“Break on Through to the Other Side” Traveling with Forrest Gump

Back in 1950’s and 1960’s, sex was what bad girls did, at least that was the social propaganda. Even married couples on TV slept in twin beds. The shame of unwanted pregnancy was something considered worse than death. Body parts were not called by their scientific names but by cutesy words that served as labels when we were toddlers but which never evolved as we grew older. The changes in our bodies and feelings were never quite addressed as we were told to “just deal with it.” My mother even cautioned me not to stick my breasts out too far.

I started college at the age of 18 in 1967. I went to Oswego State with skirts and dresses. (At my high school, we weren’t allowed to wear slacks and the homemaking teacher went around the halls to monitor skirt lengths. If when kneeling, our hems did not touch the floor,our parents were called to bring over an appropriate garment or we were sent home.) Shortly after arriving on campus, I bought my first pair of jeans. They were an olive color. Remembering The Captain Kangaroo Show and Mr. Green Jeans, I soon regretted my purchase, worried that my color choice would open me up to ridicule.

With my insecurities and inadequate “cool person” preparation, I became a college freshman. Looking at a picture of myself from 1967, my naivety was very apparent. I looked like a girl on a recruitment poster for a nunnery.

Freshman Orientation was my first blast into into college life. For some fortunate reason, The Doors, yes, The Doors, were our orientation concert right at SUNY at Oswego in Lee Hall.

I loved The Doors. My appreciation for them has grown even more as I have become older. I own their greatest hits CD and I marvel at range of their styles, jazz, honky tonk, Spanish guitar and their awesome instrumentation in “Light My Fire”.

The day after the concert, the campus seemed electrified with chatter.

“Do you believe it?” one of my new classmates asked.

“Believe what?” I answered.

“What happened to Jim Morrison!”

“What happened?”

“His pants, his pants!” the girl shouted and she hurried to a more knowing group of enthusiastic gossipers.

I hadn’t seen anything unusual, I hadn’t been looking at Jim Morrison’s pants. Many people seemed eager to offer me enlightenment. My education for this incident came in two parts. First, someone had to explain to me that the lead singer of The Doors had become really excited. And part two, his excitement had become visible. Oblivious, I had missed it. I was a clueless, dumb baby in the new wilderness of “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.”

I eventually became informed. Girls from Long Island told stories of their unsupervised lives of drinking and partying. Their youth was entirely different than mine. Being the oldest girl in my family, I guess I was kind of a experiment based on restriction, omissions, and intentional brainwashing, all for my own good.

But women, including myself, thankfully have moved forward. I marvel at our advances, for instance, in the area of linguistics.

In my childhood, I used the phrase “oh, sugar” to express frustration, anger, or distain.

Later, that evolved into “oh,darn”.

And as I grew older, I let “oh, damn” escape from my lips.

“Oh,sh–!” is now a common way to relieve stress when women break a glass or rear end another car or lock ourselves out their houses or whenever we are confronted with the hundreds of frustrating things that go wrong in our busy lives.

And now in my “I don’t give a damn” liberated life of advance years, I say the biggest swear word of all. I don’t say it public, only in the privacy of my own home or very quietly in the company of friends who are also living a “I don’t give a damn” liberated life. It feels good. It confirms that “we have come a long way, baby.”

I first said the big swear word in my junior year of college. Before that I had never heard a female say that expletive. There was no law against it. Our mouths were physically capable of making the required sounds. But something silenced us, something invisible but very powerful. And we weren’t just restricted in our use of that word. We were restricted in a lot of ways.

Long ago, I was given a old copy of a 1967 “Watertown Daily Times” and was surprised to see that job postings were divided into men’s jobs and women’s jobs which back then were mainly house cleaner and secretary.

In 1972, Title 9 was passed , finally opening more participation for women in school sports.

Back in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and early part of this century there was no “Me,Too” movement.

And today there are still gaping disparities in the wages of women as compared to men’s.

Jim Morrison wrote “Break on Through to the Other Side” in 1967, the year I saw him in concert in Lee Hall at Oswego.

“You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side

We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried
Break on through to the other side”

As women, we are breaking through to the other side, our side. Many women in our country have taken leadership roles and have organized movements. But we can’t overlook the individual power of our words that can stop those in our everyday lives who try to diminish us.

