SEPARATE WAYS (Steph and me)
Amy Penwell

Big changes on the horizon for the Hosmer (my maiden name) clan in 1980, though I suppose I could say that for any year of our history together. This particular year, a family of four from my mothers’ spiritual group came to stay with us for a while. Why? At the time I had no clear idea, or where they were going to stay. Were they going to take over my room? Or, worse yet my basement Xanadu? NOT IF I HAD ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT IT! Gratefully for me the parents gave Rick, Laura, Genie and James, my oldest sister Stephs’ room. Steph got the shit end of the stick and had to stay in Leslies’ room. These two rooms were co -joined by a folding door in the middle, which was never able to entirely close. This left Steph wide open for frequent invasions by a sister five years her junior. Big head phones were a prized possession, but when someone else laid claim to them there where other methods of escape. When sneaking up on to bug, or spy on any one of the elders who occupied the upstairs, I would often find a teenager lying on the floor, head buried in the middle of two blaring speakers. ACDC, ZZ Top, Van Halen, something by Molly Hatchet perhaps? Or now with the new edition of the disco dancing, alcoholic foster brother; Diana Ross.

The most logical place to put this family of guru
loving guests was up in Stephanie’s quarters,
for her room also possessed a small meditation hall,
well, not a hall (word used for meditation room) exactly, a closet.
On most mornings and evenings, I was made to offer a gift of fruit, or flower, to Bubba. These gifts were called prasad. At night we chanted and meditated, or in my case spaced out in utter boredom while my father had his after dinner coffee with his nightly check in with the news, or The Smithsonian. I always felt like I was doing something dirty in the closet. We would squeeze in the tiny hall, light candles and incense (which I was allergic to), hold our hands up like “Hold up your hands, or I’ll shoot position” and bow at the foot of the photo which “WAS” really an embodiment of HIM. This worship I was being taught, this Bubba being God business just didn’t take with me, though at times I pretended it did to please others, and to fit. It seemed that the kids who were experiencing some sort of ecstatic spiritual experience were getting points with the adults. Perhaps they were real for them, they just weren’t real for me. It also put a gigantic tear into the fabric of my family. To make matters worse, I was well aware that my father didn’t approve, or want anything to do with moms’ spiritual way of life…… or my new brother. It would be an understatement to say that I was conflicted about how to go from one world to the next, let alone try and integrate them. Going to the meditation closet after dinner, and disco marathons on weekends with the new brother felt like a betrayal to my father.

The meditation closet was my mothers’ equivalent of my roller rink in the basement. A Sanctuary. I, of course would rather be worshipping on wheels. I think I even came up with the idea of putting a picture downstairs. I could roll by with my new Hot Tracks record playing track 1 “Don’t Stand so Close To Me” by The Police, stop, kneel, offer my apple and be done with it. I would get my “Darshan” (a word used for blessing/receiving of grace by the guru) out of the way and move forward in the art of roller-skating. Dad wouldn’t go for it. NO guru love in the basement! Keep it all in the closet. My father died at 46 of a massive heart attack for a reason. Most of his resentment and anger was unspoken, but I could feel it all around me.

My mom always had a fire under her ass for God. She sought him out in anyway, in every church, yoga studio, or food coop in the greater New England region to find him. For some reason she found it in the eye’s of a guy named Franklin Jones also known as Bubba Free John, when some of his missionaries came to UMass Amherst from California. We made fun of this name often, though it always made me feel so guilty because it felt like such a direct insult to my mom. There was a big picture of him on the mantle in the living room right across the two framed photographs of The Red and Green Rooms of the White House that were given to my father as a gift for his work for Kennedy during his administration. The embarrassment whenever a friend came over was excruciation. I used to tell everyone that it was my Uncle, he does kind of resemble Uncle Fester from The Munster’s, but my close friends knew that it was just some weird guy that my mom felt compelled to worship more openly by the day. It didn’t help matters that his name was Bubba. This is the time when I started to lie about my life. The big cover up began. The chameleon was born. Much of what was warm and safe was eroding. I began to harden.

There were three converts in Amherst that day in 1973. They became known in the Bubba Community as “The Springfield Ladies”. My mother was the only one of these women who never looked back. She was like Bubbas’ head cheerleader. Bubba was later to have more names than I can remember, or pronounce though now I believe he goes by Adi Da. In the early eighties his name became just “Da”. It was almost like when Prince became a symbol. The “Da” came with a new symbol as well. There was some sort of transformation so deep that demanded a new name, image and island. He shaved his head, moved from the Ashram in Northern California that his devotees bought him, to a Fijian Island that once belonged to Milton Burl, and yes, the island was purchased by his devotees’ too.

This brings me to the point of why this strange family came to stay with my strange family. They were there to find an East Coast ashram. My mother was to lead them in their search, and before their three month stay was over “The Garden of Lions” was purchased. The “Garden of Lions” was a sanctuary that served as a place to educate the children of devotees, as well as, a place of communal living “Bubba” style. It was to become place of retreat, study, open worship, and of course a place to welcome their guru, though in all of it’s 10 years of operation………… he never showed. For the next four years my mother took me most weekends in our little yellow Pinto to the Catskill Mountains in up state New York. We were the pioneers. With Rick, Laura, James, and Genie (among a few other faithful) we got the place ready for the bus load of children who arrived later on that year to a property with a bunch of old, shabby cabins, a scary hotel that looked like it could have been in “The Shining”, a broken down swimming pool, and some ratty-ass basket ball courts. Not sure what all their parents said to sell them on it, but the overall sentiment when they arrived was “You gotta be fucken kidding me!”

The youngest children were 6, the oldest 16. It was like a spiritual version of the “Bad News Bears, or Meatballs.” It was two and half hours away from my home, my father, disco dancing, roller skating, sugar, and any thing I considered to be normal, but it was for the most part just on weekends. For these guys it was three thousand miles away without any parents, for an indefinite period of time, which for any child I know, is torture. Journeys’ Escape album came out around this time. I used to listen to “Separate Ways” over and over again and get weepy. A six year old can get sentimental about the past. I still get sad when I here it….and yes, I still love Steve Perry! Wow, I feel better for telling you that.

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