I have written about my mother-in-law in previous posts. She is a unique personality, and there are a number of family anecdotes illustrating her approach to life. This is one of those stories...
It was spring 1970. The beautiful budding greenery went unnoticed by my friends and me that year as most people over the age of (probably) 12 became embroiled in the current events of the time. The events awakened the political interest of some, inspired many, and touched everyone, young and old, in every corner of the country, including students at a quiet women’s college and a technical university in an old, decaying, sleepy city along the river in upstate New York.
On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd demonstrating against the Vietnam War at Kent State University. Four people were killed and nine wounded. Controversy still surrounds the exact sequence of events. What is not questioned is the impact that episode had on our country.
Opposition to the Vietnam War was not new, but opponents were getting more vocal and angrier. The political powers at the time did not understand the movement or know how to handle young hippie-looking, politically aware and concerned young citizens.
Most college students were busily completing papers, studying for finals and generally winding down as the spring semester came to an end. Students were politically conscious, but spring in the United States was much closer than the fighting halfway around the world. The beautiful weather beckoned students outdoors and away from studies, and we sometimes complied. Thoughts and deeds centered more on dating and studying than demonstrating.
My college town and the small school I attended hugged the river. The town rose steeply almost straight up a long hill. At the top of the hill was another college, a technical university actually. My girlfriends and I had some contact with the inhabitants on the hill, sometimes dating the students, attending concerts and sports games, and visiting a particular dorm where my girlfriend’s brother and his friends resided.
One warm spring afternoon a few days after Kent State semester-ending activities were taking place on the hill. The football field was taken over by ROTC for their end of year ceremony. ROTC – Reserve Officer Training Corps – had in recent years become a controversial group as anti-war sentiment spilled over onto college campuses.
The bucolic campus was not immune to the problems sweeping the country. Although a conservative enclave, there were demonstrators eager to make their position known.
My girlfriends and I were invited to watch the ROTC ceremony; my girlfriend’s brother’s roommate was leading the parade. We walked up the hill and decided to watch the events from a knoll overlooking the football stadium. Three of us settled down on a grassy area. Before we knew it anti-war demonstrators surrounded us. We did not mind. We were happy to let them do their thing while we sprawled and did our thing.
ROTC activities began on the field, band playing, people marching, speeches given. The protesters intensified their efforts, chanting anti-war slogans and waving placards. It was all very civilized, non-threatening yet dramatic.
Suddenly in the midst of the demonstration a slim woman, about five feet two or three inches tall appeared. Dressed in a sleeveless dress, white with large colored polka-dots, she grabbed a placard from one of the demonstrators and began beating him on the head with it, shouting things like, “if you don’t like things move to Canada” –or something like that. I do not remember exactly what was said. I doubt anybody does.
Everyone froze. The demonstrators, otherwise known as the conservative, clean-shaven, short-haired, neatly dressed kids next door, well-behaved and non-threatening (future engineers), stopped walking around, chanting, talking. They just stood still and stared.
The woman stopped after a few minutes and stalked off. Who was that crazy lady?
The events on the hill went unnoticed by the folks on the field. The ceremonies continued, we watched, the events concluded, and we walked over to the dorm to meet the guys and tell them about our bizarre experience.
The guys were congregating in one of the dorm rooms. We entered and began in great detail narrating the tale of the peculiar woman who disrupted the anti-war demonstration. In the middle of our rant, a party of parents and children walked into the room.
The woman who appeared before us was the now-infamous crazy lady of head-bashing fame. We – the three of us gesturing and expressively relaying events that had just occurred – froze – again. We stared, our mouths open, at the woman in the polka-dot dress.
A couple of years later, in an official ceremony presided over by a rabbi, witnessed by about 120 people, she became my mother-in-law.