I was sad to read today that Mary Travers passed away. If there was a soundtrack to my life, Peter, Paul and Mary would certainly take up lots of space. As a child in the early 70s, I remember mimeographed (yes, I meant to use that word) sheets of song lyrics that we got during the music portion of school. I think I began falling in love with poetry because of many of those lyrics; I can just see Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" in purple Courier font (but sung then by Judy Collins), along with Pete Seeger's "If I Had a Hammer" and Peter Yarrow's "Puff the Magic Dragon," both sung by Peter, Paul and Mary. (In the late 70s, when I was in 7th grade, we moved into more contemporary music: songs from Grease and lots of Billy Joel. "Movin' Out" and "Summer Lovin'" would absolutely make the soundtrack.)
But where Peter, Paul, and Mary really make an impact on my life is when I was just starting third grade. My parents went to Europe for a few weeks on business, leaving my 5th grade brother and me to stay with our oldest brother, James (then in his mid-20s), and his wife Anna. James and Anna were, without a doubt, quintessential hippies. Back then they had about 150 acres of new orchard, and they lived in the half of a barn they'd converted into a very rustic home. Anna was very good to me. I think she loved me; after all, she came into my brother's life when I was only two years old. But I was still very homesick. I missed my Mom and Dad and the comforts of my own home. Like running water and a toilet. (Did I mention very rustic?)
But I have a sweet memory from that time. (I also have some not-so-sweet ones, like when James made Stephen and me ride pigs in the rain. But that's another story.) But in this memory, I am falling asleep in a loft bed that hangs over the living room of the barn. Anna is playing Peter, Paul and Mary on the record player: "Marvelous Toy," "Puff," "Boa Constrictor," "500 Miles," "Lemon Tree," and so many more. It was the kind of music that eased the ache in my little girl's heart.
James and Anna divorced years later. The only thing I remember from high school American History class is a video of Life in the 1960s and Peter, Paul, and Mary singing their hearts out with "If I Had a Hammer." Something stirred in my soul. Later that year or the next, I saw Peter, Paul and Mary at the nearby Finger Lakes Performing Arts Center. I was in awe of these icons, these people whose voices sweetened my childhood and made me ache with the potential of poetry. I couldn't take my eyes off of them.
I saw them a couple of more times after that, but I'll never forget that first realization that these people are real. And while they certainly were part of American history, they weren't boring politicians or men in suits making policies of some sort. They sang of America and sought to bring about change and increase awareness by touching hearts with music.
I've seen a lot of Facebook tributes to Mary Travers today, most in old black and white video. But this is how I saw Mary Travers for the first time: no longer a skinny girl with long blonde hair, but a rounded woman, swaying and floating between her men.