You might have known a lot during our heyday as young baby boomers, the Sixties, but how much did you really understand? That’s what Chico, California’s Gwen Willadsen writes about in Summer of Love.

It was the Summer of 1967. The song San Francisco told us to be sure to wear flowers in our hair. Haight Ashbury was the center of Love-ins where politics, music, drugs, and sex were plentiful. Males and females sported long hair.

The Beatles on their Magical Mystery Tour.

A sophomore in college, I was naïve, raised in a conservative family in a white suburb of San Diego. Attending San Diego State College, I felt we were finally taking part in student radicalism when we boycotted the parking lots because of new parking policies. It was the closest we came to a Berkeley protest and I felt empowered, remonstrating by parking off-campus.

One Sunday afternoon my friends and I went to a church picnic. While returning we noticed a sign saying “Love-In” at a park we passed.

We said “Hey, cool. Let’s go in and see what’s going on.” We knew about wearing flowers in your hair, long granny dresses, and love songs we sang with the radio.

We drove through the park and saw people kicked back, grooving on cool music. It looked hip. We didn’t stay long but were excited that we had actually gone to a Love-In, as sung about on the radio.

Returning home, I enthusiastically told my parents that we had gone to a Love-In. Their reaction shocked me. They were upset and said the people at Love-Ins were on drugs.

1967 – The Summer of Love. The Charlatans perform at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
Photo by Jim Marshall.

Now I was shocked. How could I be so naïve? I spent my time with kids from church, and at nineteen had not encountered drugs. My only drug education was a one hour assembly in high school my senior year, a film about marijuana.

Now I began to find out what the lyrics of songs meant. Love wasn’t just love; it was sex. Magical Mystery Tour was not a Disneyland ride but a drug trip. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was LSD, not a star-struck newly engaged girl. A Little Help From My Friends was not an encouraging word to help you through difficult days.

Gwen Willadsen

While my eyes opened to pop culture references, I did not knowingly find myself in the company of drugs for another three years. I tried marijuana, but maintained my belief that I was better off without drugs.

I left my car with my parents while I went to Europe. Afterward, my mom told me my stepdad had my car cleaned and they found a joint in it. I had once given a guy a ride and as he got out of the car he put a joint in the ashtray. I had forgotten about it. My response to Mom was, “Better in the ashtray than smoked.”

Some may think I missed out on really experiencing the Sixties, but I have no regrets. I learned enough to know, by odor, when my son tried to trick me by leaving a bag of oregano in his room. Who knew that I was gaining parental skills when I took a drag from that roach?

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