White Lake, New York – August 17, 1969
Nobody else wanted to go to Woodstock. It was all over the news how bad the traffic was. Anyone young enough to be intrigued by the stories of chaos and debauchery was either already there, or under strict instructions not to go. Of course, the reason everyone at the hospital gave was that, with Morty’s health still unclear, nobody wanted to leave his side, but the truth was that they were even more afraid of what they would find at the concert.
Abby was Morty’s only daughter. She was the one who answered the phone when the call came about the heart attack. She was the first family member to visit him at the hospital. Then, when everyone else was holding out hope, she was the one that read from the charts and from the doctor’s expression that the prognosis was not good.
The other brothers came as quickly as they could, but nobody could get a hold of Jacob. Aaron was away at University and Benjamin was studying nearby to prepare for his trip to Israel, but Jake, the free spirit of the family, had dropped out of University and was living off of the land. When everyone else stopped talking to him, Abby kept in touch. She too had partaken in that lifestyle more than she would ever admit to her parents, but she understood Jake whereas everyone else was happy to ignore him. Everyone assumed that because he was a hippy he would go to Woodstock, but Abby knew. She mentioned to Jake when she saw that Carlos Santana had signed on to play the show, and when he saw that Janis Joplin was going to be there, he offered to buy Abby a ticket.
Abby also quickly realized that nobody else would have a chance of finding him there amid the mass of people. It wouldn’t be easy for her either, but she knew what his van looked like and she could probably still recognize a lot of his friends. She would bring a few pictures of him along too in case she needed to ask random people if they had seen him. So she left her mother and two brothers at the hospital in Rochester and headed toward the I-90. She didn’t technically get permission to take her dad’s motorcycle, but how else was she supposed to get through the crowds quickly?
When she finally arrived, the scene was just as chaotic as she was worried it would be. She took one look at the concert crowd and she knew that if he was there, she wasn’t going to find him there. They had set up an information booth, and the girl working there wrote down her information.
“I’ve been talking to people all day that can’t find their friends, you know?” she said. “They just woke up somewhere and they didn’t know where anybody was. But that’s terrible about your father. I’ve got a board for everybody else, but I’ll get them to announce this from the stage. It won’t be for a few more hours, but if he’s here, he’ll hear it.”
Abby felt sorry for the girl, who looked like she hadn’t slept in a long time, and was putting up with a lot of stressed out kids. Abby thanked her and promised to check back in if she found Jake.
In the meantime, Abby decided that she would browse through the various parking areas to see if she could at least find Jake’s van. It seemed everybody had driven a van to Woodstock, but Jake’s had some pretty distinctive artwork that she was pretty sure she would recognise, and with her head for numbers, she still remembered his license plate number.
As she combed through the various designated and unofficial parking areas, she talked to all sorts of people, showing them Jake’s picture and asking if they had seen him. A lot of people were clearly stoned, drunk, inadequately dressed or seriously dehydrated, and many were some combination of those four, but everyone was friendly and sympathetic. Nobody had seen him, but she did get more good advice about where else to look. After about an hour of searching, she found the van. She parked the motorcycle beside it to wait, but when a freak thunderstorm hit, she climbed inside the unlocked vehicle for shelter.
It rained so hard and with enough lightning, that they had to stop the concert. People started flooding back to their campsites, and soon a stream of people was walking by the van, all of them soaking wet, and many of them covered in mud. If the place looked dirty before, it was about to get a lot worse.
It wasn’t long before Abby saw Jake approach. She got out of the van, and when he saw her, he reached out his arms to give her a hug. Even though her clothes were dry and his were wet, she hugged him back and held him tight.
“It’s good to see you, Jake,” she said. Then, turning to his girlfriend who had been walking arm in arm with him until he saw Abby, she said, “And nice to see you too Melissa.”
“That’s not my name anymore, Abby.”
“Yeah,” Jake said, “we’re calling her Moon Child now.”
Abby smiled and nodded. It wasn’t that long ago that she was trying out the same lifestyle too. She drove around the countryside with Jake and his friends in the same van taking more drugs than she could remember, and taking on a new name, just like Melissa. Hers was “Stardust.” She was mostly happy, but she found out soon enough that, at least as far as her boyfriend was concerned, free love didn’t leave her feeling very free. Now that she was removed from that world though, albeit only for three months, it all seemed strange to her again.
“You look terrible, Jake,” Abby said. Whether it was the drugs or the lack of sleep, his bloodshot eyes were barely open, and he hardly seemed aware of his surroundings.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I’m here to bring you home Jake. Your family needs you.”
“He’s with his new family now,” Melissa insisted.
“We are children of the earth,” Jake said, putting his arm around Melissa again. “The people here totally dig that. It’s really beautiful.”
“I know what you’re talking about, remember?” Abby said. “But you need to listen to me, we have family obligations right now. I need to take you home.”
“Jake doesn’t want what you want, Abby,” Melissa said. “He’s not going to run back to his mom and dad like you did. We’ve opened our minds up to so much, that we can’t go back to your little closed community. We can’t go live under that narrow view of who we are and who we can be anymore.”
As Abby patiently listened, Jake put his hand on her shoulder.
“I wish you coulda been here, sis,” he said. “We’ve been meeting so many beautiful people. I’m reminded all the time that where we come from, our understanding of humanity is so entirely incomplete. There’s a whole world out there! It’s like mom and dad grow roses, and roses are, you know roses are beautiful, but roses have thorns, man! And if you look around, you can see that your neighbour is growing daisies, and somebody else is growing lilies, and all around the world they’re growing daffodils and poppies and tulips.”