Words like-

“That’s unfair.”

“I will not be put down or made fun of.”

“Please respect my boundaries.”

“Please respect my space.”

“I need to be listened to and heard.”

“I will not be taken advantage of or demeaned.”

For way too long, our destinies were written for us. We now need to speak up and create our own destinies.

Copyright@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Traveling with Forrest Gump

RESPECT

Songwriter: Otis Redding

Made into a single in 1967

Recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1967

What you want
Baby, I got it
What you need
Do you know I got it?
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect

I was born in 1949, a time when all female children were supposed to be “good” little girls. This expectation defined me for a long time. I worked hard to be a good daughter, a good sister, a good student, and a good citizen. As I got older, the demands grew as I tried to try to be a good wife, a good Catholic, a good mother, good looking, a good worker, a good teacher, a good housewife, a good friend, on and on. In trying to be good at it all, I failed a lot. Like many women, I felt fragmented, not knowing what I was suppose to be.

I believe in personal evolution, the ability of person to become better. For me it was a slow process. Shame and guilt were a big part of my childhood and my early life. But I am proud to say I’m whole now, no longer torn apart by the demands of other people or society.

I have learned to chart my own course, to assess the noise of the outside world and navigate through it all with courage, not worrying about the opinions of others. In the tradition of the Stoic thinkers, I now know I can’t change the things that are out of my control. I can only change myself and this realization has freed me.

I get tired (just a little bit)
Keep on tryin’ (just a little bit)
You’re runnin’ out of fools (just a little bit)
And I ain’t lyin’ (just a little bit)

I speak up now, no longer silent. I simply tell people how I feel and if they can’t respect that, I won’t dislike them or gossip about them or seek revenge, I merely walk away and let them go.

“When you come home,
Respect
Or you might walk in
And find out I’m gone”

I have saved the “good” little girl who was once me. I have finally set her free to be who she really is.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me”

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

“Everybody’s Talkin”-Traveling with Forrest Gump

Like many people, I look back on my life and wonder how I made it out alive.

I went to college at Oswego State in upstate New York. In the fall and spring, my college was beautiful because of its resort style location right on Lake Ontario I would find solitude on the rocky shores of campus. Looking across the water, I realized that the world was so much bigger than the academic world, that someday I would leave the world of tests, papers, and notetaking and be a part of something bigger. Beyond studying there was a lot fun, Wednesdays (Hump Day) at Bucklands Bar and after April 1, Nunzi’s Bar opened and we all hitched rides to a place of dance and libations, once again on the water. The bar was only for Oswego college kids, it was all ours. (Years later, I named my dog “Nunzi”) Afterward, we would stop at Rudy’s Stand for ice cream or a burger. It, too, was on the water. It seemed like this particular Great Lake existed just for us.

But during the winter, Oswego was famous for its strong winds and record snowstorms.

I experienced weather so cold it caused the stuff in my nose to freeze. The administration had to construct a system of ropes so the petite among us would not be blown into the buildings while walking to class. And the winters went on forever.

I lived in my sorority house during the 1968-1969 school year. It was a large Victorian building with a mansard roof. I shared a room on the third floor with two of my sisters. We had a house mother, an elderly woman who we actually called “mom”. She lived in a two room apartment on the first floor.

We also had a cook who every Friday made us mac and cheese or other high dairy dishes so our stomachs would be coated for a night of drinking and dancing at Buckland’s. She also introduced me to a great recipe that has served me well when I’m obliged to contribute a covered dish to a function. It very easy to make and somewhat inexpensive. The recipe follows. (This is exciting, this my first recipe on The Autonomous Traveler site!)

Green Pea Salad (“Give Peas a Chance” Salad?) 🙂

A large bag of frozen peas, thawed not cooked

Mayonnaise

Chopped white onion

Seasoned salt

That’s it. Mix it all together and chill before serving. If I really have to impress someone, say, someone who really knows how to cook, I add chopped pimento and bits of real bacon. We all know bacon is impressive.

The weather at Oswego State was particularly horrible during the winter of 1969. It was treacherous getting to Buckland’s but ironically not bad enough to cancel classes. I dreamed about escaping somehow. And then it happened, the song “Everybody’s Talkin” hit the airwaves.

