Greenstock Nation captures love and lightning in a bottle

by Ogi Overman

The desk clerk at the City Hotel & Bistro was tying himself in knots trying to describe the steady stream of folks checking in and gathering in the lounge.

“It’s some kind of reunion,” he said, “but it’s not exactly a class reunion. It has something to do with 1969, and I think a lot of them went to East Carolina, but not all of them. They mentioned Woodstock, but also something about Greenstock, whatever that is. But, hey, they all seem to know each other and sure are having a good time.”

Indeed, they were partying like it was 1969. Well, not exactly. For starters, no one was doing any acid, mescaline, mushrooms, psilocybin, MDA or other psychedelic substances, and no aromatic herb was detected wafting through the hotel. No Allman Brothers or Cream or Hendrix or Zeppelin or Dead or Creedence was blaring, although a few of them did cluster up and break out some Jackson Browne, CSNY and Gram Parsons a capella harmonies. And no one got naked.

But other than that — and, of course, the gray and/or bald heads, the Nixonian jowls, the paunches and spare tires, the wrinkles, the trifocals and other telltale signs of advancing age — this bunch of aging hippies were frozen in time. For this one weekend they were reliving an era that could not be recreated, even though some latter day flower children, God bless ’em, are giving it their best shot. Most had not seen each other in close to four decades, yet the years and miles melted away the moment their eyes met. In fact, perhaps the only way many of them recognized each other (aside from Facebook) was the sparkle in their eyes and the mischievous grins spread wide across their faces. With a few exceptions, the shoulderlength hair was long gone, as were the bell-bottoms, tie-dyed T-shirts, beads, turquoise jewelry and all the other identifying trademarks that branded us as freaks, weirdos, peaceniks, radicals and members of the counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s. It took mere moments for the initial shock of seeing what 40 years will do to a body to wear off, followed instantly and instinctively by the hugs, back-slapping, laughter, convivial chatter and then more hugs. It was as though we picked up right where we left off, the passage of years swept away, teleported back to that sweetest of times.

I saw the phrase “unrepentant hippie” used in a story awhile back, and have used it a few times since myself, but I’d be willing to bet that the scribe who coined it had no first-hand knowledge of what it meant to be a hippie. To repent implies regret and sorrow, and the only thing I regret about that era is that we let it die. We went our separate ways, began living our separate lives and, in the process, allowed ourselves to become separate not only from each other but from the very ideals that had brought us together in the first place. If anyone is waiting for me to apologize for adhering to the notions of peace, love and the brotherhood of man, they’d best bring a lantern and a lunch, because they’re in for a long wait. Yes, I’ve made amends for some things I’ve done in my life, but being a member of Woodstock

Nation was not on my 8 th -step list.

As I look back over my adult life, I’ve been given many blessings. Likewise, as I ponder my childhood, I’m grateful for having been reared in a loving and nurturing home. Yet, it’s that period in between the two, that cusp of emerging adulthood when the future was ours to seize — that is the period that shaped and molded the person I was to become. Not to diminish anything that happened prior or hence, but it was that narrow window of place and time when the perfect storm of events coalesced to produce “the sixties” that made that era unique. It all had to happen at exactly the time and in the exact order it did for it to galvanize a generation. It had to be the population bulge of baby boomers; it had to be the Beatles; it had to be Vietnam and the civil rights movement; it had to be drugs and hair and Woodstock.

It was a once-in-forever capturing of love and lightning in a bottle. It happened internationally, but for maybe a thousand of us, it happened in Greenville. And for that sliver of time, it was pure, untarnished magic.

The Greenville we knew is, of course, long gone, the sleepy downeast town supplanted by a bustling city. Fourth Street, ground zero of Greenville hippiedom, is but a memory. But for those of us who lived it and lived to tell about it, the love is just as real, perhaps even stronger, deeper and more genuine now, with the wisdom that ten thousand sunrises and sunsets brings.

That love never failed us, brothers and sisters. And now I know it never will.