Thanks, hippies!

This morning, JC got out of bed and wandered down to the kitchen where I already had food going. “Why are you listening to Joni Mitchell?” he asked.

“It’s Thanksgiving,” I told him. “The hippiest holiday.”

After all, it’s a holiday when we commemorate a bunch of people who left cushy lives in the cities of Europe to “farm out” in terra incognita, with absolutely zero clue what they were doing, but a bunch of pretty fantastic ideals about it.

JC rebutted that it is also a day of mourning for many First Peoples, and well, point to him. But we’re talking about the Plymouth pilgrims here (who were actually peaceful-ish with their neighbors…for white folks, anyway), not those cannibals in Jamestown, and anyway, aren’t we already mourning the overall badness of the European conquest on the holiday formerly known as Columbus Day? Let’s have our day of thanksgiving, because whatever baggage might have accompanied its beginnings, there’s nothing wrong with setting aside a special day for gratitude.

And today, I’m thankful for hippies.

“Do you guys know how to build a house?” “I think you nail the thing to the other thing.”

Thanksgiving is the holiday I associate the most with the community where I grew up. Although some years, we drove to NY to be with my grandparents, many years, we stayed in West Virginia and celebrated with friends. When I think of Thanksgiving, that’s what I think about–watching the Macy’s Parade on a fuzzy TV with tinfoil on the antennae, the smells of cinnamon and oranges and hot cast iron and potatoes and pot filling the house, people who choose to be family gathering around a big smooshed together table with mismatched linens and candles and improvised seating, wooden serving spoons, hand-thrown pots, music and charades after dinner.

A lot of who I am comes from growing up that way. When JC and I laid our hardwood floors ourselves, or decided to have our babies at home, or when I left a pretty sweet job that wasn’t feeding my soul, or decided to be a software developer AND a theater director AND a homeschool mom, friends asked us, “What made you think you could do that?” I’m sure it’s from growing up around adults who had no idea what they were doing, but weren’t afraid to try.

Although my parents didn’t make their careers in the arts, many of their friends did (and do). I had a realistic and up-close view of that life, both its challenges and its rewards. Thanks to the people I grew up with, I saw lots of different models at work, from people who painted all winter and spent all summer on the road at art shows, to those who had “day jobs” and played in the band on the weekends.

I grew up playing in houses that were always halfway renovated, and from them, I learned that hospitality is about the welcome, not about the centerpieces or the lack of spiderwebs or the perfectly curated dishes. My parents found the place where I grew up when someone my mom met in Florida (where they ended up wintering when their VW microbus turned out not to have working heat…) said, “You should go to West Virginia. When you get there, call this number, they’ll invite you to a party.” My mom said, “What if there’s not a party?” and her friend said, “Oh, there will be.” And there was, and the welcome that my parents got there is what made them stick around for 30 years or more. I learned welcoming the stranger long before I ever heard a Bible story.

The adults in my life learned as they went, whether it was building their own houses or rigging their own solar panels or playing the banjo or canning the vegetables they somehow managed to coax from the ground. I learned from them that school isn’t the only place to learn (it might even not be a good place to learn) and that as long as you know how to learn a new thing, you’ll never be stuck.

Lots of those hippies had left behind comfortable, “normal” lives in the suburbs of the northeast. Their parents thought they were nuts to be doing it. But they brushed off those criticisms and built the life they wanted. I like to think I’m doing the same thing, and it’s because they showed me that it was possible. They freed me from the crippling sense that other people were judging me and that I should care much about that.

I grew up with a sense of being able to have a great life without having a ton of stuff. It’s freeing to know, even in my life where I have way more comforts than my parents did at my age, that I don’t actually need all of it. My life could change a lot, but as long as I had my people, I’d be okay. I remember thinking about that when JC was laid off from RStone.

The hippies were ahead of the curve in a lot of ways that I’m getting a good laugh out of now. It cracks me up when kids who used to make fun of me for having sprout sandwiches and soymilk boxes in my lunch at school are selling each other essential oils and giving tips on great yoga classes. My people were into homemade yogurt and sourdough bread and meditation and organic food and recycling before it was cool.

One thing I value a lot is the way they were able to live together respectfully, even when they strongly disagreed with each other. Our community included ex-Catholics, dabbling Buddhists, committed Christians, and straight-up atheists. But I never heard an argument about religion. I’m grateful that I had models of loving community bridging fundamental differences.

I grew up with adults who were married and who were not, who had kids and who didn’t. In a time when most people didn’t get to see models of many different lifestyles, I did, and that makes me feel like the choices I’ve made are exactly that–a choice. I’m grateful for the people in my life who cared about me even though they didn’t choose to have children of their own, who maintained a small basket of toys and coloring books because they wanted to make it easy for my parents to come visit. I’m grateful for those in my life now who don’t have kids but find ways to welcome mine.

I’m thankful for the model of chosen family, of friends who live and work and grow together over a long time, who love each other’s children and tend each other’s gardens. The kids I grew up with are more like cousins to me than my cousins are. I love when I get to see them and we just pick up like nothing has changed.

Even though there were arguments and grudges, they didn’t break that community. People found ways to live through them.

My hippie upbringing makes me have a lot in common with my Mennonite friends. They grew up valuing community, living simply, and working for peace. When I found that church, it felt like home. It was a way of being Christian that valued what I think is the best about my roots.

And I’m thankful that I’m finding ways in my life now to draw on what I learned growing up “back to the land.”

Holidays in that group of people are tougher now than they used to be. Fracking has made life there miserable enough that lots of folks have moved away. Those who remain can’t escape the slow destruction of their tiny slice of heaven. But still they keep on. I know that tonight, Tina and Stump’s house will open to that remnant, and the table will be full and the candles will be lit. And even though they’ll talk about drilling and protests and Trump and who’s leaving this winter all through dinner, I know that after dinner, someone will light a fire and someone will pull out a fiddle, and there will be joy and thankfulness, a holy space in the chaos all around.


Aili Written by:


  1. Barbara Carter
    November 25, 2017

    Thanks, Aili. I love how you wrote this story.. Love, Barbara Carter

  2. marilynn cuonzo
    December 19, 2017

    Brings heart to the top of my chest.
    Amazing thanks for the memories

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