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Authors: Katherine Holubitsky

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BOOK: Hippie House
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I was not yet in high school, so, unlike Megan and some of my friends, I was not officially extended the invitation to drop in. That was okay. I had my own ticket in. If I helped Eric haul the band's heavy equipment up the dusty, narrow staircase, I would be allowed to stay. At least for a couple of hours. Until Eric decided that the climate was no longer good for my health, when he would wave the threat of what my parents would say and shoo me out the door.

The door to the drop-in center opened off the gravel parking lot at the side of the arena directly onto a small foyer at the bottom of the stairs. The stairwell had recently been painted, and although this temporarily masked the odor of moldy wood, it had done little to hide the scuffs and lacerations of more than fifty years. A single lightbulb in a broken cage lit the way to the second floor. Chesterfields and chairs dragged from musty basements were donated for the comfort of those who dropped in. At one end of the room, a stage was created with sheets of plywood and concrete blocks.

Maurice Kaplan volunteered to oversee the drop-in center. Maury was twenty-eight years old and owned the only trendy clothing and miscellaneous-cool-stuff store in Pike Creek. He had emigrated from Detroit a year earlier to escape being drafted to fight in Vietnam. Wide-wale corduroy flares, thick leather belts, elongated Pepsi bottles, bubble shirts, loops of silver and packets of colored beads competed for space in his store. In addition to this, if he was pressed by the right customer, big, red-bearded Maury would bring his collection of incense burners and pipes from the back room.

Maury's policy of administration was not to discourage what he did not see. This meant that he discouraged very little, as much of his time was spent entertaining the older girls at the entrance to the second floor.

A strobe light spread dappled light across the mellow crowd while The Rectifiers played. Here and there, a match flared, a joint was lit and passed freely only to be stubbed and hidden in the palm of whoever was in possession of it when Constable Wagner made his nightly tour.

The door to the drop-in center remained propped open on those summer nights. People gathered in the parking lot. They drifted up and down the stairs, milling in and out of the large, smoky room. They would be listening to or ignoring The Rectifiers as they played. The band had no program to follow, no set to get through, and the audience simply came and went on the night breeze.

Often, young people from larger cities, passing through Pike Creek on their way to Georgian Bay, would stop at the intersection where they were to turn north. Attracted by the music they would pause for an hour. And Maury never challenged their right to join us. It was, after all, 1970, a time of unquestioning acceptance. It was the cool thing to do.

Toward the end of July, I became aware that this open-armed policy did not sit well with my parents. By then they knew of
my arrangement with Eric, and it was not that they didn't trust me or my friends or probably any of the young people they knew as the children of their friends. It was this new, casual attitude that allowed anyone into our midst that concerned them. I knew nothing different and so, echoing Megan and after tiring of waiting for Eric and hitchhiking home one night, I told them that they would have to accept it. It was just the way things were.

This, of course, got me a week confined to the farm. In addition, my privileges allowing me early entrance to the drop-in center were revoked. I would have to wait until September, when I was officially in high school, before I would be allowed to return.

Despite its social limitations, the month of August passed quickly. I spent several days sweating in the hot fields, helping my father bale hay, then several more comforting him after he ran over our blind old Persian cat, Lester, who had followed him into the field.

My birthday on the tenth was devoid of the anticipation and excitement of previous years. My parents gave me the jacket I had asked for, and Eric presented me with ten dollars wrapped in a series of boxes, a standard for the past three birthdays. My mother baked the same double chocolate cake she baked for each of us on our birthdays. It was decorated with fourteen pink candles and
Happy Birthday, Emma
written in Mom's flowery script. There were no surprises. It was a day much like any other. It was now all so predictable. At fourteen, my days of being a kid were far behind me. One thing was for certain, I needed a more sophisticated name. Emma Jenkins—what were my parents thinking?—it was so mundane. I asked them how to legally change it.

“What's wrong with Emma?” they both asked.

This exclamation was followed by Mom suddenly widening her eyes to catch my attention. With one corner of her linen napkin she patted her mouth in a demure, but rather dramatic way.

