Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Time Warp, or Sunday in the Park With George

Sunday was a beautiful day here. It was also the day of a memorial service for a long time Kent fixture. He came here to live in the early 70s, along with many others who were drawn here after the tragedy of May 4, 1970. Many of them were part of the anti-Vietnam war movement. Others were writers, poets and musicians who found this a good place to practice their art and/or to continue to pursue the fight against the war. They seldom interacted with the townspeople, as there was still a lot of animosity and fear toward anyone with long hair or radical politics. The turmoil that resulted in the deaths of four students had frightened a lot of folks in this relatively quiet town.

Several of these newcomers decided that there needed to be some sort of way to heal the breach, and came up with the idea to start businesses that would involve all members of the community and lessen the tension. A variety of shops were opened: a book store, a record store, a used clothing store and a food c0-op. One of the main entrepreneurs was a guy named Mort, who seemed to have a lot of money and energy, opening one business after another.

Another was George, for whom the recent memorial was held. George had been a top reporter for the Akron-Beacon Journal. I remember seeing him at some meeting or other back in the 60s. He was handsome in a Byronic sort of way, and a very good writer. Unfortunately, he followed the advice of Timothy Leary to tune in, turn on and drop out - only he got fired before he could drop out. He was given a second chance because he was a good writer, but that didn't work out and he ended up here in Kent, doing some free lance writing, helping Mort with his enterprises and becoming a full blown hippie. He lost his Byronic looks and most of his teeth. He married a young woman who ran the used clothing shop and had a passel of children. I would run into him at the book store (which didn't last too long) or the record shop, which was a terrific place that lasted for quite a while and was patronized by everyone in town. When that closed I didn't see him very often. I wondered how he managed to support a family, especially after the clothing store closed. He did help out at the Natural Food Store, which grew out of the food co-op.

Sadly, he died a couple of weeks ago, and I decided to go to the memorial service because he was one of the people who gave this town some character, and he was a good writer. The service was held in the John Brown Tannery Park, by the Cuyahoga River, a lovely and appropriate setting.

I followed a crowd of people converging on a clearing by the river. There was a table containing his picture, along with some vases of wild flowers. As I looked around I felt transported back to the early 70s. There were all these people stuck in the world of 35 years ago, the flowing clothes, the bare feet, the tie-dyed shirts, head bands, etc.

There was a priestess (yclept Ygraine) who invoked the names of Celtic gods and goddesses, celebrating altered states of consciousness. She had moved to Ohio because, she said, she knew that she would find a kindred spirit, namely George. There were poetry readings. Testimonials from young writers whom George had mentored. Halim El Dabh, retired professor of music and world renowned composer, whose music can be appreciated best when in a state of altered consciousness, plucked out some noise on a borrowed hammer dulcimer. There was a guitarist who claimed that he was going to play one of George's favorite tunes ("I Get a Kick Out of You") only I think he was hearing an orchestra in his head, and he was just playing the guitar riffs, because I know "I Get a Kick Out of You" and that was no "I Get a Kick Out of You." He looked as if something was playing in his head anyway. There were many other heart-felt testimonials and one shock, at least to me. A well-dressed suburbanite came forward to address the gathering. She told us that she had known George longer than anyone else there because she was his first wife and the mother of his oldest daughter. It seems that many of the people there
had not known this; she certainly looked a lot different from the rest of the crowd.

As the ceremony came to a close, the sweet smell of Mary Jane permeated the sunny glade. Since it was such a pretty day, a lot of ordinary folks were taking walks with their families on the nearby walking trail and they were not the ones who were smoking. I found out later that good old George was the prime source for local lovers of the weed and that's how he made his living. I reckon there are a lot of people who will miss him much more than others will. But he was a good writer.

1 comment:

Susan Shie said...

I reckon that's a pretty good yarn about Kent, then and now. I can see this ceremony, in the shadow of the New Downtown. I'm hiding up on the other side of the river drawing you drawing them. :)

Oh boy, Guenveur, you're really a super writer and artist. I love the drawing you made for this blog entry! Bucolic Kent in the river glade with hippies!

I didn't know your George, but now I do, and I miss him, too. Love, Lucky