September 28, 2023
After a short downtime, my new website is up and running. As a token of my appreciation for your patience, here’s a little story—a memory of an experience that took place just over half a century ago. I still have the carving.
☮ Not for Sale ☮
Summer, 1968. I’d just turned 14. On a Saturday morning, I looked out my bedroom window at the fog-enshrouded suburban street.
I slammed my door shut to muffle the angry voices of my parents, who were arguing in the kitchen again, about God-knows-what. I switched on my transistor radio.
A reporter’s voice droned, “. . . and now, smoke from fires in downtown Washington is visible here at the White House. Police cars and ambulances are responding to . . .” I turned the radio off.
Another demonstration, I thought. It seems like the Vietnam War is all anyone ever talks about these days.
When the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive that January, many Americans still favored trying to win the war. But, amid increasing protests across the country, politicians searched for an exit strategy. I’d heard my dad say that, during an election year, an unpopular war could decide the vote.
The national unrest was palpable, especially since the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in April and Bobby Kennedy in June. I’d seen Kennedy in person at Disneyland just three days before he died. Until then, I hadn’t paid much attention to the daily news. But the year’s turbulence began to bring current events into focus for me and I felt their heavy weight. I slipped out the back door, retrieved my bicycle, and pedaled toward the ocean.
A sense of peace prevailed at Windansea, my favorite retreat. Normally, the waves crashed noisily against the rocks, but this windless morning, the calm sea lapped, more than crashed. Mist hugged the coast; I could just barely see a half dozen surfers loitering far out in the nearly flat water. I knew they waited for a wave worth catching, but those were few and far between.
I didn’t expect beachgoers to appear until later in the morning when the sun burned away the fog. I leaned my bike against a post, kicked off my shoes, and clambered down the slope toward the shore. A bare-chested young man with shaggy brown hair and a scraggly beard sat on a boulder above the high tide mark, carving a piece of driftwood. Sand-encrusted bare feet stuck out of his faded blue jeans with holes in both knees. Wood shavings flew as I walked past him. He didn’t look up.
I hopped from rock to rock toward the low-tide crevasses and pools, rich with sea life. In the distance, up the beach, I saw a woman walking a beagle on the hard sand. The dog followed her, slightly limping. The woman bent down and picked something out of its paw.
I poked a toe at a spiral seashell in a shallow tide pool and watched as a little crab moved his borrowed home away from me. I felt unrelentingly sad; sorry for the world and sorry for myself.
The tide began flowing in, and I started back toward my bike. I paused by the shirtless woodcarver, wondering what he’d created. He glanced up wordlessly and gave me a smile that looked as sad as I felt. He rose, more like an elder than a young man, handed me the driftwood, then turned and ambled away. I watched his form diminish in size until he disappeared in the distance. Finally, I looked down at the wood in my hands. He’d carved a peace sign and the words "NOT FOR SALE."
What a powerful story. You've described the mood and time with fantastic imagery. Love the analogy,
"Not for Sale," that could very well apply to our world today.