Hippie Days – California – What A Blast!

Children’s Diary-July 24, 25

We camped in the Redwood Forest. It was dark under the big trees.

We camped in Guerneville. We went down a big slide and watched the racecars.

 It has taken me thirty years to return to California, the state of my birth. I’ve heard stories of my infancy, but it was like I came from another continent, so far and different from Florida, was the place I grew up. I get to know you California, little by little from the top down. After the cool dark peacefulness of Redwood National Forest, we were back on the road again.

There I was dragging my sweet little family along to San Francisco, my youngest, Nicole, then four, a year older than I was when I left this exotic city on the other side of the country. Driving down the coast, we made it as far as Guerneville and set up camp outside of town. Not in the woods, this place had civilization – a massive slide and a race car track drew the kids immediately. They burned off lots of excess energy and returned to the campsite as we were lighting the grill (a luxury) for dinner. The wood was wet and mostly smoking with just a few pinpoints of flame.

“Hey, Jill bring the lighter fluid,” Ray calls. “Let’s get this baby going. The kids look tired and starved.” He takes the lid off the can, pours a small amount into the lid and throws it into the grill, “just a dab’ll do it.”

“Whoosh!” the dab explodes and a snaking tail of flame shoots back to its origin in the can. My “Oh shit!” is always there for emergencies. Lifesaver Ray reacts immediately, smashes the lid back on the flaming can while everyone within sight or sound is retreating, and heaves it as far away from humanity as possible. It works. No more explosions, no more fire, except in the grill.

“Jesus Christ!” Ray rasps. “That was close.”

“Thank God everyone’s okay.” Our horrified faces soften into little jittery smiles.

One of the campers waves and calls back, “Quick thinking, man.”

The kids were settled in the back of the van quietly doing their own thing as we traveled down Hwy 101 towards San Francisco, my birthplace. My mind drifted back through the past, my only recollections coming from the stories my mother had woven. She had given me the link to my past: the name, address and phone number of my long lost godparents, the Byrnes.

The Ronckes

My extended family history began in Milwaukee, WI. where both of my parents were born. My mother, Genevieve Apolonia Roncke (altered from the original Ronski to obscure the Polish heritage) was the first child of nine to be born in the United States, successfully entering through the immigration nightmares of Ellis Island. Her older brother and sister were born in the countryside around Warsaw, Poland. My grandfather came first; hearing from his compatriots that there was work in the northern woods, sneaking away from the tyranny of his Russian captors and settling into an environment similar to his native Poland. Being intelligent, enterprising and productive he earned enough money in a few years to bring over the rest of the family. I know much less of my father, who was not the storyteller my mother was. Gene Lester Green (altered from the German Gruen for the same reason) and his only brother, 21 years younger with no other children in between, were born in Milwaukee.

Hippies Days – Westward Ho!

Independence Pass, CO

On through golden wheat fields of Kansas we go. Many people we’ve talked to abhorred the drive through those flat middle states, but because I’d spent most of my life in the flatness of Florida, I appreciate the perfectly connected puzzle-pieced vistas of farmland going on forever. Camping spots are scarce, but on the Colorado border a shimmering oasis appears in the distance. Alone in the middle of these great plains stands a manmade reservoir surrounded by trees so lofty and isolated they look artificial. A plain’s wind is blowing as we pick our campsite. I start cursing “Oh shit!” and Ray “Goddamnit!” as everything loose flies in all directions. If only we’d known that we had it good. When the winds recede the flies descend. We race through a dinner of rubbery pancakes and put away all the food to deter the bugs. The kids let off steam at the playground with some other camp children and are soon covered with mud after a quick game of baseball in a recently irrigated field. We’re all getting used to being dirty.

The sky darkens, giving us respite from the bugs. The children fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow. Peace reigns. I look to the stars flashing everywhere, take a deep breath and reminisce. Days are pretty hectic and not always fun as the children become more aware of their restricted quarters in the van. Although they can’t get along without each other, they can’t get along with each other either. When they grow bored antagonizing each other they start on the dog. Luckily our dachsund Kobi is a tough little dude and starts growling, raising his lip and showing his teeth when he’s had enough. The vision of my life as a hippie is very different than this reality.

With a good night’s sleep, the morning brings a sunnier attitude. We’re heading into the Colorado mountains towards Independence Pass.

Children’s Diary – Eldorado Springs – July 6

We drove way up in the mts. and we saw snow. It was called Independence Pass.

Hippie Days – NO MOSQUITOES In The Ozarks

pict0010-2-300x220-2897381From Tennessee we head toward the Ozarks and our proposed rendezvous with the crew. We reach the legendary Mississippi River on a smaller backroad to find the bridge washed out, the ferry to replace it inoperable and the children terribly disappointed. I try the “pioneer family” excuse. “We’re on an adventure and we never know what we’ll discover,” as we retrace our steps. Not far ahead the kids see the ferry and their spirits return. Though the crossing is neither mighty nor majestic, just muddy, the Mississippi still possesses powerful magic aboard our rickety little ferry.