“It's an old woman's name. It belongs to someone who wins ribbons for her fudge at county fairs. I want something with class. Something that doesn't suggest I fell off the back of a turnip truck. I was thinking along the lines of Faye or Sophia.”

Eric's eyes fell to my chest and he began to laugh.

“Dad!”

“Alright, alright. I'll tell you what. Rather than change it,” said Dad, “why don't you try one out for a while.” He winked. “Sophia, would you kindly pass the cream?”

I passed the cream. As I did, Mom's eyebrows shot up again. She dabbed furiously at her mouth in another attempt to catch my attention.

“Mom, would you quit making those faces? What are you trying to say?”

She sighed. “Emma—”

“Sophia,” I quickly corrected.

“Sophia. You have broccoli caught in your braces. You may be excused from the table to clean your teeth.”

A few days later, attention turned to Carl. Not an unusual occurrence as Carl often attracted attention for what he did. This was because my cousin, a tall, doughy eighteen-year-old, possessed a rather simple mind. Carl's attention span was brief and his actions were largely motivated by impulse. Forethought and consequences seemed incomprehensible to him. Carl was known to stress machinery until it broke. He had once started a fire in the hayloft and he had destroyed many good paddles attempting to discover the amount of force needed to drive them into the mud at the bottom of the pond. My father had found them waterlogged and ruined in the long grass beneath the weeping willow next to the spillway where the current eventually deposited debris.

But over the years, the damage he inflicted on Ruddy Duck paled in comparison to the grief he had caused Uncle Pat.

Despite this, and in no small part due to the patient guidance of Uncle Pat and Aunt Alice, Carl had graduated with a vocational diploma at the end of grade ten. For several months he had been working at the Pike Creek Dairy. Every morning he loaded gallons of milk and pails of ice cream into trucks.

On this August day, he had accidentally locked Mr. Chisholm, owner of the Pike Creek Dairy, in the walk-in freezer. The mistake occurred after Carl had emptied the extra pails of ice cream and chunks of ice from his truck around noon. Squatting to wipe a shelf clean, Mr. Chisholm was hidden by a pallet stacked with butter when Carl locked the freezer door and went home.

Three hours later, Mrs. Chisholm dropped by the dairy to ask Mr. Chisholm's opinion on wallpaper. If it had not been for the fact that there was a sale on and she needed a decision immediately, Mr. Chisholm might have become as solidified as the Neapolitan that day. Finding no one in the office, she followed the faintest knocking, only to realize that someone was trapped in the freezer! Mr. Chisholm was rushed to the hospital where he spent the night recovering from hypothermia and agitated nerves.

Carl was given a week's vacation for his mistake, most of which he spent well out of Uncle Pat's sight at Ruddy Duck Farm.

So it fell to Dad to ensure that Carl's time away from work was spent wisely. Several times I caught sight of him with a reluctant Carl in tow, recruited to repair a fence or clean the cattle trough. My father also had him stringing soda pop cans together to create a sort of security alarm. The string was draped around the base of the large fuel drums we kept on our farm. Over the summer there had been several instances of gas thieves raiding the farms in our area during the night. Just the week before, our neighbors to the west, the Frasers, had their fuel drums drained and they hadn't heard a thing.

Poor Carl, that week had to be very difficult for him. I knew how much he would have preferred to be occupied in one of his own games: shooting his BB gun at the weather vane on the tractor shed or pushing Uncle Pat's old tractor to its limits, driving erratically across the field.

Eric helped occupy my time by assigning me sewing projects, like a vest with beaded fringing—exactly like John Mayall's on the cover of
Blues From Laurel Canyon
. He also wanted a pair of flared jeans with satin inserts. You know, for on stage.

My brother would sit behind me and watch his order being created. He was so good at so many technical and mechanical things, but I don't think it ever ceased to amaze him how a piece of cloth could become something he could wear.

