she had taken the money so the little ones would have toys. She wasn’t thinking of herself, but of them.
Although I wondered how the problem would be settled, we followed the teacher’s lead and never mentioned the loss. Through that incident I learned much from Mrs. Pietsch. You can be strict but compassionate. There comes a time when diplomacy and gracefulness are to be used, and this was one of those times.
It could be that the student might have brought the teacher a dollar a month or something like that to pay her back. However the issue was resolved, we continued at school as though nothing had happened. But I can’t help but think back to Mrs. Pietsch.
Yes, Mrs. Pietsch taught us a great deal, and the lessons did not always come out of textbooks.
My mother was a product of the Great Depression. People of her era know exactly what I mean. For those of you who are younger, allow me to elaborate.
Mother knew what it was not to have one cent in the home. She knew what it was to have a husband come into the home and say, “I lost my job, and so did everyone else at the business.”
Not only did Mother know what it was like not to have any money, but she also experienced having hungry children waiting to be fed and not understanding why a bowl of oatmeal was not forthcoming. She had neighbors who were also hungry.
But, she told me, she had friends (comadres) who lived out in the country and came into town in wagons from time to time and brought her vegetables and some meat from a recently slaughtered pig. My mother and father even moved out to a farm for a while during the Depression to try to make a living out there, but Daddy, a former city boy, couldn’t tolerate it.
And in a few years the Depression lifted like a dark cloud that mysteriously disappears.
Daddy was called back to work and life became normal for the small family. Then the war came and again, items were scarce, but at least everyone seemed to be employed.
But my mother never forgot her experiences. She saved all things every opportunity she had. And she was resourceful. She made her own lye soap. She saved feathers when a chicken was slaughtered and made pillows. We were taught to mend clothes. Everything was used and then recycled before we knew what the word meant...
Several years ago a nice woman wrote something like the following in the newspaper: Why do women argue for Equal Rights? Men place them on pedestals and there is no need to fight for equality.
Well, Folks, I have searched high and low for that pedestal, and I have never located it. Like the elusive "Fountain of Youth" for which Ponce De Leon searched and didn't find, so it is with me and the pedestal.
I am through looking.
copyright Esther Read
Fredrick Gonzales has called Corpus Christi, Texas home for over 20 years. After serving in the active duty Army as a Combat Medic in West Germany, he settled in Corpus Christi in October of 1989. There he joined the Texas Army National Guard and after more than 20 years of service and 2 tours of duty in Iraq he retired from the Guard in April of 2013. While serving in the Guard he pursued and earned several degrees from Del Mar College and Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi respectively. After earning his Masters in Secondary Education he also began his career as a teacher. In the summer of 2019 while taking an advanced children’s literature course in pursuit of his Doctoral degree he decided to write a children’s picture book. He also wrote a short story titled “Crossing Borders” based on different generations of Mexican American women, who crossed different borders in relation to becoming and being an American citizen.
The day we left was the saddest day of my life. We lived in a small village outside of Chihuahua. My three older brothers, my aunts and uncles, and even my cousins were there, but only Marisela and Rosita and I would cross. My brothers couldn’t go because my father needed their help in the fields. I could speak English good enough to get by, and this was important because you could never trust gabachos. The coyotes would only take us so far, and then they usually handed you over to another gabacho who would then take us the rest of the way. My mother said to stick close to Marisela, who had crossed before but gotten caught and sent back.
I had learned a little English from Miss Galindez. She told us that she graduated from the university in Mexico City. My mom called her 'la angelita de las montanas" because she was so pretty and because her face would always light up around kids. My mother and Miss Galindez both said I was the best hope our family had of someone actually doing something special. My father would not look at me. When he’d paid the coyote his life's savings, I could tell he was dying inside, his body was hard and thick and his hands rough and cracked like the dry creek beds in around the village was indifferent. At least he would have one less mouth to feed.
We had all heard stories about the lawlessness around the border. Some girls were never heard from again. They say that they were either raped or killed around the cities of Nogales and Juarez. My stomach felt queasy and I felt like I might throw up, kind of like when I see that boy Ramon...