We climb into the Ozarks and begin looking for the closest national forest or park to set up camp. According to our road atlas there are none nearby and it’s getting late. A billboard flashes past “Camp In Comfort With Us”. Ray falls for it and turns in. The kids cheer. I balk at the ugliness and expense of a commercial campground. I lose. We pull in amidst big intrusive signs on all sides: ‘Wood $1 An Armload’, ‘Build No Open Fires’, ‘Guest Fee – $1 A Piece’ and the piece de resistance ‘NO MOSQUITOES’. Why the capital letters? Sure sounds fishy to me. I ask the manager who assures us there are no mosquitoes. We’re already in so we proceed to our designated site, at least a mile from all facilities. Since this is a one-night-stand we decide to spend our first night in the van, customized to sleep all four of us, instead of putting up the tent. While I make a quick spaghetti dinner, Ray sets up the beds: Two foam pads sit atop our single bed-sized storage area, one for me, and one pad to be placed on the floor at night for Ray and our dog Kobi. Scooter gets the backseat because he’s bigger and Nicole, the front, the cooler with a pillow on top fills the gap between the two seats. Curtains cover all the windows at night including a removable model for the windshield. Very snug. After looking at the cramped accommodations, Since there are no mosquitoes, Ray decides to sleep out under the stars on the picnic table. After dinner I clean off the table while Ray takes the kids to the bathroom. Nicole is thrilled with the real flushing toilet and the hot shower. For the first time, they’re eager to get to bed in their cool new bedroom. As darkness falls the mosquitoes descend. We sit around our ‘enclosed’ fire listening to the children fight and complain about the bugs. Scooter finally dozes off in utter exhaustion, but Nicole’s our bug freak. She continues whining and complaining about the “buggies” biting. Several applications of repellent do nothing other than get in her eyes, raising the level of her crying by several octaves and decibels. I close all the windows and she finally falls asleep in the stifling heat.

First night sleeping in the Van.

I’m exhausted and escape to the lake for a silent cry, except for the motorboats tearing up and down looking for good night-fishing holes. My idea of being a footloose carefree hippie didn’t include the enormous struggle involved in taking a young family of four along on my dream of “Being Here Now”.

I give up and drag off to bed, slipping past Ray outside on the hard picnic table slapping, spraying repellent and emitting his signature curses “Goddamnit! Fuckin mosquitoes!” that the children have sprinkled liberally through their vocabulary, and use most appropriately. Ray finally gives up and stuffs himself into the stifling van with the rest us. The last window is shut, the last piece of clothing is removed and I lie awake listening to the buzzing mosquitoes until the break of dawn.

Hippie Days – Life and Deaf – Third Day

Camping in the tent – finally!

We thank Elaine profusely for letting us invade her home, hug the gang good-bye, and set off on the “real” first leg of our journey. All three groups are initially going in different directions, but will gather together again for our first camping experience at Brushy Lake in the Alabama National Forest.

We load our cooler with food for the first time, then stop at a nearby park for lunch and breathe a sigh of relief for the peace and quiet. Terry and Barb gave us a road atlas as a parting gift and we map out our day’s journey.

Even with our new atlas, we get lost for the first time trying to follow a backwoods couples’ directions through the forest on many forked dirt roads. To the children’s continuing question “How much farther?” we continually answer “Just a few more miles,” that takes hours including all the wrong turns and backtracking. Ray’s nerves by now are totally frayed and tempers flare for not the first or last time. We finally leave the forest behind and drive into a very isolated camp. The kids erupt from the van and Nicole immediately asks “Where’s the bathroom?” which becomes her first question upon arrival in every campground. She’s not at all pleased with the pit toilets. “Yuck! It stinks. There’s just a hole with poopy in the bottom. I looked in.”

“I try to reason, “Well there’s no plumbing out here so this is it. They put chemicals down there to keep the germs away, but not the smell.”

“ I want a toilet. I’m not going in there.”

We raise the new 8×11 foot tent, big enough to serve as a home. Ray and kids build a fire and I enthusiastically cut up and fry chicken with all the fixing on the new camp-stove for our first meal in the woods. It does taste delicious, but cooking will get a lot more casual from now on. Scooter and Nicole are so excited with the new sleeping arrangements they can’t go to sleep. They’re not used to sleeping in the same “room” either, so after a sibling squabble they settle in, exhausted. We sit on a blanket by the fire, (No chairs yet. How’d we forget to buy chairs?) waiting for the rest of the gang to arrive and the kids go to sleep. They do.