Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Three: "Cherry, Mary, Lobster"

 My younger sister, Cassie, had done everything a non-marcher could do to support our journey.  She raised thousands of dollars in funds, dutifully relayed newsletters to sponsors, and best of all, gave me unconditional support.  When she wrote to me to say that she was coming on the march, I was happy that she would experience the community she had worked so hard to create.  It wasn't the peace march as originally planned—it was much better, and I was sure she’d fit right in.
       Cassie had been living at a Zen monastery in Rhode Island for the summer, working to maintain the monastery buildings and grounds, and practicing meditation.  She found her way to Ohio on a Greyhound bus.  Evan kindly offered to take our loading duty so I could catch a ride into downtown Toledo with a couple of marchers to meet her at the station.  When we arrived, there was Cassie, sitting on the sidewalk next to her gear.  After big hugs and introductions, Craig and Julie said they would return in a couple of hours to give us a ride back to camp.  Cassie and I found a restaurant and sat down for a bite to eat and an update on family news.  Craig and Julie picked us up as promised, and we drove to camp in Swanton, about twenty miles west of Toledo.  I gave Cassie the special orientation tour for new-marchers-who-are-also-your-sister, pointing out insider details as we made our way through camp.  I hoped to show her the total peace march experience.
The next morning, Cassie and I awoke to the sound of rain pounding hard against our tent.  My heart sank.  It was not the weather I had hoped for on her first day, but I was determined to stay upbeat.  I dressed and put on my rain jacket and galoshes and slumped over to the kitchen to find breakfast.  A low ceiling of dark clouds passed overhead.  Few marchers stirred.  I got two slices of toast and two bowls of corn flakes, but I couldn’t find any milk.  By the time I returned to the tent, the corn flakes were floating in rainwater.  I’d eaten worse and tried to put a positive spin on the soggy offering, but Cassie was rightly miffed.  She passed on breakfast.  I felt a little deflated but turned instead to the question of what gear she had for walking in the rain.  Unfortunately, she didn't have much.  I scrounged a cheap, plastic rain cape for her in the Lost and Found, and she resigned herself to wet sneakers, not a comfortable option for a long day on the road, but she didn’t complain.  We packed up our gear and headed out for the 16.7 mile walk.
What with my musical interlude in Iowa, our rest day in Chicago, and my throat infection in Detroit, I hadn’t walked much in the past three weeks, and Cassie hadn’t ever walked sixteen miles in a single day.  Fortunately, the weather cleared, and by mid-morning we had doffed our rain gear.  Most of our route ran along back roads, which were pleasant enough but allowed for no interaction with local residents.  We jokingly referred to these routes as having “maximum backwoods exposure.”  By the time we arrived in camp at Lucas Fairgrounds near Maumee, just south of Toledo, I was exhausted, and so was Cassie.  We sat on the grass for a while, and I introduced her to other marchers as they happened by.  I must have looked tired, because Ty, the flute player from Collective Vision, came over and without saying a word, picked up my hand and gave me a hand massage and then gave me a foot massage.  It was just what I needed.
       Cassie and I set up our tent, rolled out our sleeping bags, crawled in and fell sound asleep.  By the time we woke up, it was evening, and we had missed dinner.  We joined a few other marchers who were playing music and singing.  Cassie and I sang together often and knew lots of songs I could play on the guitar and we could harmonize: "Foggy Mountain Top," "You've Got A Friend," "Big Yellow Taxi," and a song we'd written a couple of summers earlier called, "The Monkey Can't Meet His Maker Without A Ticket to the Promised Land."
       Night had fallen, and it was just about time to quiet down and go to sleep.  At the edge of our music circle, a familiar face appeared, but one that seemed oddly out of place.  Was it a marcher?  No, it was my cousin, Terry.  At first, Cassie and I were taken by surprise, but then it all made sense.  Terry was a truck driver, and his route happened to take him right past the peace march, so he had parked his big rig out on the road and come looking for us.  Cassie and the other marchers were calling it a day, and it was quiet time in camp, so Terry and I walked over to his truck and sat in the cab high above the road talking about the joys and woes of the peace march, the routes and towns, all of which he knew from his many road trips, and how plans had all worked out so far.  I was happy just to know that someone on the "outside" was interested in our progress.  We talked about our family—his father and my mother were brother and sister—and about his upcoming wedding.  Cassie and I were looking forward to flying from the march to New Jersey for the celebration.  Terry had to get back on the road, and I had to go get some sleep, so I thanked him for finding us, and we said goodbye until then.