Grady Hunter finds his true happiness and satisfaction in educating and service to others. In retirement he is a self employed consultant to business owners and organizational leaders. He had a varied career in executive management positions around the world for government, military and industrial organizations.
He is a member of the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary where he is active in public education, member training, human resources, crew mentoring and admin support. He has received several commendations for activities related to search and rescue missions while coxswain of boat crews on Coast Guard orders.
Grady has produced many professional and technical articles over his varied career and he now enjoys putting pen to paper expressing his life adventure in prose and poetry. He lives with his wife Jeanne, Unity Spiritual Leader and Pastor in Corpus Christi, Tx. Their children are grown and both volunteer in community activities.
My experiences as a widowed and somewhat-senior male when venturing into a kitchen challenge gain little sympathy from the ladies.
We can agree that some experiences could befall even the most experienced homemaker. But when they befall the independent male, it somehow serves us right.
For example—Pureed Asparagus.
I receive many suggestions from well-meaning friends about all the things that will assure my living beyond my life savings—and—in such great health and vigor that younger men will wonder and younger ladies will note my entrance.
Certainly I am vain enough to accept the admiration and warmth of ladies who note my skills on the dance floor, but in reality appreciate my competency behind the wheel after sunset.
So, when the benefits of pureed asparagus were sent with assurances the aching knees or lagging libido might magically repair, I dutifully added the contents to my shopping cart.
And when I emptied the simmered contents of two cans into the blender, added some exotic spices (salt and pepper) and punched the switch, a few stalks on the bottom began to disintegrate into a really nasty looking mess.
A serving spoon moved the escaping upper mess about—and then the phone rang.
Today, I know the choices I will make in future efforts.
Let it ring—that's what the answering machine is for; or
Turn off the blender; or
Take spoon with me to the phone.
The option of dropping the spoon into the operating mechanism is not practical.
A full day of cleaning the kitchen, laundering clothes, washing out eyes, and washing hair did little to take the aroma away. And months later, I am still finding specs and globs of asparagus in unbelievable locations.
Yes, I returned to the challenge and have been enjoying asparagus-cured knee joints and lagging libido for months.
Which now brings me to Yams.
Two of them have awaited me in a basket on the counter for two months. I thought it cannot be too difficult to heat one up and enjoy it for lunch with my thawed out leftover Kentucky fried chicken thigh. A chuckling neighbor lady told me, just cut one into quarters, heat it to soften it in the microwave, then cook for a few minutes in a frying pan.
I will save the second Yam, and bring it with me to Sam's club where I hope to see the man who demonstrated those knife sets that slice tomatoes paper thin, or cut through the heaviest food can with equal effort. Yams do not yield to the effort.
No knife in my drawers would do it, I am sure. I gave up after about an hour with the blade firmly stuck midway into the thing. I actually carried it out to my table saw, having dismissed the chain saw option when I spied a green asparagus spear on the ceiling fan blade.
Does anyone know the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? Perhaps it was discussed in a Lou Costello episode. And by the way, make sure you turn off the ceiling fan before you attempt to remove an asparagus spear.
Grant Mays is an electrical engineering student at Texas A&M College Station. An ardent sci-fi fan, he started randomly writing this unnamed journal
14:30 Hours 2:30.
Doesn’t matter that it’s well into day planetside in N.A. To Eric 14:30 felt as shit as 04:30 would. The dull hum and vibrations, creaks and lurches and occasional flickering of light, the ship felt like 04:30 no matter the hour.
Of course, in space, the day/night cycle isn’t set by the stars but by the duty roster. The wonder of humanity’s greatest accomplishment was marred by its faults; its propensity to place the human in a situation so estranged from its evolutionary comfort zone that they almost lose sight of what it means to be human.
Eric sighed. Another shift (not day, shift). After 14 months they blurred so completely that the Magna Soviet–Fed border was more clearly defined.
