Breaking Away

Dana Spiotta:

MY parents were not hippies. We were a deeply conventional, middle-class American family, but my clean-cut mother and father tried to embrace, in a haphazard and innocent way, the values of the counterculture — at least enough to send me, their moody 14-year-old daughter, alone on a four-week bike trip through Greece.
My parents always approached my sister and me with an open-mindedness that was part idealism and part indulgence. So even when we were tiny, they let us stay up with the adults. We drifted off to sleep on various laps amid the murmur of late-night conversation. We attended an experimental school that, in sixth grade, gave us the option of studying math or doing book reports. (To this day, I don’t really understand fractions.) We were the only ones in our suburban neighborhood who ate brown bread and made yogurt.
My housewife mother was never without makeup and high heels, but she wanted to be sure I was raised with the hard-won feminist insistence on limitless possibility. So we listened to Marlo Thomas’s record “Free to Be You and Me,” her effort to instill women’s lib in the coming generation.
Later, we sang along to Carole King and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” My sister and I would perform the entire rock opera during car rides on our summer vacations.
Those vacations consisted exclusively of visits to our relatives, often at a rented house at the Jersey Shore. There I would tag along after my older sister and my older cousins as they discussed boyfriends and rock ’n’ roll. They wore gauze blouses and tousled Stevie Nicks perms.
And then my cousins became teenagers and they began to go on bike trips, with others their own age, to exotic places like France or the Netherlands. And whichever cousin went off would come back transformed: fit, tan, smoking clove cigarettes, carrying tooled-leather items and wearing a seen-it-all continental daze that never appeared in suburbia.

About Dana Spiotta