We had been wandering around the steamy fairgrounds for about 20 minutes, inhaling the sweet aromas of fried dough, tempura and patchouli essence borne on a cloud of chalky dust, when my son began to feel disoriented.
“There’s a lot of strange people around here,” he said, shielding his eyes against the fierce sun. “You know what I mean? Old men with long, long hair and white beards that go way down to here.”
As he spoke, his hands outlined a mass of imaginary hair that bloomed luxuriantly from beneath the peak of his baseball cap, cascaded over his shoulders and ended at a point below his rib cage.
“They look kinda … I don’t know … a little bit weird?” my son added after a reflective pause. He kept his voice small and whispery so as not to offend the man nearby who was loping around in a gyrating, free-form dance all alone.
The man was tall and reedy, about 50 years old, I guessed. He wore a skull cap of stitched, multi-colored leather atop a fabulous bush of braided, grizzled hair. The man’s beard — the one that had inspired my son’s guarded observation — spanned the width of his chest and forked at the end into twin cones that fluttered in the hot breeze.
His colorful shirt billowed around sash-waisted silk pants, revealing a nest of bead-and-shell necklaces. In rope sandals, he kicked up tiny cyclones of dust as he hopped and whirled to a folk tune fom the bandstand.
“Have you ever heard of hippies?” I asked my son, who slowly shook his head no as he gazed around at the dozens of colorful people waltzing through the fairgrounds.
For some reason, the word sounded a bit silly to me when I said it — hippies. It was like calling someone a beatnik or greaser or something equally anachcronistic. After having witnessed so many years of changing fashions, politics and lifestyles without feeling the need to change along with them, hadn’t the diehard, aging hippies of the world outlived that ridiculous name? After all, their hip days were long gone by now.
Children have an uncanny way of making adults notice the most familiar things, which, in a curious and surprising way, was what this weekend gathering of hippies was to me. At the moment I stepped through the gates of the fairgrounds, I was transported more than 20 years into my past without even being aware of the change.
Back then, I participated in so many music-filled days like this one, when practically everyone I knew wore long hair, loosely flowing clothing, and dreamy, blissful expressions. This particular crowd, drawn from every corner of Maine by a nostalgia-laden reunion of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, was so completely recognizable in its peace-and-love atmosphere that I barely even noticed that I was witnessing a cultural oddity.
Yet for my 10-year-old son, it was as much an anthropological wonder as stumbling across a forgotten civilization deep in the rainforest. To him, who had never even seen a picture of his father in his long-hair days, these hippies were as exotic a collection of people as he had ever seen in his life.
In a nearby field, we watched as several women in long, flowing print skirts skipped together through the grass with their smiling faces aimed at the sky. One woman, with a couple of youngsters trailing behind her, strolled the grounds while beating lightly on a large drum. A man with daisies woven into his thin gray hair grooved silently to the music with a greasy pad of fried dough in his hand.
Nearby, a T-shirted man and woman who looked to be in their mid-50s stood up together and began swaying quietly like cattails in the wind. The man with the flowers in his hair joined them for the rest of the song. When it ended, they all flopped to the grass and laughed.
“As one old hippie to another,” the woman said to man with the flowered hair, “Where have you people been hiding all this time?”