In the late 70s, a friend and I somehow became acquainted with a guy named Gene. I don’t remember how we met Gene. I do remember that he was our age and into many of the same crazy things we were into—traveling and living off the land and shunning “The Man”—and that he had dark hair and was almost, not quite, six feet tall.
We met him, and that was it. Life went on. Pretty well for us. Not so well for Gene.
The next time I saw him, he had tremors. I never knew the complete story, but I believe he had been in a car accident. Rehab treatments had helped; but, like us, Gene didn’t have a lot of money. I don’t know if he had insurance. I don’t know if he had a family to care for him. It appeared, he was on his own, trying his best to deal with life.
The tremors weren’t so severe that he couldn’t function. He was getting around OK. They did make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to find work, at least not the kind of work he knew how to do. He didn’t have the physical strength to do things like pick fruit or work construction or any of the other things guys of his age often did to get by.
It was because of this, and my friend’s interest in massage therapy, that we met Gene a second time. She was studying massage at some sort of school, perhaps a cooperative or maybe even a commune-type school, in an old building in Chelan, Washington.
Chelan, at that time, wasn’t the yuppy-central, touristy town that it is today. Now, you go to Chelan and there are cute little eateries and trinket shops and nice places to stay and all of that. Back then, it was different.
Then, Chelan was a agricultural town. Apple town. It was filled with farmers, farmers who tolerated hippies because hippies picked fruit. It wasn’t an easy relationship because some hippies, maybe even most, weren’t as reliable as migrant workers. Hippies were also much more vocal. Many were outraged at the conditions under which some of the migrant workers lived. Most farmers had a few shacks for families to stay in during pruning season and apple harvest.
As with anything in life created by a wide variety of people, some of the shacks were nice; some weren’t. The fact that some weren’t and some hippies were vocal about it—without working as reliably as the migrant workers they were speaking out on behalf of—contributed to the rub between the two social groups, the hippies and the farmers. Well, that and the war and marijuana and a host of other things. It all fused to cause a general uneasiness that a hippie-looking chick like me could feel when I walked through town.
In Chelan, everything centered around apples, apple growing and apple harvest. Anything that didn’t have to do with apples came second. That’s the part of the equation I was sort of familiar with; familiar at coming second because I never picked fruit. I just came to town to see the massage center and my friend; therefore, I was superfluous. As far as the farmers and the businesses in town who depended upon farmers were concerned, there was no reason for me to be there.
Disapproving looks. Doubts that I could pay for the meals I ordered in restaurants. Stares in stores to make sure I wasn’t shoplifting. Consequently, I didn’t go out much and I didn’t plan to stay long.
In hindsight, given the whole situation—the fact that massage students, like me, didn’t pick apples either—makes it surprising the massage center was located there. Except perhaps, that buildings, especially old two-story ones with out-dated apartments on the second floor, were cheap. And, it was beautiful.
If you’ve never been to Chelan, I encourage you to look up some pictures of Lake Chelan in Google images. Here’s one from Kevin Gong to get you started.
One can find God in that lake. It’s that gorgeous. I guess the farmers also saw the hippies as a threat to their peaceful existence near that lovely body of water. Anything that beautiful attracts newcomers, and newcomers change things.
It’s easy for the ones who came before to see how the changes that newcomers bring are bad; how newcomers destroy the very thing that attracted everyone to the beautiful place. It’s harder for the ones who came after to see how they are doing that. Really, we are all newcomers. But, here, I digress on a philosophical point that really has nothing to do with Gene and his tremors.
End of Part 1. Check back later for Part 2.