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1968 – San Francisco

I trudged up Fifth Avenue to Irving Street. The cool San Francisco fog brushed against my face as I plopped the extra Sunday papers down at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Irving Street in front of the Fifth Avenue Market, a local grocery store just like UC Market on Third Avenue, except a little bigger. Usually, carts of fresh fruits and vegetables stood in front of the store, but it was closed on Sunday mornings. The café across the street was also closed. It seemed eerie and too quiet to me on Sundays.

“Where’s your brother?” asked Tony Lee, the thin, wiry guy who collected the extra newspapers. Tony was an older kid – he was 14. We had become good friends from hanging out on that corner every day to either wait for newspapers or to drop them off.

“He did it to me again,” I said.

“Well, you do a good job, Mary – even if you are just a kid.” Tony smiled.

“I’m not a kid, I’m 11 now.”

“Just a kid.”

Tony grabbed the newspapers and threw them into the blue and yellow “Chronicle” truck.

I waved good-bye and grabbed my skateboard, which I’d stolen from Michael, who always got the cool stuff for Christmas. He never used it. My arms and shoulders ached from the canvas bag that held the newspapers. Sundays were the worst because the papers were so big. I had to deliver them in shifts, grabbing as many as I could and loading them into the front and back of the canvas newspaper bag flung over my shoulders.

As I got on her skateboard and pushed myself along with one foot, I thought “Where is my brother when I need him?”

That’s when I heard the music – guitar music, fast paced and full of rhythm and life. Where was it coming from? I heard tambourines and singing along with the guitars.

I looked over at Tony, who was still messing with newspapers. “Hey Tony! Hear that music? Wonder where it’s coming from.”

Tony looked over at me. “From there, right behind you.”

I turned around – “That’s St. John of God Church. No way! They don’t play that stuff at church!”

St. John of God looked more like a chapel than a church because it was small with a pristine green lawn alongside it and another building next to the church. Stain glass windows adorned the sides of the small church. I’d seen people go in, mostly older people, during the week.

This wasn’t like the organ music I heard at St. Agnes Church while trying to keep that stupid hat from slipping from my head.

I never thought the priests and nuns were that different than the hippies. The hippies smelled of incense, and so did the church. The hippies said, “Peace,” and the priest always said, “Peace be with you.” So did the nuns. I never understood why people made such a big deal about all of it.

Then, shortly after Dad left, Mom decided that we didn’t have to go to church anymore, for some reason I didn’t understand. She said we should study religions and pray in a way we feel is best. I had no idea what that was when I was 11.

All I knew was that she was glad she didn’t have to go because she could watch Dark Shadows at 4:00 on Tuesday afternoons instead of walking all the way to St. Agnes School and Church.

It’s a long road to freedom, winding steep, and high…people sang at the tops of their lungs and even stomped their feet.

“Hey Tony, let’s go check out the music! I know that song.”

Tony smiled and waved. “Naaaa, I’m Buddhist!”

“Buddhist? What’s Buddhist?”

“Too hard to explain,” Tony said.

“Okay, well so what, who cares? I don’t know what I am anymore! Mom said we could be anything we want. We’ve gotta check out this music. C’mon!” I beckoned Tony to cross the street. “You’ve got time, don’t you?”

“Ohhh, well okay.” Tony and I both crept into the back of the little church.

I still had the canvas newspaper bag flung over my shoulders and clutched my skateboard. For a moment, I wondered if it was all right to walk into a church without a hat on, but no one seemed to notice. They were too busy singing, some dressed in Sunday clothes, others wearing jeans like me. It didn’t seem to matter.

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