With my health restored and my sister in camp, I found a new sense of satisfaction on the march.  Cassie and I were of different but complementary temperaments, and it didn’t take much effort for us to have a good time together.  We had our tiffs and grumpy moments, but generally we got along fine.  She was a practicing Buddhist: structured and organized.  I was a groping lapsed Catholic: critical and undisciplined.  She liked rigor; I liked incense.  We shared the view that meditation was central to spiritual awakening and awareness.
       Socially, we were different.  I was uncomfortable in social situations.  I didn't know how to hold an easy conversation.  Any number of times I’d been told not to be so bossy and not to ask so many questions.  I felt embarrassed talking with other people about myself and my interests.  I craved privacy.  The major exception was whenever there was a job to be done—weeding a garden, painting a room, loading a truck, or ending the nuclear arms race—I loved working with other people toward a common goal.  Cassie?  She thrived in society.  Her natural inclination was to meet a lot of people and pack in as much social interaction as possible.  Human contact helped her to recharge and recalibrate.  We knew our differences, and as long as we kept them in mind, we kept our sisterly equilibrium.  On the peace march, all I had to do was introduce her to a few key marchers, explain logistics, and step out of her way.  The best thing about Cassie’s visit was that it helped me realize how much I loved the peace march.  Having her on the march somehow made everything whole.

Cassie and Me in Dharma T-Shirts
On September 5th we arrived in Maumee, Ohio.  Cassie and I said “Maumee” over and over again.  She said it like a baby; I said it like a southerner.  We ate a sumptuous rest day brunch in camp, prepared by our kitchen staff and served up at long buffet tables.  Cassie went off to find a quiet place to do her ritual bows.  In the meantime, I signed us up for Marcher-in-the-Home.  I thought Cassie would want to experience the kind of hospitality that had greeted us all the way across the country.  It was a busy rest day.  Jerry Rubin, the anti-war activist from the Vietnam era was in camp and on the microphone all morning.  His comments about “The System” sounded hackneyed to me, but lots of marchers listened attentively.  I was uncomfortable with the way people treated him like an idol, primarily because I was wary of the Great Peace March coming off as a throw-back to the 1960’s. 
I was more impressed with the local podiatrist who came to camp and shared hundreds of dollars worth of professional services and advice completely free of charge.  A line of marchers formed, and the podiatrist examined feet and toes and shoes and gaits and stances.  Cassie got in line.  When she came back, she seemed much relieved that he had treated the painful blisters that had been bothering her ever since her first 16-miler in the rain.  He gave her some tips on keeping her feet comfortable and healthy.  As grateful as the marchers were in getting his help, the podiatrist wore a smile that made me think he’d finally discovered his life’s passion: putting nuclear disarmament activists on happy feet. 
Someone announced that Tiny Tim was coming to the peace march.  We couldn’t believe it.  Tiny Tim was a television personality whom Cassie and I had watched when we were kids back in the 70’s.  I remembered him from TV variety shows in a white suit and colorful, mod tie, playing his signature ukulele and singing “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in a high, vibrato voice.  He made a splash in the entertainment world by marrying his beloved Miss Vicki on the Johnny Carson show.  On the peace march, dressed more casually in jeans, a red shirt and dark jacket, he stood near the white "Moss" tent, which, as it turned out, provided the perfect backdrop for such special events, and performed for us.  With his long, frizzy hair, now streaked with grey, his large, hooked nose and his pear-shaped profile, he looked and sounded much as we’d remembered him.  It was hard to believe that Tiny Tim was still doing the same act after all these years, and it was even harder to believe that he was doing it on the Great Peace March.

Tiny Tim Prepares to Sing for the Great Peace March
Cassie and I joined Iris and a marcher named Ernie for Marcher-in-the-Home. I didn’t know Ernie well.  He was one of the “Peace Keepers” who kept our camp secure at night, a job that often involved engaging nocturnal locals in long conversation at the gate.  A local couple, John and Barbara, welcomed us to their home for dinner and an overnight stay.  With its living room lined with shelves of books, John and Barbara’s house felt like home.  Their daughter was a potter, and her ceramic bowls, vases and plates decorated the house.  We took turns showering, helping prepare dinner and setting the table, all the time talking about peace march logistics and the state of the world.  Dinner ended and we moved into the library for coffee and tea.  We discussed favorite poets and past lives—John said his son claimed to have been in the marines with him in World War II—and more about the march.