“And wildflowers,” Melissa added.
“Yeah,” Jake said with a smile, “wildflowers. So you see why I can’t go back to roses anymore?”
“Dad’s dying,” Abby finally said, realizing that she wouldn’t be able to convince him any other way.
“That’s bumming me out, man,” Jake said. “What happened?”
“He had a heart-attack two nights ago.”
“You know, I felt something a few days ago,” Jake said. “I thought it was maybe just some bad acid, but that’s probably what it was.”
“He’s really in tune with the universe,” Melissa added.
“The doctors don’t think he’s going to make it,” Abby said. “Everyone else is at the hospital. I know this is where you would rather be, but if you want to see him alive again, we have to go now.”
“It’s not that I don’t want to see him again, but even if wanted to go with you, you’ve seen how crazy this place is. We’ll never get this van out of here today.”
“There’s room on the bike,” Abby answered. “You’re just gonna have to come with me.”
“I’m not leaving without Moon Child.”
Abby looked at Melissa and then back at Jake, then shook her head.
“They didn’t think you would come. They didn’t think I would find you, but if I did, they certainly didn’t think you would come, because they don’t think that you care. But I know you do. If you don’t come, you know it will break mom’s heart and you know how much it will hurt dad if he can’t see you one more time. So, hop on the bike, come say goodbye to dad, and then you can come back here and pick all the wildflowers you want.”
Jake turned to Melissa and said, “I should probably go. Promise me that when this is all over you will come find me in Rochester? I promise you, this doesn’t change anything.”
Melissa nodded, and then she and Jake kissed for a lot longer than Abby felt comfortable with.
Finally Jake got on the back of the motorcycle and they headed out. They let the girl at the info booth know what was happening before heading out toward the highway. Getting out was harder than Abby expected, but it was mostly because Jake kept telling her to stop so he could talk to people they were driving past.
“I can’t believe you found me in that crowd,” Jake said after a while.
“There were a lot of vans there Jake, but none of them look quite like yours. And I just hoped you would use it as a kind of meeting point.”
“The only reason we came back was the rain. They had to postpone the concert.”
“Well, I’m sure dad will be happy to see you.”
“Is he really that bad?”
“You’ll see pretty soon.” Then, to clarify, she added, “I wouldn’t have come otherwise. I know how much that concert meant to you.”
The initial disappointment of leaving and the shock of his father’s health eventually wore off and soon the two of them were getting along just like brother and sister again. He told her all about the festival. He talked about the acts he had scene and the people from all over the country that he chatted with. When she told him everything that they were saying on the news about it he reassured her that it wasn’t nearly that bad; sure there were lots of drugs, and some people had come unprepared, but he hadn’t seen any vandalism, except of course for the fence that they built to keep people out that got knocked down. She asked him about Joan Baez, who she loved, and he went on and on about Ravi Shankar, and how he kept playing even though it was raining.
Jake was quiet for a while, which Abby didn’t mind at first, but then she was worried that he might fall asleep or pass out, so she decided she needed to get him talking again.
“Mom and Dad were worried that you had joined the Moonies,” she said.
“No man,” he insisted. “I know some Moonies, and they’re beautiful people, but that’s not where I’m at. No, you see Moon talks a lot about the global family, and I can dig that, but he’s got it all backwards. The way he sees it, because he has had this revelation, his followers from all over should gather around him, so that they can help him make the world a better place. But no, the global family happens when beautiful people from all over the world come together on their own to make the world a better place. And then each new generation that comes out of the family is one step closer to the truth.”
“If you say ‘beautiful people’ one more time,” she joked, “you’re walking home.”
“But they are, they are beautiful.”
As much as it pained her to do it, Abby listened as Jake spoke at length about his understanding of the global family, about how much it saddened him when she left to go back home, and how great it had been to dream it together with Moon Child. Even as they drove he was coming up with new ideas about things they would do once they reunited in Rochester.
He was still talking about it when as they were approaching Painted Post, New York, so Abby decided to make a pit stop. The bike needed gas and while Abby was hungry, Jake hadn’t eaten a proper meal for a long time. Abby also used a payphone to call the hospital.
“Dad’s still holding on,” she told Jake when he emerged from the bathroom and climbed on the motorcycle behind her, “but they said that when he heard you were coming, he smiled.”
“I’m sorry Abby,” Jake said. “If you had stayed at the hospital, he would be smiling for you, like he should be, not for his drugged-out hippy son that he’s ashamed of.”
Abby didn’t know what was worse, high Jake or coming down from a high Jake.
“I asked him when I came back if he was ashamed of me,” she said. “He told me that he was disappointed with my choices, but he was never ashamed of me.”
“Only a Jewish father would try to convince his kids that those were two different things.”
Abby did most of the talking on the way back, catching Jake up on what had changed in the family during his absence. She talked about how proud and excited their parents were about their oldest brother Aaron graduating taking a job at the family pharmacy in Rochester. Their kid brother Benjamin too had impressed the whole community by deciding barely a year after graduating high school that he was going to study to be a Rabbi.
“So are you going to have to apply to University to make them proud of you?” Jake asked.
“University? Are you kidding? Mom just wants me to get married.”
Abby had agreed on the phone that they would just go home first. Their father was still doing okay, and Jake needed a good night’s sleep and a bath. He had mixed feelings about sleeping in his old bed again, and Abby had mixed feelings about hanging up the keys to the motorcycle. They tried not to think about it, but they both had mixed feelings about what was waiting for them at the hospital in the morning.