Mr. Sardan’s thoughts weren’t this articulate; a blip intuitively understood and processed but lacking the specificity that this articulation gives.
Time for caffeine.
14:31 hours, Engineering Specialist II, Petty Corporal Eric Sardan, Serial No. 1823947265-C12B,
Federation Frigate operating under Federation Charter §22.214.171.124, research and exploration in sector Archimedes, onboard the vessel Leibniz. Nothing going on today.
Eric Sardan got a kick out of sounding overly formal in logs, only to be followed by the inevitable nothing that permeated this region of space. Much like most of space, actually. Maybe that’s why they call it space? Either way, little quirks and bits of sarcasm kept him sane.
Eric slipped into his fatigues. He put on his larger pair. I look like shit in these, he thought. Actually, I always look like shit. But the more form-fitting ones look less shit.
Conduct of Federation Personnel While Deployed
Comradery & Fraternity
§126.96.36.199 To foster community and comradery, personnel shall take First Meal prior to beginning shift.
§188.8.131.52 Further, personnel shall—
(because, according to the psychological Board, attaché to the Grand bitch Admiralty, Personnel on extended deployment are at risk of developing mental health issues to monotony, confinement, and general boredom)—socialize during First Meal to alleviate psychological fatigue.
Did they consider that sitting with Jacob—with the charisma of a fucking goat—and Armando, who only seemed to talk about the faults of the Pan-Solar Soviet, or the Primary Gladis, or the latest nutjob theory lost colony ships that were stolen by monastic radicals, or football.
God, fuck football.
He was seated with extremes from the platonic spectrum of shitty table conversation.
Of course, Jacob, when he did chat, only ever talked about the latest human rights violation of the Pan-Solar Soviet.
Mr. Sardan recognized the benefit of organized society. Processes and procedures pertaining to the minutia of society kept the bacteria out of the Verts, and made sure another Hercules doesn’t happen.
Sure, he had opinions on politics. On what humanity should aspire to (such as leaving him alone), and recoil from (i.e., table conversation with Armando and… fuck… who – Jacob. A man almost as easy to overlook as one’s own flaws), but he had little interest in the ideologue minutia.
He felt he was neither unprincipled, nor overzealous, just reasonable!
The irony of this self-praise, that everyone probably sees themselves as the sole practitioner of reason, and the lack of introspection that required, was not lost on him per se, but was an ugly thought he was cognizant of for a flash, before subduing and rationalizing his thoughts.
I want to shit, but don’t want the hassle of undoing my fatigues. Does the ship smell funny, or am I having a stroke? Nah, probably burning insulation. Maybe that will give me cancer? Fuck, maybe space radiation will. Maybe Rebecca’s a bitch. Maybe Rebecca’s bitchiness will give me cancer –
“ENGINEER SARDAN! THAT INSULATION IS BURNING!”
Oh shit, that was burning insulation.
Usually the fire alarm goes off if shit’s burning, although his curiosity regarding the lack of an alarm was superseded by the burning shit.
Okay, at least this is an easy fix. Ship’s power provides anywhere between 28 VDC and 75 VDC, which requires buck regulators to step down the voltage to power the mess hall subsystems. But, there is a manual cutoff—fortunately, it’s easily accessible (Per AN-1083, §184.108.40.206, manual cutoffs for all power supplies powering secondary subsystems must be readily accessible by authorized personnel and conform to §220.127.116.11 of AN-1011 PANELS AND EQUIPMENT INTERFACES), so I can just cut power to the mess subs.
Eric jogs over to the corner of the mess, keys in his 8 digit PIN, and disables power to the mess subs.
The insulation is still smoldering, but since the overtemperature condition in the circuit which caused the insulation (which, he now notices, was not regulation but a shitty repair. Probably Jack. Or Uladzimir?) to burn has ceased, the insulation cooled and –
Eric collapsed to the ground, his lungs filling with the foam from the extinguisher that Jacob was now bravely operating.
That fuck. That boring fuck.
Eric passed out, his last moments of consciousness lamenting the lack of air in his longs.
