The Last of the Flower Children

The Last of the Flower Children

 
By Melissa Tawn
 
For Sundancer and Moonchild, the Summer of Love will never end.


 
 

(Note: This story has been somewhat modified since it was originally posted, to correct errors of fact pointed out to me by readers. I must say that I am amazed at the number of alumni of the Summer of Love who, apparently, read these pages. -- MT)

CHAPTER 1. NEVER GROW UP

In the summer of 1967, they came from all over the United States to San Francisco for the Summer of Love. They wore flowers in their hair, walked barefoot down the streets of the Haight-Ashbury district, gamboled in Golden Gate Park, ran up and kissed random people of both sexes on Market Street, smoked pot, and behaved as if the Middle East and Vietnam were not going up in flames.

Sundancer was there — tall and muscular, from Iowa. He wore his hair long and his jeans tattered. When he didn’t go barefoot, he wore cowboy boots that had seen better days. They somehow went with the wide-brimmed leather hat (with flowers in the hatband) which was usually on his head. He was 17, but had that weathered look one associates with the Okies celebrated in the songs of Woody Guthrie and the stories of John Steinbeck. With him, at all times, was Moonchild — short and frail, from Ohio. She wore loose-fitting shifts or muumuus and always went barefoot. Her long blonde hair reached down her back, and was always crowned with a floral wreath which she wove herself. She would often go down to Montgomery Street and spy some executive-looking type, run up to him, and take the wreath off of her head and put it on his. (This being San Francisco, most of them would politely thank her and leave it on their heads, at least until she was out of sight.)

Sundancer and Moonchild vowed that they would never let it end, but somehow the Summer of Love slowly soured into the Autumn of Disillusion. Many of the flower children went home in September, so they could head off to New Haven or Ann Arbor and prepare themselves to fit in their apportioned holes in the ticky-tacky of life. (Author’s note: those who do not know what “ticky-tacky” means are referred to Malvina Reynolds' song Little Boxes, made famous by Joan Baez (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUYgZB0dQoo) and Pete Seeger (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpMMrWoC9po&feature=related); those who don’t recognize the names of Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, are beyond redemption.) Others stayed in San Francisco but lost their grip on love. Slowly but surely, the gathering of the tribes of the innocent was replaced by the gathering of the druggies and the tourists, both of whom turned Haight-Ashbury into something very different from what it was. The “San Francisco Oracle,” Haight-Ashbury’s own psychedelic newspaper, began accepting ads from insurance companies and escort services.

Sundancer and Moonchild would not let go of the dream, even as it was fading away. When San Francisco became less hospitable, they moved down the coast to Santa Imelda, a quiet community of simple farmers and fishing folk, who let people live as they wished. They squatted in an empty farmhouse on the outskirts of town. Here, it turns out, they were very lucky. The owner of the farm had died the previous year and the property was finally (after considerable legal battles) inherited by a corporate lawyer from San Clemente, in the southern part of the state. The lawyer had no interest in the farm but, on the other hand, was not thinking of selling it for the low price it would fetch. The California real estate market is very volatile and if one held on to a property long enough, it is bound to become valuable. Who knows, Santa Imelda could be the next Carmel. When he finally got around to visiting the farm, and found Sundancer and Moonchild living there, he was very happy to reach a simple agreement with them: they could continue living on the farm indefinitely and free of charge, on the condition that they looked after the place and kept it up.

All of this was fine with Sundancer and Moonchild. There were no utilities, of course, but that was not important. At the beginning, Sundancer pumped water from the well on the property and carried it into the house. Then he remembered the Amish in his native Iowa and rigged up a small windmill which did the work for him. Since they were vegetarians, they cooked very little and that over a gas ring, with the gas being supplied in cylinders kept in a special shed and piped into the kitchen. Electricity was something they never really thought they needed.