“Do you ever sit around and just have bull sessions?” John asked.
We all laughed and assured him that the Great Peace March was essentially one long bull session. 
“Sometimes,” Ernie pointed out, “it’s more like the bull excrement.”  And we all laughed in agreement.
 “And what about relationships on the march?” asked Barbara.
 We told her that there had been too many romances and break-ups to keep count.  Because we all lived together, the peace march accelerated relationships both in their founding and in their demise.  Some people said a day on the peace march was like a week in regular life.  Iris mused aloud, “Wouldn’t you think that with all these men around, a woman could find a husband on the march?”
“The perfect man could be sitting right next to you,” John suggested.
“No, it couldn’t be,” Ernie replied.  “The perfect man is not a marcher.” 
For some reason that I didn’t fully comprehend at the time, Ernie’s comment resonated and stayed with me all the way to Washington.  Why did his words ring true?  The perfect man was not a marcher. 
 From John and Barbara’s house, I phoned Mom and Dad, reversing the charges and giving them an update.  I hadn’t sent out a newsletter because Cassie, my key relay person, was on the march, but at least Mom and Dad could pass the news along to a handful of supporters.  My parents had two peace marchers in the family now and were happy to know we were both doing fine.  The next morning we said our goodbyes to John and Barbara.  Because I had admired her daughter’s ceramics, Barbara gave me a beautiful blue vase and a small oil lamp.  I tried to beg them off, primarily because I had nowhere to keep them, but she insisted, so I thanked her and carefully stashed them in my backpack. 
We rejoined the march headed for downtown Toledo.  As we walked along, Cassie taught me a Zen chant, and we sang it over and over again, making walk into a meditation.  At the second rest stop, we used the porta-potties, refilled our water bottles, and sat down on the grass to relax.  Cassie, following her podiatrist’s advice, aired her feet.  As we sat talking, I had the sensation that someone I always liked to see was approaching from behind.  I thought maybe it was Joel.  I felt two hands on my shoulders.  I turned around.  It was Bill, returning from time away at a meditation retreat.  It was great to see him.  I introduced Cassie, thinking, "Oh, great, Bill and Cassie will hit it off because of their Zen studies," but as they chatted, I realized that sharing a common interest in Zen was not like sharing an interest in baseball or fine wines or stamp collecting.  The whole point of Zen meditation was to sit in silence with a quiet mind.  In a relationship between two Zen practitioners, there isn’t much to say.  Once Cassie and Bill had identified one another’s school of practice, the discussion returned to mundane matters.  Cassie eventually went on her way, and Bill and I walked together into downtown Toledo. 
As we arrived at the lunchtime rally site, we spotted Cassie standing among the main marchers holding one of the peace banners.  Bill commented on my sister’s inclination to dive right in.  He noted the obvious contrast: whereas I lurked at the back of the line, content to be counted among the masses, Cassie put herself out there at the front of the march.  Bill knew I was not a flag waver, but he seemed amused that two sisters brought such diverse dispositions to the same cause.  I felt a twinge of sibling rivalry. 
During the rally, Eli, a marcher whom I hardly knew, invited me to speak in Warren, Ohio.  He needed a musician for “community outreach,” and someone suggested he ask me.  I didn’t mind being exploited for my musical ability, and I enjoyed going into the community to present a case for nuclear disarmament, so I accepted but asked if Cassie could go along, too.  I explained that she and I sang together.  Eli agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to see if there would be room in the car.  When I asked Cassie if she wanted to come along, she said definitely.

