Green Valley :: Driving North
When Lee Ricketts asked me to join him and 10 kids to set up a new residential site in New York, I thought what the hell, why not? I had never been to New York State. By that time I'd won a graduate fellowship to Stanford, so I didn't intend to stay at GVS beyond August anyway.
It was 1971. Nixon was president. The U.S. was exhausted from a senseless bloody war, which had spawned unrest and suspicious political movements at home. John Lennon was writing Imagine, dreaming of a peaceful world.
I wasn't a political activist or even a very good den mother to difficult kids. The skills I had were in language and literature. I was headed to Stanford to study storytelling, from a Latin American perspective. My questions: How do we move from traumatic events to storytelling? How do our specific stories become universal and enter our collective mythology and help us decide who we are as a tribe or nation? Kurt Vonnegut had just published Slaughter House Five, the fictionalized account of his experience as a prisoner of war in the Dresden fire bombing during World War II. It had taken him 25 years to figure out how to tell the story. And Eli Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, had just published Beggar in Jerusalem. Telling stories is how we endure.
But meanwhile, I had a few other skills to learn. Back in the real world I learned to drive Lee's stick shift. He had refurbished an ancient short school bus. He would drive the blue bus and I'd drive his white wagon. My cross-country driving to that point had been limited to a single short dash from South Bend, Indiana, to Chicago. But really, how could you be a bonafide child of the Sixties without a decent road trip to your name?
Here's what I remember about that trip:
The two-lane highway up the coast: Was the Interstate not built yet? I learned how to pass in thundering traffic, because I needed to keep up with Lee and because the kids egged me on. Now! Hit the gas!
South of the Border: the gigantic gaudy Mexican-theme truck stop and tourist trap just, well, south of the border between North and South Carolina. It was around here where we had to spend our first night because...
The bus kept breaking down.
Having to spend the night in South Carolina (girls in one room, boys in another) caused Lee some consternation that I didn't understand at first. I was naive to the culture of the Deep South. I didn't get it that, because one of our kids -- Mary E. -- was black, we might be turned away from the available motels. We kept her hidden and made out okay.
Being rescued: Somewhere in Pennsylvania, our little bus gave up the ghost. If my memory is correct, it was night. Someone drove down from Buck Brook Farm in a van to pick us up. Lee resumed driving his station wagon. It was dawn when we got to the town nearest the farm. North Branch. I was thrilled. We weren't in Orange City anymore.
In the cold morning air, I saw the green mountains of the Catskills and the prettiest old general store you could imagine. Not a highway in sight.
We shivered and drove out to the farm where the dozen of us would start our new life together.
I arrived at Green Valley School in Orange City Florida in February 1971. Around May, Lee Ricketts and I drove 10 kids north to the Catskills to start our own little farm adjacent to GVS' Buck Brook Farm. I left the Green Valley family, with my future husband, in August of 1972.
Green Valley was a residential program for troubled kids and a sixties-style commune for its staff.
Lyrics to Imagine.
Beggar in Jerusalem by Elie Wiesel