Image 01

What’s a Hippie Grandma?

I (Melinda) first “met” Sara through Loose Change, her now classic 1977 coming-of-age novel about three women who meet at Berkeley in 1962 and then proceed to ride the various waves of The Sixties. Over the years, I’ve always admired her thinking and her writing, and thanks to the Internet, we’ve now “met” via email.  This piece was written originally for her own blog.  As with many of Sara’s subjects, I relate, and I think many older generation mothers–women of a certain age and type–will, too.

Dancing at a commune

I’d like your help here.

Who is a hippie? And will I be a hippie grandma?

My daughter, who’s getting married this year and plans to have children, says I’m a hippie. I don’t get it.

I was at Berkeley in the ‘60s when hippies first appeared, I visited communes and wrote about them for Harper’s Magazine and I was not then nor am I now a hippie.

My daughter disagrees.

I tell her the key definition of hippies was: they dropped out of the mainstream. (Remember “Turn on, tune in, drop out”?) They rejected capitalism, materialism, and middle class values. They believed land should be free and people should live communally instead of pursuing individual ambition.

But I had ambition running through my veins. I went straight from Berkeley to Columbia to a job on the Boston Globe. When I was asked to write about hippies, I made my way to an “open land” commune where the leader welcomed me into his crude geodesic dome, saying, “It’s nice, for a change, to talk to someone who’s not a hippie.” He was the real thing and knew I wasn’t.

Sara, in the 60s

Yet when my article came out in Harper’s, I was interviewed on the radio by Howard Cosell, who said, “My guest, Sara Davidson, is a hippie.” Why did he say that? Because I had long straight hair and wore Indian-looking clothes and beaded jewelry. But long hair and beads did not a hippie make.

When I explain this to my daughter, she’s not convinced. “That’s how your generation saw hippies” she says. “For my generation there’s a different definition.”

What would that be? I ask.

She says you’re a hippie if:
You lived through the 60s or 70s
You did drugs and still do.
You like “hippie music” – The Beatles, Judy Collins, Bob Marley
You’re a spiritual seeker
You’re for peace, politically progressive
You eat organic food and recycle

I fit that bill.

It seems, though, that some core values have been lost and it’s the tastes and trappings that define hippie now –- like the Howard Cosell take.

But Peter Simon*, the gifted photographer who lived in a commune in Vermont and was proud to be a hippie, says the definition has always been “fluid. I never thought of you as a full-fledged hippie, but about 70% there. But who’s counting? There were various degrees of separation.” And various kinds of hippie.

This whole inquiry was triggered when a friend who’s a hippie by anyone’s definition became a grandmother. What, she wondered, kind of grandparent would she be, and what would her grand kids call her? Hippie-ma?

Many of us are having or wishing for grandkids now, and as with everything else in our life cycle, we’re going to do this differently.

Sara, today

Most people I know want to be involved hands-on. I envy the lucky ones who live in the same city as their grand kids and can pick them up from school and have them for sleepovers. I remember living downstairs from my grandparents in a duplex in L.A., and how much it meant to have my Grandpa Louie so close. Whenever I was in the dog house downstairs, I could run upstairs and he would hug me, dry my tears and tell me I was the most beautiful and talented little girl in the world.

For that propinquity, some of us are moving to where our grand kids live, but that’s not always feasible. My son lives in China and when he has kids, how will I know them? It’s a long way to go for a visit.

Some are taking desperate measures. I was shocked to learn that another friend, an elegant woman who’s a renowned speaker and citizen of the world, is shopping for an R.V. so she can visit her 7 grandchildren in 3 different states. She and her husband can drive from place to place, they won’t have to pay for hotels and can bring their dogs. Oy. “You’ll be joining the caravans of itinerant seniors at R.V. campgrounds?” I ask.

My friend smiles. “It beats moving, or constantly taking planes.”

So help us out. What is a hippie today? What kind of grandparent do you want to be and what would you like your grand kids to call you?


To read more by Sara Davidson, click here.

*Hippie Pix by Peter Simon.  Courtesy of Peter Simon

Leave a Reply