My mother is in mourning. Scott McKenzie, singer of the generational anthem "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)," has passed. While McKenzie virtually epitomized the one-hit wonder* phenomenon, what a hit it was.
That either the song, or its singer's passing, should matter to my mother is more than just a bit of a curiosity. She was born in 1965, which would have made her no more than two years old at the height of the song's popularity. My mother was a child of the sixties only in the most literal of senses. She didn't reach adulthood until the eighties. How would she even have known of this song in its time, much less have been defined or even influenced by it?
My mother's life, like many others, is a study in contradictions. The daughter of an Air Force Academy graduate, officer, and pilot, she was the youngest of seven children. As such, she was exposed through her older siblings to popular music from infancy, and as a highly precocious child, she picked up on what she heard. My mom was born about sixteen years too late to have been a proper hippie. She should have been living in Haight-Ashbury in 1967, attending anti-war protests and performing in music festivals. Instead she was plucking yellow dandelions from the grass to place in her waist-length two-year-old hair, rendered brushable only through the grace God and liberal application of No More Tangles, and which she steadfastly refused to allow anyone to cut.
According to her older brothers and sisters, my mother used her Milton Bradley watercolor set to paint posters adorned with peace symbols and flowers, bearing the words "Make Love, Not War," when she was not yet three years old, many years before the ramifications of the term "make love" would dawn upon her. This would have been especially ironic, given that even as she painted her watery pastel posters while sitting on sidewalks outside the base housing she occupied with her own mother and six older siblings, her father was across the world, flying bomb-laden Air Force jets over Viet Nam.
In many military families, my mother's actions might have been seen as either rebellious or unpatriotic behavior, and would therefore have been immediately squelched. My grandparents, however, were likewise anomalous, especially considering their time and place. While my mom's father knew that, as having received a military education, he was compelled to put in a requisite number of years to the U. S. Air Force to the extent of fighting a war he did not wholly support, it did not necessarily follow that his children, even the preschoolers among them, would blindly support all military actions. Although my mom and her siblings were expected to be respectful of all adults in their world, including or perhaps especially those in their military communities, their opinions were their own, and they were allowed -- even encouraged -- to respectfully express them. My mom said she had no clue as to just how unusual was her upbringing, and just how blessed she was as a result of her parents' open-mindedness, until she counseled college students brought up in more typically restrictive military environments while completing her graduate studies in psychology.
So my mom, one of the youngest hippies of her time, wore and continues to wear her hair long, though not all the way to her waist anymore. She likewise continues to hold pacifist -- though not to the extreme -- beliefs. One of her fondest memories is of having attended an anti-Gulf-War demonstration with her father, who by that time had retired from the Air Force, gone on to a career as a commercial pilot, and retired from that as well. My grandfather would only live for roughly another year after that day the two of them spent together in the name of peace. He died of pancreatic cancer two years to the day before my twin brother and I were born, which makes me sad. From everything I've heard about my grandfather, he was a person I truly wish I'd known.
For the first time I can recall in many years, my mom wore a flower in her hair today, presumably in memory of the recently departed peace-espousing troubadour. Rest in peace, Scott McKenzie.
* McKenzie followed up his iconic single with "Like an Old Time Movie," which received little air time . More significantly, he wrote the Beach Boys' 1986 hit, "Kokomo." As a solo recording artist, however, the "one-hit wonder" moniker stands.