What a shit day for Eric.
Read more like this in Corpus Christi Writers 2020
Heather Twardowski hails from Houston, Texas and came to Corpus Christi to pursue both her B.A and M.A in English at Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi. While in the M.A. Program, she worked as an instructor for the university’s First-Year Writing Program where she showed students that everything they knew about writing was wrong. She has also traveled quite a bit, visiting places such as Scotland, France, and England.
Heather can be defined in three words: Writer, Dancer, and Cosplayer. A dedicated dancer, an avid writer, and a big anime fan, Heather brings her passion in whatever she does. The genres she is most interested in are dystopian, sci-fi, mystery, and supernatural. She is currently working on several projects, including her debut novel, Rebel Fire.
It’s funny how quickly things can change. You get so used to routine that it seems impossible to be anything different. That’s what I thought as I gazed out at what was left of the once-flourishing town which had bustled with merchants selling ripe fruits. Sensational smells of pumpkins and cranberries had filled the alleys and roads, weaving throughout the mahogany shops and stands. Children played their innocent games of tag until the sky blazed a brilliant red and orange…
…Now nothing even remotely recognizable stood from that quaint town.
Soot and ash littered the rocky soil, dyeing it a black that resembled the call of death. My eyes glanced over to the shambling splinter of the town hall that used to stand proudly in the center; a building that symbolized the power and strength of our struggle.
Symbol of strength?
More like a mark of stubbornness that came crashing down because of its ego.
I counted the steps it took me to reach the outskirts of the former town. The crystalline river that once drifted peacefully and housed so much aquatic wildlife, now transformed into a wretched field of mud and decay. I remember marching down to the bank with my adventurous brother and sister to see how many of the rough-skinned critters we could capture. I remember our little dances that inevitably came about while we sloshed through the mud and grass, before the more klutzy member of our group unexpectedly stepped into a fish hole and graced us with a shower. My eyes lay on the spot where a branch used to reach out over the water that held our rope swing.
I followed the whims of my mind and found myself walking down a sidewalk in an area of Houston that has always fascinated me. A fresh north wind nudged my backside as I passed the street sign marking Kelvin Drive. At the far end of the street I viewed the big red half-circle sign emblazoned with a distinctive script that read Mi Luna. The colors and aromas of freshly-bloomed bedding plants, the sounds of traffic and scurrying shoppers, the sights of trendy shops all delightfully filled my senses as I walked in the springtime atmosphere of Rice Village. A flash of red caught my attention. I turned toward the opposite side of Kelvin Drive and there she was. Ankle-length full-flowing flamenco-styled red dress; long black hair gathered to the side adorned with a red rose, walking with a very determined pace. My breathing stopped as her name wafted through my mind--Maria. But how could that be? Maria is a child of my imagination. Of all the characters my imagination has gifted me Maria is closest to my heart, an outwardly exquisite raven-haired beauty, inwardly beset by a troubled and horrific upbringing. After years of struggling, she finally shed the emotional shackles of her childhood and made herself into a successful adult, although violent outbursts were never far away. And now, there she was walking down Kelvin Drive. She can't be walking down Kelvin Drive. I rubbed my eyes. She was still there. A conflict between the right and left sides of my brain began to emerge. The left side held the opinion that there is a girl dressed as a flamenco dancer walking on the opposite side of Kelvin Drive and that is all there is to it. The right side countered, "Yeah, and her attire is very appropriate for Maria. So that must be Maria." I love my imagination. But, where was it taking me? My attention shifted back to the big red half-circle at the far end of Kelvin Drive. Through my research in developing Maria's character I knew Mi Luna periodically featured flamenco dancers. My Maria is of gypsy heritage and an avid flamenco dancer. In the novel I even toyed with having her perform at Mi Luna. My right side chimed in, "You see, Mi Luna features flamenco dancers. The girl is dressed as a flamenco dancer, looks just like Maria and is headed toward Mi Luna. I'm telling you, that girl is Maria."