Sundancer and Moonchild tended large plots where they grew their own (organic) vegetables, herbs, and pot. The herbs were Moonchild’s domain. Over the years she had learned a lot about herbs by talking to the wise women of the area, including many of the old Mexican women who lived in the gulch on the east side of town. Soon, people were coming to her for advice, especially women with child. She always gave advice, and herbs, gratis but usually people insisted on paying something and she would accept whatever they gave her — be it money or a dozen apples or a new belt — with a smile and a kiss.

Sundancer had good hands and a good mechanical sense, and would often be called upon by people who needed something built or repaired. He too, would never ask for money but would take, with a smile, whatever people offered him at the end. It was quite enough for the two of them to satisfy their modest needs.

And so Sundancer and Moonchild lived in Santa Imelda for almost forty years, and became part of the landscape. They, no less than for the mountains and the sea, seemed to be outside of time. Sundancer still dressed in jeans and the loose shirts which Moonchild sewed for him and tie-dyed with her own home-made dyes. In the winter, he wore a sheepskin jacket. Moonchild still wore her loose shifts and muumuus, with a Chinese-style quilted jacket in the winter. As she grew older, she would occasionally wear sandals made of twisted hemp, but for most of the time she still went around barefoot. The toys of the age: personal computers, CD players, DVDs, ipods, cellphones, never touched their lives. When they wanted music, which was often, they would sit on the veranda of their house, with Sundancer playing the acoustic guitar or the oud, and Moonchild accompanying him on a Japanese shakuhachi flute. Often other people would come and join them, and some would also bring instruments. They taught folk tunes to each other. There was no need for anything more.

CHAPTER 2. TRAGEDY

And then they died, together as they had lived. It was an unusually cold winter that year and one of the neighbors thought that perhaps Sundancer and Moonchild could use an extra comforter which she had lying around the house. When she knocked on the door, she smelled something funny and called 911. The emergency team which arrived broke the door down and found the house full of gas. Apparently, because of the cold, Sundancer had rigged up a gas heater in the bedroom but sometime during the night the flame had gone out and gas continued to leak into the room. Both Sundancer and Moonchild had died hugging each other, in their sleep.

This verdict was confirmed by Doc Carleson, who also functioned as county medical examiner, and by Deputy Grant of the country sheriff’s office, who examined the bodies and the room after everyone had been shooed out of the place. Death by accidental asphyxiation -- it seemed very straightforward and very tragic.

After Doc Carleson gave permission to move the bodies, the deputy looked at Moonchild and commented sadly: “She seemed like such a nice woman — I heard all sorts of stories about how she helped women around here. He also helped us once, when we needed some work done at the station. I think the whole community is going to miss them.”

Doc Carleson looked first at the bodies and then at the deputy and then said: “I am sure that you are going to find this out anyway, when you take away the bodies, so I might as well tell you now. As you know, by California law the dead lose their right to privacy, and their medical records can be made public. I am now going to let you in on a secret, which I have guarded carefully over the past thirtysomething years. I am going to ask you to help guard it further, even though there is no legal basis for doing so. You see, from a purely physical point of view, Sundancer is the female; Moonchild is the male. You can check yourself, if you do not believe me. But I would appreciate if you do not include that in your report. Sometimes unnecessary revelation of irrelevant truths can only harm, and they both deserve better.”

“I think you better tell me more,” said deputy Grant. “OK,” said Doc, “but let’s do it in my office — I don’t want anyone overhearing us. Meanwhile, just arrange to have the bodies taken to the morgue in sealed body bags, ostensibly for further investigation. Do not let anybody see them uncovered.”

CHAPTER 3: SUNDANCER’S STORY (AS TOLD BY DOC CARLESON)

After the bodies were removed and safely taken to the morgue, Deputy Grant came into the Doctor’s office and settled down on the sofa. Doc sat behind his desk and looked wistfully out of the window.

