Zack Gallagher decided he would go to the high school Halloween party dressed as a hippie with a long hair wig and clothes from the ’60s. He had passed the vintage clothing store, Psychedelic Thyme, on his way to get a new phone a few weeks ago and that gave him the idea.
His decision also came from talking to his grandfather. His grandfather seemed to be doing a lot of reminiscing lately. Stories of his time living at a commune, fighting cops at anti-war demonstrations along with the old pictures of his grandfather with long hair enthralled him.
He walked into the store and back in time. It had everything from Edwardian jackets and embroidered bell bottom jeans to folk dresses. Some multi-colored scarves and fluffy boas hung like haphazard rainbows. A rack held headbands while next to it was a bin of buttons with Stop the War or Flower Power on them. Soft light illuminated posters of long ago rock concerts on ochre-colored walls. The smell of incense, partly for ambiance and partly to mask the musty smell of the clothes, permeated the air. An old stereo system complete with a turntable was playing Surrealistic Pillow by Jefferson Airplane. He got a closer look at some of the concert posters. A few were from the Fillmore and one was of Woodstock. Others were posters of Quicksilver Messenger Service and Canned Heat. Some were plain, just showing the rock group and the venue, others were majestic in all their psychedelic glory. Swirls of colors jumped out and drew Zach into another world.
An old man stood behind the counter. His white hair was long and tied back in a pony-tail. His body thin but in good shape. Probably a vegan thought Zack.
“What can I do for you young man,” he said gently.
“I’m looking for some clothes from the ’60s. I’m going to a Halloween party as a hippie.”
The old man gave a hint of a sigh.
“I hope you aren’t doing this to make fun of hippies young man.”
“No, that’s not it. I hear stories from my gramps all the time and just wanted to try and feel what it was like.”
“What’s your gramps name?”
“I know your grandfather. Your grandmother too. Sorry to hear she passed. We ran together for a while in the ’60s.”
A smile broke out on his face. “OK, so let’s see what we can fix you up with.”
The old man started rummaging through clothes bins, coats, bandanas and hats, humming as he went along. He seemed to know exactly what he was looking for.
“What’s your name, young man?”
“They call me Leaf.”
“That’s a strange name,” said Zack.
Leaf chuckled. “We didn’t like our real names back in the ’60s, thought they were boring, so we gave ourselves made up names. I still use mine. Here, go try these on in the back room to make sure they fit. Not exactly ‘back to earth’ but they fit the time.”
After a few minutes, Zack came out. His pants were bell bottom dungarees with red flannel strips on the cuffs, moccasins that were a little tight, a white cotton shirt with hand stitched green and yellow embroidery, a faded suede vest with tassels, a peace sign medallion, and to top it all off, a beaded headband.
Zach expected the old man to say something right away, but he just looked a Zach with melancholy.
“You look far out son. Yes, that will do fine,” he said finally.
Zack changed back into his clothes, went to the counter and paid for his outfit. “Thanks for your help.”
“Glad to help but it’s not just the clothes and music you know. And feeling it? Well sorry, son but unless you were there that would be impossible because for some of us it was gut-wrenching. Things were pretty rough for a while in the ’60s. Of course, there was the war going on in Vietnam, but there was one here too. We got harassed on almost a daily basis because of our long hair and the way we dressed. Some got beat up…and some died.”
Leaf’s gentle demeanor transformed into an intensity. His blue eyes focused on Zack. “You know even diners wouldn’t serve us. They had signs saying no hippies allowed. It was a strange time Zack. Lots of hate towards us and all we were trying to do was live our own lives and create something new and a lot of us left home because of it. Our parents and their friends didn’t understand why we were rejecting their society. The straights hated us because we were different, hell even the barbers hated us because we weren’t getting haircuts. Of course, the cops hated us the most and if they could throw us in jail for life for one joint they would. If we sat on the Court House lawn they would chase us off it and threaten to arrest us for vagrancy.”
“But the Court House is public property,” said Zack wide-eyed.
“Was then too but if we said anything to them they would poke a nightstick in our ribs to move us on. In this city, the cops were brutal towards hippies and the city leaders backed them up. It took me years to get over some things.” A weariness crept into Leaf. Too many memories, too many lost friends.
“I can tell you more, Zack but not now.” Leaf forced a smile. “Enjoy your party and come back anytime. And bring your grandfather.”
Leaf stared through the window as Zack walked down the street. He went to the stereo, turned the volume up and danced wistfully among the memories of his youth.