This week in my family history project: Three letters from my father to his parents from early 1969, in which my parents become members of a Japanese church.
But before I link to those letters, I feel like I should give some context that I left out last time. (Content warning for parental death.)
Those of you who’ve followed my posts of my mother Marcy’s letters to her parents and photos from her life already have a fair bit of background on Marcy: she was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, an only child, born and raised in Philadelphia, went to college at Antioch, moved to California, met Peter and moved in with him and got pregnant with me and embarked on the hippie lifestyle. In mid-1968, when this new set of letters starts, just after I was born, Marcy was nearly 23 years old.
(Marcy’s father Jack died in May, 1969, of emphysema I think, at age 64; but there is no mention of his death at all in these letters, nor of Marcy’s reactions to it.)
And if you’ve read my posts about Peter’s FBI file, then you might know some of Peter’s history up to this point too. But I don’t think I’ve given nearly as detailed an account of that as I have of Marcy’s. So, some notes:
Peter was born in Washington, D.C., but raised in Oregon and Washington state. His mother, Helen, was of Norwegian descent; his father, George, was of assorted-British-islands descent. By his late teens, Peter was rebelling against his parents. He got a full four-year National Merit scholarship to Caltech, but flunked out after the first quarter for drinking too much. He went back to the Seattle area and attended UW for a couple years (living in a hammock in the campus steam tunnels for part of that time), but didn’t graduate. In 1960, at age 20, he joined the Socialist Workers Party; he also wrote a couple of letters to his parents about his beliefs (first letter, second letter), which resulted in George reporting him to the FBI. In 1961, Peter took a trip to Mexico (trying but failing to get to Cuba), then came back to Seattle.
At some point he met and married a woman named Gail. They lived in various places—including, at least briefly, NYC—but fetched up in San Francisco in the mid-1960s. At which point Gail ran off with Peter’s best friend. In early 1967, Peter slept with a woman named Penny, who got pregnant, but at the time, Peter didn’t think the kid was his. All during his twenties, Peter worked at a wide variety of jobs, including “dishwasher, encyclopedia salesman, math paper grader, janitor, truck driver, house painter, hay bale bucker, lumper, ditch digger, well digger, relief dairyman, assistant mortician, technical typist and editor, freelance tutor and editor, …” (For Peter’s full list of jobs, see Jay’s comment on a post of mine.) In San Francisco, Peter worked as a shipfitter-welder for the Naval shipyard, while getting immersed in the hippie lifestyle.
At some point in 1966 or 1967, Peter and Marcy met; we aren’t sure how or where. Peter spent a few days in jail a couple of times (I think), for things like nonpayment of parking tickets. Marcy and Peter were non-legally married by a friend on Mt. Tam in mid-1967, and legally married in February of 1968, in the month before I was born. In mid-1968, when this new set of letters starts, just after I was born, Peter was 28 years old.
(Here’s a brief description I wrote in 2013 of what Peter was like: “Erudite, passionate, well-read, interested in ideas, compassionate, funny, angry, political, unable to let things go, mathematical, literary, fascinated by science and by mysticism, high-functioning alcoholic, infectiously enthusiastic.”)
And in 1968, Grandma Helen was 60, and Grandpa George was 56. George was working as a teacher by then, and maybe Helen was too? Not sure. Their youngest son, John/Dobe, was 19, so all four of their (living) sons were out of the house by then.
(I’m going to be 54 in a couple months. It’s just plain weird to notice that I’m nearly the age that George was when I was born. I’m now trying to imagine having a 28-year-old ne’er-do-well son who has spent the last ten years rebelling against everything I believe in, but who keeps asking me for money to help support him and his wife and their infant kid.) (I mean, I don’t want to be *too* sympathetic to George; he behaved quite badly in a lot of ways. But even so, interesting to me to be reading these letters at roughly George’s age rather than Peter’s.)
OK, onward to the letters.
- January 31, 1969
- Post-Harbinger, Peter applies for many jobs but fails to get one. “doing odd-jobs around the place (plenty odd, like stringing barb-wire fencing, collecting guinea-pig manure for the organic compost-heap i’m building, building spice-racks for kitchen, repairing a shower-flex-hose, changing baby’s diapers, mopping floors, painting tarot cards, cooking (soups & salads)”
- February 18, 1969
- In which Peter and Marcy become members of the Church of World Messianity and learn to channel healing spiritual light. “The technique of Johrei is to channel the Divine Light of God into the person's spiritual body, and this radiant energy clears away or dissipates or disintegrates the spiritual clouds…”
- March 20, 1969
- In which Peter and Marcy and Jed bake bread and visit two of Peter’s brothers. “If you liked the bread, it was because of the fantastically good leftovers here--there was that morning's leftover oatmeal in it, and leftover rice, and leftover miso-soup[…], plus whole-wheat flour, rice flour, soya flour, […] and honey… and of course the vital ingredient, love…”