"I'm going to be a hippie." With those words, casually spoken by my 12-year-old daughter, Halloween took on a new twist at our house. Gone were the black cats, princesses, ghosts and witches of the previous trick-or-treat nights. This year she wanted to be a hippie.
"How'd you come up with that?" I asked out loud, while to myself I was saying: My God. If you live long enough, you turn into a Halloween costume. What a fate.
"Oh," she said, "I was looking at, like, this old picture in a photo album you guys have. Some long-haired kid with, like, a headband and, like, bell bottoms with patches wearing a tie-die T-shirt with, like, an upside down "y' on it. It'll be easy."
"So that's all there is to being a hippie, huh?" I said, feeling suddenly defensive. "Bell bottoms and a T-shirt? I think there was a little more to it than that. And that wasn't just an upside down "y.' It was a peace sign."
"Whatever," she said. "Don't spaz out, Dad. It's, like, just a costume from the old days."
"The old days?" I said, trying not to sound indignant. "It wasn't that long ago. I'm not that old."
"You know that guy in the photo?" she asked. "Was that, like, you? No way. That guy had hair. Dad, were you a hippie? This is really embarrassing."
Had I been a hippie? Now there was a question. I wasn't quite sure how to answer it. It wasn't as if hippie had been a formal demographic designation or a club like the Masons or Moose, so who's to say who had been a hippie and who had not?
And at 51, with three kids, my own business and enough responsibility to keep me constantly in a state of near panic, I would hardly bear any resemblance to that fellow in the 1970 photograph. But I had to admit I haven't always been this bald or this boring.
I had indeed, boycotted barbers and worn ragged jeans with flags for patches. In this hippie's uniform, I had gone to Woodstock. Billed as three days of music and love, it had actually been three days of rain and hunger, where I had my first taste of that wallpaper paste called brown rice at the free food tent.
The beer had run out in the first few hours, forcing us to resort to water, and the mud was so thick that our camping area turned into cream-of-sleeping bag soup. And it was there that I first learned about the wonders of black-market capitalism.
In 1969, I hitchhiked to Washington to join 500,000 of my kindred spirits at the Stop the Vietnam War Rally (a great place to meet girls) and I even inhaled a little of President Nixon's tear gas outside the Selective Service headquarters. I worked for George McGovern and Cesar Chavez, had my picture taken on the Grateful Dead's porch in Haight-Ashbury and embraced the Free Love movement, although it rarely embraced me back.
My first car was a '61 VW Bug, which I sprayed green for the first Earth Day. And I railed against big corporations, some of whose stocks now grace my mutual fund portfolios.
Had I been a hippie or was it just a costume I had worn?
I decided that it was fine that my daughter should be a hippie, even if only while she went in search of Snickers and Skittles. What greater gift could a father give his children than a reason to dress up on Halloween? I could only hope that someday her children will return the favor and, like, dress up like her.
W. RICHARD OHLER lives in East Aurora.
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