When I was just short of twenty-one, I was discharged, honorably, from the United States Navy. I was actually a Navy Reservist who spent two years and three months on active duty. By adding three months to my promised time of two years of active duty I escaped ever having to go to the monthly meetings that most reservists would have to attend. It was the Navy’s idea at the time. They needed people to stay as long as possible since the war in Vietnam was starting to crank up and they needed experienced people to stay around.
It was a benefit for me, because instead of leaving a warm Mississippi for a still frozen Minnesota in February, I got to leave toward the end of May. Minnesota was still cold, but I had enough money to go on the bum to someplace warmer for a while, so rather than join the tedium of regular work I chose to be a drifter for a bit.
My brother got married on June 3rd and I was his best man and my suit, from which pictures of the era will attest to, was a bit too small. The happy couple will make it to 54 years this year. My old man gave it six months. My guess was it would last until at least the day the baby, already in the hopper on the wedding day, arrived. We were both wrong.
The following Sunday I saw an ad in the Minneapolis paper for a vagabond who wanted to take a road trip with three other guys. Apparently, I was the only one who called because the man on the phone I talked with said I should pack some clothes and a sleeping bag, and I’d be picked up on Tuesday morning around 9:00 AM at the Skelly station in the little town where my dad lived.
While awaiting my separation from the Navy I had managed to tuck three months’ worth of hair behind my ears without arousing the ire of some gung-ho military type. I had the beginnings of being a Hippie.
When the other three freaks showed up, I looked nearly bald by comparison. They were true dyed-in-the-wool Hippie’s. I was the only one without a beard or even stubble.
The chariot on this trip was to be a 1956 Packard Clipper, white over blue, that had seen better days as unprocessed steel. It was a rust bucket.
My pal Roger, who worked at the Skelly station commented that he didn’t think the car would make it out of the county, the owner of the gas station opted for maybe something nearer the edge of town.
The car didn’t listen to that rubbish and by sundown we were in Stanley, North Dakota home to the sister, of the grandmother, of one of my new friends, who my friend had never met. The old gal ran a small café west of town a bit and fed us supper and provided beds for all of us. She hadn’t seen any of her relatives in over thirty years since none had bothered to visit her since she had married that ‘Cowboy Fella’ from out west. The ‘Cowboy Fella’ had croaked some years earlier and left her enough money to live a life of ease, but she liked people, so she ran the café.
The next day we made it to somewhere west and north of Cut-Bank Montana where a friend of mine from the Navy had grown up. He left the military a few months before me and he gave me his address just in case I ever got out his way. I never realized he was a Native American when he was in the Navy simply because it didn’t make any difference. When we arrived at his homestead several of his friends, jokingly, offered to drown the four hippies in the creek and they would then have a car no one would ever miss. We stayed a week. We helped with some crap jobs that needed doing and left with more money than we showed up with. Being Hippies, we had all neglected some of the normal hygienic rituals of civilized people, like bathing.
The car had a unique stench by the time we crossed into Idaho. We decided that any creek would serve as a bathtub, so we jumped into the first one we found. It was refreshing to say the least. More like damn cold!
As we were frolicking in the creek a troop of girl scouts wandered by. Actually, once their counselor’s saw us, they ran by. World record time was made for a hike on that day by Troop 58.
To be continued…
Arian is a short story contributor to the Sentinel & Rural News. Arian has written two full-length thrillers which have received critical and popular acclaim. Arian lives in Bruce, WI, with his charming wife, Arlene.Profile
The Sentinel & Rural News covers the news and events of Clark County and southern Taylor County, as well as regional news that affects those areas.