mad in pursuit memoir notebook
DISPATCHED FROM THE intersection of yesterday and forever
1971 Grand Exit, Part 2
[cont'd from here] The idea of Green Valley School appealed to me. It was a communal existence: staff lived on site with a group of troubled kids. They got no salary (except for $7.50 a week cigarette & alcohol money), but had all their needs taken care of. They got one day off per week, with a car. And, it was in Florida.
The founder was George von Hilsheimer who had recently published How To Live With Your Special Child, (Acropolis Books, 1968). I bought the book and was absorbed by his crusade to help kids.
Between my "Whole Earth Catalogs," Assistant Professor, his Mother-Wife, and my roommate Trish, I lived in a world steeped in fantasies about communal living and vague sentiments of "helping people." But Assistant Professor and Trish were absorbed with his alternate education program, in which college girls debated whether figuring out how to fold a sheet by yourself at the Laundromat was "learning" -- that is, should you be given college credit simply for living the miserable existence of a student? Mother-Wife was absorbed with being a worn-down perfect homemaker. I was the drifter.
Time for a bold action. Time to put all those fantasies and meandering good intentions to work. To hell with cold, cruel Chicago. To hell with all my so-called friends whose lives were so much more important than mine.
I wrote Green Valley School and they accepted me into their fold. Ha! I would no longer be the "dangling woman." I would have a purpose!
My friends were shocked. My parents were appalled. My parents thought I was joining a cult. I saw no risk whatsoever in the venture. I wasn't giving up anything, that's for sure. I had applications into grad school and would probably leave Florida by September anyway. If I hated it, I'd pick up and leave.
I interpreted my friends' shock as envy and admiration. What I was doing was akin to joining the Peace Corps. Trish was saddest, but I knew our friendship wasn't over.
My life fit into 2 suitcases. I also owned a sewing machine and a bicycle. The father of some kids I babysat for disassembled the bike and packed it up for me.
I bought a bus ticket for a three-day ride from Chicago to pre-Disney Orange City, Florida. I said my gleeful goodbyes. The drive was sleepy and enjoyable -- except that I couldn't pee in the rocking toilet at the back of the bus, so made mad dashes into the terminal at every stop. There are only two sights I remember: passing though Nashville at night -- seeing the Grand Ole Opry, all lit up -- and passing through the Spanish mossy, live oak swamps of southern Georgia. Those sights impressed me that I was going someplace brand new.
I transferred buses in Jacksonville. The bus stop in Orange City was a BP gas station. I called GVS to tell them I'd arrived. A man in a white station wagon came for me. That was Lee Ricketts. He was a slim suntanned guy in his 50s with a silver-gray crewcut (very old!). Turned out he was also a St. Louis native, but had lived most of his adult life as a fisherman in Homer, Alaska. He had come to GVS because he'd adopted an Eskimo child and she turned out to be a handful and he didn't know what to do for her. So he abandoned his fishing business and came to volunteer at GVS with difficult child in tow.
The campus sprawled over acres of central Florida flatland. There were concrete block dormitories for about a hundred kids. Some staff lived in real houses; others were tucked away wherever there was a spare room. My room was a nice little sun porch on the second floor of the administration building.
My first assignment for the morning after I arrived was to join Lee Ricketts in the kitchen to cook 3 meals for the 100 residents and 25 or so staff. It was an utterly new experience for me, full of gigantic pots and enormous amounts of food. I rolled up my sleeves and did exactly what Lee told me to do.
It was wonderful. I was needed. And I was doing a good job. In the space of a 3-day bus ride I had reinvented myself.