“I came to this community 40 years ago as a young general practitioner. I was one of two doctors in town and, between us, we did just about everything. I got to know Moonchild very early. She would sometimes consult me about herbs she had heard about or had found in the hills, and use the books in my modest library. Women in labor especially valued her help, and she not only suggested dietary supplements to them, she also comforted them and helped them cope. Very frequently, she was present at the birth, either calming the mother by talking and playing that flute of hers or helping the midwife if things got rough. One day, a few years after I came here, she came running to my office to say that one of the Mexican women was giving birth and that there were complications which the midwife couldn’t deal with. Could I please come immediately? When I came, the mother was in a very bad state and the midwife was totally out of her element. Since, at the time, I spoke no Spanish, I motioned her to stand aside and, with Moonchild assisting, performed an emergency makeshift operation which saved the lives of both the mother and the baby. Even though Moonchild had absolutely no medical training, you could sense that she had instinctive knowledge of what needed to be done, and the gentleness to do it well.

After that incident, we became quite close and I would often call on her to help me with a patient who needed a more homeopathic and natural approach. One day, Moonchild said she had a very special request. ‘Doc,’ she said, ‘have you ever performed an abortion?’ Now that shocked me totally since I knew that Moonchild had a total reverence for life, and I couldn’t imagine that she would advocate aborting any fetus unless the circumstances were very special. ‘Is there someone who needs one badly?’ She nodded and looked at the floor. ‘Are you pregnant?’ I asked. ’No,’ she said and looked at the floor, ‘It’s Sundancer. He missed his period last month, and has not been feeling well for the past few weeks.’

Well, you could have bowled me over with a feather, needless to say. I tried to stay as professionally-unperturbed as I could and told her that I had better talk to Sundancer first. The two of them came back that afternoon, with Sundancer looking very embarrassed, as one can imagine. I told him that I needed to examine him (notice that it is impossible for me to use anything but a male pronoun when referring to Sundancer, even though I now knew he was really female.) He sheepishly climbed onto the bed, removed his pants, and put his feet in the stirrups, looking very odd and out of place lying there. But he definitely was all female between the legs. Fortunately, a short examination revealed that he was not pregnant but rather had a minor vaginal infection which could be easily treated with antibiotics.

When he climbed down, I told him that it would be best if he told me the whole story, and assured him that doctor-patient communications were confidential and that even a court could not force me to reveal them — at least not while he was alive. And so he let it all come out.

Sundancer had been born on a farm in Iowa, the only daughter after four sons. His mother died when he was four years old, and his father raised the brood by himself. As one can imagine, in an all-male household Sundancer grew up as “one of the boys” and this was furthered by the fact that he was tall, large-boned and rough, with no noticeable feminine traits. Everybody — including his father, his siblings, his schoolmates, and even his teachers — called him 'Tom’, short for ‘tomboy’, and he would answer to no other name. He attended a small rural school, with less than 150 pupils all told. When he went on to high school, he wanted to go out for football. The principal (who was also the team coach) checked and couldn’t find any regulation specifically stating that football players had to be biologically male, and saw no reason to say no, especially since Tom had been showering with the other boys in gym class for years now, and nobody gave it the slightest thought (if anybody would have said anything Tom would probably have beat the shit out of him). In fact, he proved to be an outstanding halfback and, in his senior year, was scouted by several universities, one of which offered him a very good scholarship. At this point the principal called Tom in for a long talk and, as gently as he could, explained to him that things were different at the university level and that there was no chance he would be allowed to play football there. Tom brooded and thought about the future. Then, one day, he packed some of his clothes and, without even saying goodbye to anyone, walked down to the highway and hitched a ride in the general direction of San Francisco.

I made Sundancer promise that he would come back every year for a checkup (a promise, by the way, which he honored religiously).

CHAPTER 4: MOONCHILD’S STORY (AS TOLD BY DOC CARLSON)

I then turned to Moonchild. ‘You though that Sundancer might be pregnant. If he had been, would you have minded?’ She said that she wouldn’t, of course. ‘Would you wonder who the father was?’ She said that she imagined it would be her. By now, I was beyond surprise.