“Everybody’s Talkin”

written by Fred Neil

Recorded by Harry Nilsson

Everybody’s talkin at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes

Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

I bought the single. It became my theme song, my obsession. I played it over and over again until my fellow housemates said they would kill me if I didn’t stop. I desperately needed “to go to where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain” or, in my case, completely obliterated snow.

Spring break in Florida was a sacred collegiate tradition and a great solution to my deteriorating mental state but getting there was tricky. With youthful enthusiasm and naviety, I actually considered hitchhiking the 1200 miles to paradise. Luckily, winter had also pushed some of my sisters over the edge and a great plan was made for five of us to drive down to Daytona Beach for April break. And so the adventure began.

We took turns driving. The song “Born to Be Wild” was on the radio (performed by Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire) and we played it loudly with the windows down to let a southern state somewhere along Route 1 know that we were indeed wild.

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way

Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild

A car filled with teenage boys rode up next to us and a drag race almost ensued but getting to Florida safely was a priority so we chose to back off.

After 24 hours of frequent eating , gas ups, and pee breaks we made to it Daytona. We found a room. I don’t think we had reservations and, of course, we didn’t have credit cards. All I remember is that everything turned out okay as we each paid our share in cash.

Crazy fun, sunbathing ,and laughter filled our days and nights. We were involved in an incident at an empty amphitheater. We met a guy who played the guitar and convinced him to go up on the stage. As he played, more and more people came off the beach to listen and sing along. We started a regular hootenanny, as we used to say in the old days. Well , somebody reported us and a police car arrived. The small crowd kept singing and the guy kept playing. I have to give credit to the confidence of the officier, he calmly went up to the player and put his hand gently on the guitar. Without saying any more, he somehow convinced us all to leave.

On my last night in Daytona, I decided to go for a walk by myself to take in the vibe of Florida one last time. A car pulled over and a nice looking older guy ( late 20’s?)started talking to me. We chatted for a while and he asked me to walk on beach with him. I said “yes” and hopped into his car. What a foolish young thing I was to take such a chance. We talked some more and I guess he realized how naive and innocent (clueless?) I was. We drove to a diner for some cokes and then he dropped me off at my motel.

Looking back at a lot of my shenanigans during my youth, it’s hard to believe I made it through alive. I’m wiser now and more cautious. But luckily, I’m still a little bit of a “true nature’s child”. Maybe, just enough to still make my life a tiny bit wild. 🙂

No photo description available.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

“Stop Children What’s that Sound?-Traveling with Forrest Gump

” Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid”

Song by Stephen Stills

Single released by Buffalo Springfield in 1966

This is the song on The Forrest Gump soundtrack that made me tear up.

“There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”

53 years later and turmoil continues. I’m more afraid because I have grandchild now. We still have divisions but they seem to becoming worse as time goes on. We have angry conflicts within groups and with other nations and increasing incidents of extreme weather events. Income inequality is growing and so is nastiness and name calling. Drug and alcohol use is skyrocketing and there is an uptick in suicides. Mass shootings in schools, places of worship, and in the workplace are are becoming more and more common.

“There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear”

We are evolving as a species in the realms of technology and innovation but there are deeply embedded quirks in our nature that haven’t advanced since our cave days. Does the “fight and flight” trigger continue to make us wary of those around us, especially those who are different? Is self preservation and self interest overriding empathy? Do we accumulate money not only to enjoy material things but to have power, dominance, and superiority over others?

I’m not absolved from this. I have done my share of bad things as a human being. But in this last chapter of my life, I’m searching to find the best in myself and in our species. I’m encouraged by those through history who believed “that injustice to one is injustice to all.” I pray that we can work together to guarantee that our common destiny is one filled with positive energy and purpose. This is my hope, especially for my grandkids.


“Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down”

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

“The Land of a Thousand Dances”-Traveling with the Forrest Gump Soundtrack


One, two, three!
You gotta know how to pony like Bony Maronie
Mashed Potato, do the Alligator
Put your hands on your hips, let your back-bone slip
Do the Watusi, like my little Lucy
Na, na na na na, na na na na, na na na, na na na, na na na na.

