In 1974 I left New York behind to live in Berkeley. I also left behind a young husband, my family and friends, furniture, job and a great antique Chinese carpet. Why? It was the call of peace, the lifestyle, the freedom and possibly a touch of insanity. Nonetheless I arrived at a two-story Victorian house on Ashby looking for Doug, who had assured me on the phone that there was a place for me. “Doug’s gone,” a long-hair told me, “but there’s room for you anyway.”
For the next six years there was always room for me somewhere, whether I had money or not, in some place in Berkeley. There was always fresh-baked zucchini bread cooling from the oven, a fragrant cup of Pete’s coffee, and a drumbeat that I could listen to or pound along with.
I lost my taste for matching outfits and set hair and melded into the throngs of hippies disdaining war, severe politics and too much money.
Times did change and I fell in love and followed a necessity train to central California where I birthed two children, opened stores selling non-handmade stuff, interviewed quilters and farmers and tried vainly to find a comfortable place in a corner of a conservative, unyielding city. It always hurt, still does.
By a turn of luck—and I do believe in it—when I thought I was indentured to live and die in that hot-bovine-smelling place, my young son, through a combination of gene transfer and an innate dislike for his birthplace, and probably remembering the way my face lit up when I talked about the “Berkeley Days,” headed north for education.
I come to visit him as often as I can and I’m careful to hear or feel an “Oh no, Mom again” sensation. It’s never there. My son seems to like sharing his new home with me, probably because I am always at my best in Berkeley, taking it all in so that I can live on the memories back in the Central Valley.
The siren smell of Pete’s coffee still calls me, and I have embraced the New Organic Goat Cheese Pizza on Shattuck.
My favorite place, still, is Telegraph Avenue.
It is only here that time has stopped, or visually seems to. I keep thinking, “I know that hippy,” and silently wonder if we maybe had a love-in moment some 40 years ago.
“Oh, look,” my mind fools me, “There’s Berthe, she makes the best yeast bread!” And as the woman passes me without more than a Berkeley smile, I think that we probably all looked so alike in those days, flowing hair and skirts, beatific smiles coming from way down in the stomach chakra, we all knew each other.