Everyone needs a Peter Pan in their life. Just as he opened up a new world to Wendy, in her own magical way, my aunt showed me a completely different way to live.
When I was about 10-years-old, I started to rebel against my mother. If she said the sky was blue, I said it was green. Clothes, music, attitude, we agreed on nothing. So for the first of what would be repeated many summers, my mother decided I needed a change of pace, and probably so did she, and she sent me to visit my aunt and uncle for two months.
My aunt and uncle were upscale bohemian hippies in the early 70s. They went to college in the 60s and protested everything. As a white-hat prosecutor, he fought for victims and her patience as a former special needs teacher benefited a new stay at home mom of two babies under three.
From the moment I got there, I knew it was going to be special. While my uncle went to work, my Aunt and I played. In the little tiny Volkswagen bug, she and I, along with two babies and a very large disabled German Shepherd dog, embarked on new adventures.
We visited estate sales for antique furniture or jewelry, picking up a few baubles here and there. And whatever didn’t fit in the small overcrowded car, we would come back to get later.
With her babies in hiking backpacks, we daily walked around the University of Illinois campus Quad, stopping at Baskin Robbins for an ice cream or a milkshake afterward.
When my uncle got home, he often brought the same Baskin Robbins ice cream home for dessert. I ate a lot of ice cream those summers.
And after dinner the music blasted through the house at maximum volume while everyone danced around to Peter, Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, and The Eagles. All music I never heard before and have love to this day.
While folding the endless cloth diapers and clothes from two babies, she introduced me to a strange but compelling daytime TV phenomenon, soap operas or as I nicknamed them, soda poppers. She explained the labyrinth of complex character relationships with fervor, so I could keep up with the storyline.
And after the kids went to sleep, we would play cards and talk about everything…school, boys, parents, growing up.
But more than that, in the turbulent social and political climate of the times, I learned a completely different way of thinking. Without saying anything out loud, I learned by seeing through their eyes that people need to be put over property. That money isn’t everything. And that justice applies to everyone and the power of the people can affect change. Another lifelong habit I embraced.
And just like that, a few years in their presence and I became a lifelong liberal in a staunchly conservative family. Looking back, I’m not really certain how it happened, but I’m glad it did. It made for many oppositions to my parents to this day, but gave me a different view of the world I celebrate.
I remember those summers fondly and credit them not only as a great time, but the bare threads that wove the fabric of my existence.
I truly believe it’s the exposure I had in these two different worlds that gave me the unique and observational perspective that allowed me to choose my own path. Seeing and experiencing different ways of life can have a profound and beneficial effect on young people or people of any age, as long as they’re watching and listening.
(c) Suzanne Rudd
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