“Land of a Thousand Dances” written by Christopher Kenner in 1962

Hit single by Wilson Pickett in 1966

It really funny how little humans comprehend. I remember dancing to this song in my all white high school in Western New York and as we tried to master The Pony and The Mashed Potatoes we had no idea we were trying to emulate another culture. Maybe it was because we were self centered teenagers and deep into the comfort zone of our all caucasian world. But luckily music was a universal language that first exposed us to a world beyond what we grew up in.

I’m ashamed to say I needed to look up Wilson Picket to learn more about him for this post. I realized that over the years I enjoyed dancing to a lot of his singles including “Mustang Sally” and “In the Midnight Hour”.

In the 1960’s, I was part of a white closed system but not completely. I lived next door to Mr. C.’s farm. Looking out my bedroom window, I could see his yellow house, the grey shingled barn, the collection of outbuildings and beyond it all, acres of orchards. They were my refuge, a lovely deviation from the limits life imposed on me. I was shy and self conscious in high school and I was always glad to get home. School was like a game board with rigid rules and what seemed like only one path. Competition was intense, some won and others were left behind.

I would change my clothes after school and then go down to my father’s cluttered workshop that smelled of oil and dirt to retrieve my bike. Pushing and pulling it over the dry clods of a plowed field I’d finally get it to the powdery road that weaved through Mr. C.’s farm.

My route passed a stagnant pond that was be mixed with insecticides stored nearby. The smell from the fumes was terrible. It was the 1960’s, no one knew any better.

As I pumped the pedals of my bike as hard as I could, row after row of plum, apple and peach trees blurred into lovely shades of green and chartreuse. Sometimes I would stop to pick the ripest fruit from a high branch closest to the sun. Other times I would keep going hoping for the freedom that motion offered.

When I reached the halfway point of my journey, I came to a field where vegetables were grown for sale. A cluster of hunched over bodies dotted the area. I slowed down and was surprised to see black people picking tomatoes. I had never seen anything like this in real life. Sure I had watched “Amos and Andy” and Shirley Temple with her African-American dance partner but this was different.

I noticed that no one acknowledged the loud clicking sound of my old bike. Something seemed to press them all down, forbidding them to make any connection with me.

On I went. A wonderful hill and the gift of gravity were next. I pumped harder and harder and my mind raced.Where did the workers come from? Where did they go when the sun set and darkness came?

Down, down the hill I sailed. The speed and the rushing air cleared my mind. I was gloriously free in the moment.

The road leveled, my bike slowed and I was home again.

Having returned the bike to the dank darkness of my father’s workshop, I walked back to the my house but was stopped by an intruder, a rooster who stood a foot and a half tall. It was autumn personified from the red of its comb and wattle, to the rusty brown on its back, and the yellow cascading down its head and chest. Its grandness was further accentuated by the explosion black feathers at its tail.

The exotic creature was unlike any barnyard poultry I had ever seen. and I sensed that the bird had been bred and raised for a special mission and its defiance frightened me.

The rooster took a step forward, unfurled its huge wings, rose into the air, and thrust its open talons toward me. I screamed and ran into the house as the rooster slowly sauntered into the nearby plum orchard sensing it had made its point.


My mom was preparing dinner and my dad reading the paper laid out before him on the kitchen table. I told then about the attacking rooster and my father told me it belonged to a worker Mr. C. had hired to help with the farm. He went on to describe the rooster’s owner as “Good Ole Sherm” who wore no shoes and who had feet as wide as they were long and was “black as the ace of spades.”

No one ever had to explain to me that during my childhood I lived in a very intolerant country and was part of a prejudice family. My grandparent came to this country directly from Poland in the early 1900’s and I frequently felt the sharp painful stabs of Polish jokes. And my dad and mom seemed to have a lot of negative things to says about other ethnic people, racial minorities and, from time to time, various religious groups.

My dad volunteered to take me to see Sherm about the rooster. After supper, I followed him through the plum orchard to Sherm’s home in Mr. C.’s abandoned chicken coop.

Constructed with old cinder blocks that looked like small grey loaves of course bread, the squat structure had a black tar paper roof and paned windows on three sides. Someone had attempted to clean the glass but dirt stubbornly clung to corners. The small door for chickens was nailed shut. A larger entrance, four weathered vertical boards held together with two horizontal boards, had an empty tuna fish can for a knob.

My father knocked on the door and after a moment it was opened by a tall middle-aged black man in overalls, a flannel shirt, and work boots who seemed happy to see us and welcomed us in.

