The Unlikely Revolutionary

September 2, 2007

I was in the other 1967. Not the one that everyone now officially remembers, thanks to a brainwashing cascade of media images about the year. In my 1967, there was no summer of love. There was no human be-in in Stanley Park. There was no first-ever anti-Vietnam War rally downtown. There was no protest over plans to build a highway through the city. There were no drugs.

Instead, I was one of the thousands of suburban Vancouver kids who had only the vaguest idea of the revolution that was going on, too inhibited or young or preoccupied with being accepted to even consider turning on, tuning in or dropping out. We were entrenched, not in the media image of 1967, but in the real 1967 that most people off-stage lived that year, closer in spirit to the ’50s than the ’60s.

In the real 1967, my world revolved around my teenage-girl, junior-high-school life in North Van. There was an endless round, faithfully recorded in my tedious adolescent journals, of Math, P.E., English, French, drama, socials. I fretted over homework and my marks. I was a cheerleader in an era when cheerleaders weren’t necessarily bombshells, just energetic girls willing to yell loudly and jump a lot. I babysat for hours on end, at 50 cents an hour, and practiced the piano for more hours. I went to mass every Sunday with my family at the Roman Catholic church in Lynn Valley where Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Margaret Sinclair would be married four years later.

My girlfriends and I rollerskated at the Stardust rink on Marine Drive and we went to movies—To Sir With Love, Bonnie and Clyde—at the Totem on Lonsdale. We supported each other in our hopeless crushes on various boys in the school (“Louise found out today where Dave lives!!!”) and listened moonily to the songs that would intensify our already white-hot hormone-fuelled in-love-with-love craziness. We were not alone. It’s worth remembering that “I’m a Believer” by The Monkees ranked ahead of The Doors’ “Light My Fire” and The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” on many 1967 hit lists. 

I watched Star Trek religiously and my heart literally ached at the thought that Mr. Spock would never know who I was, would never kiss me. I sewed endlessly. Girls were taught in Home Ec to sew, put in a zipper, baste darts. (We weren’t allowed to take power mechanics.) Since I was from a Depression-era Prairie family, I was encouraged to make all my own clothes as soon as I had the basic skills. So I did, after thrilling forays with my mother to Army & Navy on Hastings or Gold’s on Granville for patterns and fabric.

And yet, and yet. In spite of ourselves, the other 1967 did start to creep into our relentlessly conventional lives. We ended up floating along the rushing stream of social revolution in a haphazard way, not out of any conviction or even understanding, and certainly not out of any desire to make profound changes. It had more to do with the teenage desire to fit in.

By early 1968, my more adventurous girlfriends and I, lacking access to the usual ’60s drugs but looking to participate in the exciting new trends, would get ourselves high by inhaling nail-polish remover. By spring, I discovered that my very sophisticated cousin from West Van smoked pot and that my best friend, who would soon dump me for cooler girlfriends, had taken LSD. I mean, dropped acid.  We were soon bombarded with school and church talks about the evils of drugs. After one of those cautionary talks, I noted in my journal that many of the “hippie boys” in attendance were very cute.

It wasn’t the only time I would refer to the new tribe of hippies in the city. They were there, as I scrupulously recorded, when I went to a “swingin’” concert in Richmond and on the beach by Stanley Park. And, of course, everyone knew they lived on Fourth Avenue. One day, my uncle decided that our family drive should include a tour to the nesting grounds of this weird new species. We drove slowly past and gawked out the window at them sitting on the grassy slope near Arbutus, “living like chickens” as my uncle observed in disgust.

There were other parts of the 1967-plus revolution besides drugs and hippies. At the end of the school year, our student-council president gave a fiery speech about the evils of American domination in Canada. Suddenly nationalism, fuelled by Expo 67 in Montreal, was all the rage. I would bemoan the fact that I missed seeing Trudeau on his election-campaign swing through Vancouver, although I did manage to score one of his buttons. In spite of being so deeply apolitical that I couldn’t have told you the name of another elected person in the country, I marked ELECTION!!! in my journal that June 25 when the country went crazy for him.

By the fall, I had gone to an anti-Vietnam War rally downtown, not that I knew anything about the war (except for the school gossip that the good-looking Montague boys could get drafted after they graduated because they were Americans.) Instead, I went in support of my best friend, an unfailingly prim girl with an unlikely crush on the one student activist in our school. So there was I, a protester twice removed, chanting slogans as we walked, trying to fit in.

Oddly,  it was my mother who was the more thoughtful, committed revolutionary in those days. Until 1967, she had never missed Sunday mass once. But in the post-’67 years, catching the spirit of the times, she and some of her friends broke away from the church.Like the medieval Cathars of France, they tried to create a Catholicism that seemed to them more genuine, spiritual and organic. They held services in each others’ living rooms and occasionally Jim Roberts, the radical priest of the Lower Mainland, would come out to help perform the service. The response from the church was pretty much the same as it had been to the Cathars 1,000 years earlier, minus the burning people alive bit. The archbishop deeply disapproved and let it be known publicly.

My mother never really went back to the church, something that had been an intimate part of her life for 50 years. Even after the dissident group drifted apart, she had no further use for the Catholicism that had been drummed into her from birth.

Like me, she had been oblivious to the summer of love. She never wore beads, let her hair grow, or travelled to San Francisco. Not for her Jimi Hendrix,  Buffalo Springfield, or  Country Joe and the Fish. She would not be counted as part of that year of revolutionary change. Yet 1967 marked a dividing point for her, as it did for so many people. She left her old life behind just as decisively as any flower child.

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