Portrait: Peace Marcher
Cassie, Bill and I walked together after lunch.  We wanted to leave ahead of the main march, so Bill asked one of the march leaders to write down the directions to the next campsite.   The route out of downtown Toledo turned out to be considerably more complicated than expected.  We managed the first mile or two but got a little confused and put our heads together to read the directions.  In erratic script, the paper said, “Cherry, Mary, Lobster.”  We had taken Cherry but couldn’t find Mary.  We consulted a passerby who joined in our pained examination of the handwriting on the paper.  He finally suggested it was probably not Mary, but could it be Main?  We said we’d try it, and he sent us in that direction.  We found Main and headed out of town but couldn’t for the life of us find Lobster.   The three of us agreed that a street named “Lobster” in the landlocked state of Ohio sounded dubious.  Again we called upon a passerby, but he was as stumped as we were.  We wandered around looking at street signs for a while until Bill realized at last that it was not “Lobster” at all, but “L on Star.” 
In the meantime, we passed fields of late summer wild flowers—goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace—growing by the side of the road.  One woman had set out tree-ripe pears at a roadside fruit stand for us to take for free.  We each picked out one and stayed to chat with her for a while.  She said she was amazed by our trek, and we laughed and said that we were amazed, too, but that more than that, we were concerned about the welfare of our planet.  We told her a little bit about our journey, and she listened with interest.  We also warned her that hundreds of marchers were not far behind.  She seemed please at the prospect.  We thanked her for the pears and set off again.
As we neared our camp, our route took us through leafy woods on a wide, paved bicycle trail that ran parallel to the road.  The three of us were walking along side-by-side, chatting and laughing, when I heard someone playing a harmonica some distance behind us.
“D'you guys hear that harmonica?” I asked.  They stopped talking to listen as we continued walking.
“Haven’t you two heard of the Harmonica Murders?” Bill replied.  Cassie and I giggled nervously and were all ears.  We were up for a good scare and Bill was ready to roll.
       “As long as he’s playing, we’re safe,” Bill explained, “but as soon as he stops, it means he’s closing in on us from behind.”  Now we picked up our pace as we listened more intently for the sound of the harmonica.  It played on for another half minute or so, and when it stopped, we shouted, “Run for your lives!” and ran away down the path.   When it started again, we feigned relief and walked until it stopped again and we ran wildly away.  After a few minutes, we stumbled—alive and laughing—into camp.

Journal Entry—September 6, 1986
Our campsite is at the Sisters of the Poor convent, a spacious, lush, grassy site.  Cassie and I don’t set up our tent as we are awaiting word from Eli on a speaking engagement in Warren, Ohio.  She and I gather our overnight clothing from the gear truck and loll on the lawn while we wait.   Jesse, a little boy about six years old, comes up to us and proudly displays a big grin, pointing to the gap in his front teeth.  Then he holds out his hand and shows us a little white tooth.  His front tooth has just come out at that very moment.  Cassie and I break into excited questions, asking him to show us the gap in his teeth again, and taking a second look at the tooth.  Jesse is ecstatic.  His dad comes over to see what all the commotion is about, and when Jesse sees him, he jumps up into his arms and shows him first the tooth and then the gap in his teeth.  It’s just so great to watch.  Then his mom joins in and we celebrate one more time.  I grab my camera and take a picture of Jesse in the arms of his mom and dad, showing off his toothless grin, and I think how cool it is that he’ll be able to say he lost his first tooth on the Great Peace March.

First Tooth Out on the Great Peace March
At last, Eli’s friend, Emily, arrived.  There was room in the car for one more, so Eli, Cassie, an older marcher named Harry, and I loaded our things into the trunk and headed into Cleveland for the night.  In the morning we would drive to Warren for the engagement.  The car was small, so I had to lay my guitar case across the floor in the back, behind the front seats, and Cassie, Harry and I had to ride with our feet up on the guitar case.  That got us talking about our relative heights.  Harry, who was about equal to my 5’5”, told us about his experiences in a Naval ship rescue during World War II.  His ship was torpedoed, he said, and his company was forced overboard where they awaited rescue in cold water for so long that their legs went numb and their feet swelled in their boots.  Most of the men who survived suffered terrible damage to their feet.  But, Harry explained, because he was a person of small stature, Uncle Sam had issued him boots that were too big, so his feet had had room to expand, and he didn’t suffer any injury at all.  For once, he said smilingly, his small size had proven to be an advantage.
        The four of us listened, spellbound, as Harry calmly told his story.  It was hard to believe that this man, who was about my mother’s age, and seemed just like a normal person, was walking around with a riveting personal story to tell.  I wondered who else was harboring remarkable stories—and why our everyday lives seemed engineered to keep people from sharing them.  After a terrible war experience like that, it was no wonder that Harry had taken up a path to peace. 
