When I was a kid, we still went to church as a family. Then everything changed in 1967, the year of the Summer of Love, Both of my parents came from devout Catholic families in the Chicago area.
We lived in San Francisco in the inner Sunset close to Golden Gate Park, Kezar Stadium and the Haight-Ashbury. I was barely five when we moved there from Chicago, my brother was four and my sister two. My dad got a transfer with his job at Farmer’s Insurance Group from Chicago to San Francisco because my sister had a circulatory disorder and needed to live in a milder climate. Neither my mom or dad had ever visited San Francisco before we moved there, but once they did they never looked back. They fell in love with San Francisco. And it has always been home to me, though I was born in Chicago.
We went to church at St. Agnes, our neighborhood church, which happened to be located at Ashbury Street off Haight. (no, I could not make this p if I tried!) I also had to attend Catechism at St. Agnes School twice a week. All three of us got our first communion there, and I made it all the way to fifth grade when Mom pulled me out of Catechism and said to study all the religions, that the Catholics were “hipocrits.” At first I thought that meant another religion. I was confused and had no idea what was going on and why my mom and dad were changing so much. But the neighborhood and everything and everyone around me was also changing. There were free concerts at the Greens right across the street from where lived — bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane jammed for hours on a makeshift stage, invading our play area space where me, my brother and sister, the boys around the corner and up the street would play. We called the area the “Greens,” though it was really called the Kezar Triangle. It was our special place to climb trees, play games and run around brandishing sticks.
Children’s Playground wasn’t far from the Greens. Just cross another busy street and go down a hill, and there you are. It is still located right next to the famous Hippie Hill where hippies still hang out to this day, and you can still hear the beat of the Conga drums. I grew up with those Conga drums while I played and I’d pump a swing higher and higher.
It all started to change in 1965, the year my brother Michael was to receive his first communion. The tradition was that the kids would get their first communion in second grade when they were around seven, unless of course, they didn’t start Catechism until later. Three days before first communion, we had to attend our first confession as well. I remember trying to think of sins which always involved fighting with my brother. Then at age 12, you’d get confirmed.
I remember the day we all crammed into my dad’s car to attend my brother Michael’s first communion and how he looked so uncomfortable in his suit and kept pulling on the collar and tie, frowning. The year before I had to wear a white dress and a veil. You think you have issues Michael? My little sister sat in the middle between us. She was only in Kindergarten and wouldn’t have to attend Catechism for another year. We had to dress up and wear thee really dumb hats too, matching dresses which I hated. The colors were different, and the hats were evil with elastic to keep them on our heads which bit into my chin and neck.
We rarely rode in Dad’s car as a family because Mom didn’t drive and dad worked a lot as a claims adjustor. He went to the scenes of accidents and took photographs and investigated them. And usually we would walk or ride a bus or streetcar. I remember how Mom was upset that she forgot film for her camera, and simply had to find some. Dad said the stores were all closed, and Mom saw a bushy-haired hippie dude wearing tie-dye with a big black dog and called him out the window because he was the manager of Rexall Drugs on the next corner. He hopped into our car smelling of Patchouli oil and something else squishing us in the back seat; the dog sat on all of our laps. Dad was not happy.
But Mom was because the hippie dude had a key to the drug store and was able to run in and get her film. That was the beginning of the drastic changes that would happen afterwards.