"No", my left side reiterated, "Can't be. Maria is a figment, remember."
Then the strangeness of the situation only deepened. As the taps of her flamenco shoes clicked against the sidewalk, I realized no one else seemed to take notice of this sultry Andalusian beauty. My heartbeat quickened and my breathing escalated. Crossing Amherst Drive, now parallel with the girl, I got a good look at her. A shiver ran up my backbone. She looked exactly how I pictured Maria in my mind. I realized the right side of my brain was right. That is Maria. The left side chided, "No No, let's stay focused. You cannot know that girl, much less her name. But it does seem like there is more going on than meets the eye. Look around and see if you can figure out the opportunity that is being presented here." I slowed and felt the sidewalk under my feet, took in the sights of Rice Village, watched the girl dressed as a flamenco dancer walking towards the Spanish Restaurant and Tapas Bar called Mi Luna. As I began to contemplate the facts before me the right side whispered, "Oh Jim, there's a lot more going on here than that. Use your feeling to figure what opportunity you are experiencing."
"Quite Righty," interjected the left side. "We don't need any of that Wu Wu stuff of yours," Going with how society has programmed me, I stuck with the visual evidence. I then knew where my imagination was taking me; to this very spot and time. In finding this girl in her flamenco outfit I knew where to gather invaluable resource information with which to flesh out the Maria of my novel.
I never would have had the nerve to approach such a beautiful stranger and introduce myself. But the desire to write Maria bolstered my nerve. I decided to just ask what time her performance started. I would be able to at least experience the atmosphere of what my Maria's flamenco performance would be like. And with any luck, the rest of the dancers wouldn't mind if I hung around to learn what a flamenco dancer's life is like in today's world. Excitement coursed through my veins as I turned to take a step towards the girl. To my surprise, she suddenly stopped and faced me. From across the street I saw her deep brown eyes staring into mine and stood still as stone. Seeing her perfect ruby red lips move, I gasped as her soft sweet voice whispered in my ear, "Jim, you have to write me. You're the only one who understands." With a start she turned and resumed her determined pace towards Mi Luna. I said, "Whoa Toto, we ain't in Texas anymore."
I wrote this in 2008 when Brad Littleproud wrote me and asked for my memory of attending Woodstock. He was writing a book on the 40th anniversary in 2009. I just found this in one of my folders on my desktop and thought it told the story pretty well. So here is my memory of 50 years ago when my siblings and I went to Woodstock:
I was 17 years old in the summer of 1969, when I announced to my parents that I was going to upstate New York to a three-day music festival. They looked at me like I was crazy. They said "oh really, and how do you plan to get there?" I told them I would hitchhike if I had to, but I was definitely going. I whined about it. I got my twin brother Michael and my younger sister Lynn to whine about it. My mother reminds me that I was the ringleader and instigator. I had roused my siblings to the cause, and we all wanted to go to Woodstock. Our teenage mantra was that we would get there any way we could. We had seen the poster. We heard about it from everyone we talked to. The festival's energy was simply omnipresent in our world. My parents relented but only on one condition, if our 20 year old brother Marc, who was home from college would drive us in his fine 1967 Ford Galaxy 500 convertible. My mother tells me now that she gave him her credit card and cash to encourage him to take us. She even paid for the gas. So, he agreed to chaperone and chauffeur us, and our high school buddy Susan, to the celebration of peace and music: Woodstock.
We borrowed sleeping bags from our neighbors. We didn't even have backpacks so we didn't pack a thing with us. No food, no change of clothes. We were kids from suburban Fords, New Jersey, who had never camped out in our lives. Despite being seasoned anti-war protesters, open-air music concerts was out of our ken. We brought an extra blanket, like we were going to a picnic, loaded ourselves into the car and drove the 125 miles upstate to a show we didn't have tickets for. I think we must have assumed that we would buy tickets at the gate. It all seemed very reasonable to a 17 year old.