My father went in first. I followed. The windows brought light into cramped space that was furnished with a broken wicker chair, a lime green formica table with rusted chrome sides and legs, a red kitchen chair covered in cracked plastic upholstery, and a small cot. The shelter had no water, electricity, or bathroom. An oil lamp, camp stove, and a battered aluminum cooler were the only conveniences. I didn’t smell any chicken odor, only the masking scent of white wash.

My father sat down on the wicker chair, I stood. Sherm did not look at me but pulled the chair away from the table and gently motioned for me to sit down. The two men talked about the rooster and laughed as they came up with a plan. They discussed this year’s crop and the need for more rain. Sherm asked if he could get us something. My dad nodded.

Sherm took one step toward the cooler on the floor, opened it and took out a glass bottle of orange juice. He reached up to a wooden plank shelf over the door and brought down three glasses. I could see that they had not been washed thoroughly and a hazy film remained.

I watched my father raise a dirty glass to his lips and drink the warm golden liquid until it was gone. I did the same.

I learned a lot about the hypocrisy of prejudice that day, that humans find great personal benefit in labeling other people with broad unjustified brush strokes. Maybe we do it because we are afraid or lazy or because there is comfort in being a member of a tribe. But if we take the time to talk to individuals, really listen and get to know them, everything would be a lot easier. My dad, despite his prejudicial comments in private, treated Sherm, the person, with the greatest respect and compassion. Witnessing that simple act of hospitality and the resulting act of total acceptance has had a lasting impact on me. I believe in inclusion and the importance of an open mind and an open heart.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

Traveling with Forrest Gump-Like a Box of Chocolates

I have a confession. I definitely think I have an obsessive compulsive disorder. In an upstair room in my house, I have an art studio created when painting became one of my passions. While recently purging out some of my possessions, I realized I had accumulated hundreds of paint brushes, enough to supply a large group of artists. I taught nature studies when I was a second grade teacher and there is a bookshelf in my bedroom that holds over two hundred plant and animal books. And a door in my house hopefully hides a contraption with multiple pockets that holds my very, very large collection of earrings, again in the hundreds.

I’m ashamed and overwhelmed, uncontrollably compelled by the thrill of the hunt. But luckily I have my limits, I’m a bargain hunter, a cunning stalker in the world of flea markets, auctions, rummage sales, and thrift stores. Even though some of my collections are a bit obscene, my habit of buying things at a fraction of what they cost allows me to divert a lot of my budget to my frequent travels.

Recently, on the way home from visiting my family, I decided to stop at a thrift store I had passed many times but never entered. I’ve learned to always first examine the jewelry displays. There were no earrings so I moved on to the books. In my North Country, thrift store book collections are our only option since regular bookstores are becoming rare. I found a great art history book from 1948. Yes, I had two other art history books at home but not like this one. I placed it in the shopping cart.

I visually skimmed the woman’s clothes rack. Skilled shopping for maximum rewards requires carefully pushing hangers aside, one by one, to uncover the best treasures but I wanted to get home. My eye caught something red and long wedged tightly in the slits of color. It was a blouse that proved to be perfect for my aging body because when trying it on it successfully hid some of my defects. In the cart it went.

I went over to the the CD’s hoping to add to my collection of driving music. I knew I had to concentrate as I tried to read the titles in tiny print on the stacks of plastic cases on a shelf that luckily was at eye level. My scan stopped at a CD case that was wider than the rest, the soundtrack from “Forrest Gump”! Taking it down from the shelf, I realized it was a two CD set, brand new, unopened, and $2.99. I was thrilled. I’m a baby boomer and the movie paralleled my younger life. I paid for my treasures, eager to get in my car and listen.

As I drove, I was taken back in time. The songs by the original artists brought both smiles and tears. The late 1960’s, early 1970’s were very tumultuous but somehow energetically hopeful. I’m so glad to have lived through that time.

The CD is absolutely wonderful and so thought provoking, allowing me to compare life then with our world situation today. It makes me think about who I was almost 50 years ago and who I have become. Every song will be the catalyst for my blog writing in the coming weeks. There are some things I need to say. Wow! As Forrest Gump said,

“Life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get.”

Copyright 2019 @theautonomoustraveler All rights reserved.