Childhood stories, part 1

Mary Anne recently indicated that she hadn’t heard many of my childhood stories. So it occurred to me that it might be interesting/fun to write up some of them in the form of a new #TBT series—not exactly a memoir or autobiography, more just a collection of anecdotes and memories.

This first installment is only some bits and pieces of early stuff. Later installments will, I expect, be more substantial.

(And I’m posting this installment on a Friday, but I intend future installments to be on Thursdays.)

“Begin at the beginning.” Easier said than done. What’s the beginning? I could start at any number of times long before I was born.

But the goals of this project would not be well served by my doing the Tristram Shandy thing and spending a lot of time talking about my prehistory.

And yet, context is useful.

So I’ll begin with some context, and then continue with early notes and anecdotes (and liddle lamzy divey).


March, 1968. My parents are hippies, living in Mendocino, California, north of San Francisco.

My mother, Marcy, is 24 years old. She recently graduated from Antioch.

My father, Peter, is 28 years old. He’s been living in the Bay Area for a couple years, I think. He has already been married (to someone else) and divorced. He has a baby daughter (with someone else), though he won’t know about her for another thirty years. Peter and Marcy have only been legally married for about a month, but they were non-legally married, by a friend of theirs, sometime around spring or summer of 1967, on Mt. Tamalpais.

Peter and Marcy moved to Mendocino in the fall of 1967, and Marcy helped start the Caspar Community School there.

Marcy gave birth to me at home, aided by Peter. The local postmaster informed the FBI that Peter was the world's dirtiest human.

Peter and Marcy planned at the time to move to Seattle later that year, but for reasons unknown to me, they ended up not doing that.

Instead, they stayed in Northern California. In late 1968 and/or early 1969, they (and I) spent a few months living in a commune, Harbinger, that had taken over the old Harbin hot springs site. The commune broke up in early 1969. (I was sure that I had posted photos from Harbinger here, but apparently not. I will at some point. For much more about Harbinger, see chapter 7 of Ellen Klages’s book Harbin Hot Springs: Healing Waters, Sacred Land.)

We moved around a fair bit, mostly within the Greater Bay Area. By early 1970, we were living in the East Bay, where my brother was born.

Here are a few anecdotes and moments from my early years (before I was about seven years old). I don’t remember most of these; these are mostly things I was told later. I’m unclear on the chronology of these.

  • At some point, I think around 1968, Peter injured his leg. (A severe burn, I think.) A friend applied a Japanese spiritual healing method called Jōrei, which was part of the teachings of a Japanese church called Sekai Kyusei Kyo, the Church of World Messianity. Peter’s leg healed miraculously fast, and we joined the church. (More on this later.)
  • My parents once found toddler me crawling across the dining room table to where the butter was. I took a big handful of butter, and ate it. This was apparently so memorable and entertaining that Peter was still telling the story many years later. I still like butter, but I no longer eat it in handfuls or crawl across tables to get it. Perhaps I should give that a try.
  • My parents and friends of theirs were sitting around a campfire at some point, passing a joint around. There was a gap in the circle, and one of the adults handed the joint to me to pass along to the next person after the gap. I took a big hit on it and then passed it along. (That was the only time that I’ve intentionally smoked marijuana.)
  • For a while, I think in the early 1970s, we lived in a house in Marin County (maybe in Woodacre?), among the redwoods, that belonged to a friend of the family. The family friend had two pretty white samoyed dogs. I don’t remember much about that period, but at some point during that time, I had two nightmares that stayed with me for years. In both cases, there was nothing objectively scary about the dreams, but they both left me terrified.
    • Two very tall (like 20 feet) and very thin beings/people with vaguely doglike faces walked up to the house we were living in. I don’t think anyone did or said anything beyond that, but somehow it was super scary. This dream recurred a few times over the next few years.
    • Unrelated, in a different dream: A six-foot-tall black-and-white cat stood up on its hind legs. And then it spoke. I have no idea what it said, but the fact of it speaking was totally terrifying (I don’t know why). Even now, if I‘m watching a TV show or movie where a human-sized animal stands up and starts to speak, I get tense. Which is weird, because I really like a bunch of other kinds of anthropomorphic-animal fiction and art. (And real-world animals.) But that specific image still makes me nervous.
  • I think Peter hadn’t finished his undergrad degree. (He had received a full four-year scholarship to CalTech (maybe National Merit?) in the late 1950s, but then flunked out after the first quarter for drinking too much. I think he then went to the University of Washington for a while, living in the steam tunnels there. But I don’t think he graduated from there.) So he started taking classes at UC Berkeley. I’m not sure exactly what his status there was, but the four of us lived in an apartment complex known as Married Students’ Housing. I remember very little about it, except that the people who did repairs at the complex were referred to as the “maintenance men,” and it wasn’t until some time later that I understood that that was two separate words with their own meaning, specifically that “maintenance” was a word and meant something on its own. (At some point, I think Peter did graduate from Berkeley—somewhere I have a letter about why he should get an exception to their graduation requirements, but I haven’t digitized that yet.)

But all of that is stuff that I either don’t remember or barely remember. Next time: my early school days, and things that I do remember.

(Facebook version of this post.)

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