When we arrived in Cleveland, Eli gave us a lively and detailed tour of the city—the architecture, important historical figures, and significant events.  We were amazed at the depth and detail of his knowledge and asked how he knew so much.  He admitted to having been a history buff in high school, and he said he had studied Cleveland as a research project in his senior year.  He seemed to know the history of every street corner.  He told us so much information, in fact, that it was hard to keep up with the string of facts.  Cassie and I teased him, perhaps a bit too much, about knowing literally everything there was to know, and Eli felt a little hurt.  We apologized and reassured him that we were just kidding around and really were interested, and we were, but we needed him to slow down so we could make sense of the information, and he did. 
Emily made Cassie and me feel totally at home in her apartment.  She explained that  she loved collecting old and odd things, and her home reflected that touch of eccentricity.  The three of us stayed up talking for a while and then retired to a comfortable sleep.  We awoke the next morning, showered, ate breakfast and drove to the Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Warren. 
I knew nothing about the UU Church.  In all my years in Catholic school, the only other religious groups ever mentioned were the Jews and the Protestants, and they were discussed in cloaked and distant terms.  In the eyes of God, the nuns implied, our religion was right while theirs were, well, misdirected at best.  We wouldn't be meeting any of them in heaven, that was for sure.  We knew nothing about their beliefs or history and were given the impression that it was best to handle them with a ten foot pole.  The fact that Jesus was Jewish, for example, or that Martin Luther had been a Catholic monk, was never mentioned—so I had absolutely no idea where the Unitarian Universalist might fit in.
The UU congregation gave us a warm reception.  They were keenly interested in the march.  Eli, Ralph, Cassie and I took turns speaking, and Cassie and I sang.  The first thing that struck me was that the minister completely ignored whatever ritual might have been required or planned and instead turned the whole service over to a discussion of the Great Peace March.  Nothing of the kind had ever happened at any church service I had ever attended.  The toss of hallowed formality was both strange and exciting.  I wasn’t sure what to think.  Members of the congregation spoke with authority equal to that of the minister, a dynamic completely alien to me as a former Catholic.  The service was democratic and intelligent and independent of any dogma that I could perceive.  There were no religious icons or relics; only a simple, lighted lamp, as a symbol of faith.  The whole experience put me outside my comfort zone but appealed to me at the same time. 
We stayed afterward for lunch with several church members and shared more details about the march.  I was as interested in their spiritual journey as they were in my physical one, and I spoke at length with a Latina woman who kindly told me what she knew about the UU tenets.  They were "unitarian" in the sense that they did not believe in a godly triumvirate of father, son and holy ghost.  Rather, they held a common belief in one greater power or greater good or God.  And they were "universalist" in the sense that they believed that everyone was endowed with grace—therefore the concepts of original sin or baptism did not apply, nor did the idea of a chosen people.  They took their readings from numerous and varied worldwide religious texts as well as inspirational or thought-provoking ideas from philosophy and literature and science.
“You mean the minister could read something from Confucius or Thomas Edison as part of the service?” I asked. 
“Absolutely,” she said.  I scratched my head; an old paradigm was shattering inside.  The UU church seemed more interested in facilitating discussions of spirituality rather than telling people what to think.  I wanted to hear more, but someone called out that our ride was leaving, so I thanked the woman and said goodbye.  I walked back to the car with a head full of new ideas.  The UU fellowship in Warren gave me insight into a church that operated in harmony with my evolving spiritual beliefs.  In fact, spiritual evolution seemed to be what the Unitarian Universalist church was all about.
            Emily returned us to camp at Port Clinton, Ohio.  We thanked her for her hospitality and said goodbye.  As the marchers retired to their tents after dark, I asked Cassie if she wanted to sing a lullaby to everyone.  She was game, so I retrieved my guitar from the gear truck and we walked around camp singing, “Good Night Irene.”  Marchers unzipped their tent flaps, peeked out and listened while we serenaded them sweetly, then quietly zipped back inside as we drifted past.  Some people called out their names from inside tents, and we personalized the chorus for them, “Pauline, good night,” et cetera.  By the time I put my guitar back in its case and Cassie and I settled down to sleep, the whole camp seemed at peace.