The ride was uneventful until we arrived fairly close to the site on Friday afternoon. Suddenly there were cars and people everywhere. Everyone looked just like us. My older brother told me that that's what he remembers most about Woodstock, how it was a great equalizer. No one stood out. There was a moving sea of blue jeans and flowing hair, beads, embroidery and flowers. We just parked our car in a field of other cars and joined the throngs. We didn't even have to know where the event was being held exactly, the movement simply took us there. We had heard in the crowd that the fences were down and people were being allowed in for free. That worked for us. We were going to Woodstock and we didn't even need tickets anymore!
A sea of people spread before us in the largest crowd of humanity we had ever seen amassed in one place. There was a stage in the distance, and smoke was rising from pipes and joints. Everyone smiled at each other like we were all members of the same lost tribe, now rejoined. There was camaraderie, a likeness of spirit. It reminded me of Walt Whitman's: And what I assume, you shall assume; For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you."
I remember listening to the music of Ravi Shankar, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez. Darkness fell to their sounds on Friday night. People came and went. Joints were passed around. Someone gave us amyl nitrate. The world inverted and then righted itself. The rain started. We moved our wet sleeping bags closer to the stage. The rain continued. We were part of the sea of people.
I don't remember sleeping, but soon it was Saturday morning.
I have to admit I don't remember much else. My older brother left us for several hours in search of food. That was some time on Saturday. I do recall that he showed up with a dozen hamburgers and a good-sized box of big soft pretzels that someone had given him on the side of the road. We shared the bounty with our neighbors. Lynn, Susan, and I walked to the port-a-potties. There were tables set up where event organizers were handing out information; there was food somewhere; there was a makeshift medical tent. I don't know how we found our way back to our family and our little square patch of place, everything looked the same in every direction, but we did. I remember feeling safe everywhere we went.
It occurred to us, though, we were completely unprepared to stay. We were in the same clothes from the day before. We had spent the night outside unprotected from the elements. We were cold, and we had no way to change our situation. So, we decided to leave. One of our neighbors was handing out acid. My siblings and I didn't indulge, but Susan did. She opened her mouth, and he tossed in a tab. Just like that. We headed back to the car, found it and headed south on the New York Thruway. By then It was late Saturday afternoon.
Exhaustion does not begin to describe the state we were in. Giddy and hungry, we talked and dozed. We pulled off on to the thruway shoulder and slept, with the top down. Susan was still tripping away. She sat on the top of the back seat and watched the sky change colors. She told us that while we slept she had walked into the field of cows we had parked next to and had communed and communicated with them. It's very likely that's exactly what happened. We had just come from Woodstock. We knew anything was possible.
If I had to summarize those 24 hours we spent at Woodstock, I would say that we did not hear much of the music, but we celebrated with a half million other people the first festival of peace.
I love being reminded of Allen Ginsberg's poems. I had the wonderful good fortune to cross paths with him in 1982 in Boulder, Colorado. I volunteered at Naropa Institute where he was teaching a poetry course. I did a summer poetry apprenticeship with him and would go to his house to help him with all kinds of stuff. He had an old file cabinet with a giant folder in it called "Faded Yellow Newspaper Clippings" that I would add to on a regular basis. It was the summer of the Kerouac Conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of the publication of On The Road. All the old Beat poets and writers were there. I was the volunteer coordinator for that week-long event. One of most favorite summers of my lifetime.
Here's another anecdote from the 1982 era. For some reason I had William Burroughs in the back of my car driving him somewhere. He had a companion with him, but I can't remember who. Burroughs said in his very strange voice, "I want to stop and get some strawberries." The way he said strawberries sounded so bizarre, I never forgot it. Many many years later on the the campus at UC Santa Cruz, the library had just gotten many works by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He was on campus to celebrate. I was coming out of the library for a completely unrelated reason and saw him walking up the steps. I had to stop and ask, "Are you Lawrence Ferlinghetti?" He said, "Yes, I am." I said I was the volunteer coordinator at the Kerouace Conference at Naropa in 1982." He looked at me and his eyes twinkled with happiness. He said "Oh that was a time...that was quite a time."