So Moonchild said that as long as I knew Sundancer’s secret, I might as well know hers too — she lifted her dress, and revealed that she was very obviously male (and quite well hung, too). And then she told me her background.

Moonchild had been born in Sandusky, Ohio, the son of a Polish construction worker. She was always small and delicate, to the disgust of her father, who was really hoping for a Bronco Nagurski or Ted Kluszewski in the family. When, during the Beatles craze, she started wearing her hair long, his father swore at her and said that he would not tolerate a sissy-boy in the family. The open warfare between father and son continued for several months, until one day the boy took whatever money he could steal from his parents, went down to the Trailways station, and caught the first bus for Chicago. When she got there, Moonchild suddenly realized how alone she was and how vulnerable. Her father would certainly call the cops and the first thing they would do would be to check the bus stations. She sat on a bench and cried, not knowing what to do, when a lady came up to her, wiped her face, and said to her “Don’t cry dear; you are a big girl. I am sure the people for whom you are waiting will be along shortly.” She thanked the lady politely. Her words suggested an idea. If a stranger mistook her for a girl, perhaps other people would too. She went down to the nearest Goodwill store and bought several loose-fitting dresses, some underwear, and a backpack to put it all in. She bought a pair of shoes too, by they didn’t fit well and she threw them away a few hours later. She then went back to the bus station and bought a ticket for San Francisco.

Sundancer and Moonchild met a few days after they arrived in the Haight-Ashbury district. Moonchild was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk, looking at the world and waiting for something to happen. She had just finished making a wreath of flowers and decided to place it on the head of the first person who would passed by — and that person happened to be Sundancer. He bent down so that she could reach him and then picked her up with both hands, raised her to his face, and kissed her tenderly. She kissed him back and thought he was the nicest man in the whole universe. They were together all day, talking very little — just holding on to each other. After midnight, they lay down on the grass in Golden Gate Park and looked into each other’s eyes. Moonchild, without even thinking where it came from, whispered into his ear ‘I want you, Sundancer’. Sundancer looked very sad, opened the top of his pants, took Moonchild’s hand, and guided it there. ‘I am sorry,’ he sighed. But Moonchild’s face just lit up. She took his hand, put it under her skirt, and guided it upwards. Suddenly his face lit up too.

After a night of love, which was new to both of them, Sundancer and Moonchild decided that God had made them just for each other and had insured that they would find each other by interchanging certain of their parts so that nobody else would have them. They vowed that they would stay together always and, moreover, would never allow time or circumstance to change them from the state of purity they felt that night. They would recreate that night again and again for the rest of their life.

And they did.”

Deputy Grant agreed that there was no reason in the world to tell anybody about Sundancer’s and Moonchild’s true sex. They wondered what to do with the bodies when the mayor of Santa Imelda knocked on the door. Several citizens had come to him and told him about the tragic death of Sundancer and Moonchild, and had praised them as unique assets to the community. They had also taken up a large collection, of which he was put in charge, to arrange for their burial in the local cemetery. That solved the problem. They had also wanted to pay for a suitable monument, but Doc suggested that planting a flower garden would be much more appropriate, and the mayor agreed.

CHAPTER 5. THE OTHER WHITE LIE (AS WRITTEN BY DOC CARLESON IN HIS PRIVATE DIARY)

“Dear Diary … I persuaded Deputy Grant to go along with one white lie, but did not tell him about the other one I told — the death of Sundancer and Moonchild was not as accidental as I wrote in my official Findings. Both of them had been in my office the day before, when I told Moonchild the results of some medical tests which I forced her to take the previous month. She had cancer of the liver, inoperable and rapidly-spreading. The several specialists I talked to all concurred that she probably had less than a month to live. They both thanked me for my efforts, and walked silently out the door. I watched through the window as Sundancer took a flower out of his hatband and put it in Moonchild's hair. They held hands. From behind, they looked just like a pair of innocent children, forever living that Summer of Love.

I am positive, though I cannot prove it, that the gas heater had been turned on, but never lit.”



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