One evening I returned home from Brampton where Megan and I had seen the movie
Wait Until Dark
. Susy Hendrix— Audrey Hepburn's blind character—being stalked by a killer in her apartment had been more than either of us could stand. Shivering close together in the back of Uncle Pat's truck on the way home, we'd had very little to say.

“I thought Roat was dead after she stabbed him,” Megan whispered.

“So did I,” I said.

“He was so good-looking.”

“Yes, he was,” I agreed.

When they dropped me off, the lights were out in the farmhouse and nobody was at home.

“Better turn on some lights,” Uncle Pat cheerfully advised me.

It seemed so casual a remark in a world inhabited by murderers—until I realized that Uncle Pat had not seen what Megan and I had seen.

“I will.” The words just barely escaped from the back of my throat.

Megan scrambled into the cab as Uncle Pat waved a big hand and they drove off.

We did not lock our doors when we went out, and I never yelled hello when I entered the house. Except at that moment. There was no answer. Armed with Halley, I took Uncle Pat's advice and walked stealthily through the house, flicking on every light in every room. Further hoping to chase away images of long knives and men leaping from dark corners while I waited for someone to return home, I sat down to work on Eric's vest at my sewing machine.

“Is there some reason you want the roosters up?” Eric, who had wandered in from the Hippie House, innocently asked.

Guiding a seam at full speed through the machine, I jumped. My foot came down hard on the pedal at the same time as I jerked my hand. The needle drove through the cuticle at the edge of my index finger. Shocked, and with my finger still pinned to the machine, I tried to tug it out. Realizing what I had done, I let out a howl. Eric quickly turned the wheel to set me free. Taking my hand, he studied the hole the needle had left clear through to the other side.

“Cool,” he announced.

“It is not cool,” I said, pulling my hand back. And for some reason, at that moment, his failure to sympathize unleashed the fear I had managed to keep in check over the last two hours. “And don't you ever sneak up on me again!” After whacking a surprised Eric, I began to cry.

In late August, the mounting traffic up and down the asphalt lane separating the pond from the farmhouse became a concern. Eric and the members of his band and friends of the members of the band would follow the lane up past the barn and park next to the tractor shed. From there they would walk down through the airfield, past the duck house and into the woods to the Hippie House. As the summer
progressed, the band was joined by musicians from outside of Pike Creek who had heard The Rectifiers at the drop-in center and come to jam. Then there were the friends of these musicians, driving over the heated asphalt, scattering our flock of domestic geese. One carload of visitors, swerving to avoid my father's prized pair of white Chinese geese, left a rut in Mom's rose garden.

This rut was their final error.

There was one reason Mom went outside. Once a day, after donning a broad-brimmed hat, she would pocket pruning shears and clip down the lane to tend to her beloved rose garden, which tumbled against the stone retaining wall. It was these daily trips, in fact, that had prompted my father to pave our lane. A luxury and expense that most farmers would consider extravagant, paving the lane had been a worthwhile investment in my father's mind. It helped tame the mud and dust my mother so detested. It had been another attempt to help civilize her life on the farm.

Until the rut in the rose garden, Dad's annoyance had given rise to only a few pointed warnings. But now the growing traffic could no longer be ignored. Dad approached the topic after
The Ed Sullivan Show
one Sunday night, using the moment to also voice his concern about the type of people visiting the Hippie House. Some of them, he suggested, appeared far too old to be in school. What were they doing hanging around with seventeen-year-olds when they should be making something out of their lives?

Eric didn't know. Anyway, what was he supposed to do? Embarrass himself and his friends and everybody else by telling them to get lost?

Dad shook his head. “I'm not asking you to do that. It just seems to me like you're gathering a lot of hangers-on.”

“Dad, it's not your problem.”

My father thought for a moment, but he didn't reply. Clearly, Eric was not denying that it was a problem—it just didn't belong to Dad. He would give Eric time to deal with it in his own way.

So it was decided that The Rectifiers and their friends and all their acquaintances would have to park along the county road next to the woods. Never mind that the cars risked being pelted by gravel and dust. That was the price my father attached to his hospitality.

BOOK: Hippie House
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