i’m neither psychologist nor psychiatrist. some theorize that who we are is determined when we’re very young; others that our core beliefs and values aren’t fully formed until we’re nearly 20. i affirm that who i am has been shaped, in great part, by those who’ve touched my heart and left an indelible imprint.
at the tender age of eight, as told in previous tales, i began to spend a portion of my summers at girl scout camp. shy, i hung back from large groups of campers, happier to find a few friends with whom i shared burning passions. like cooking over an open flame. and paddling. and music. whether singing grace at the dining hall or songs around the campfire, i poured my heart and soul into every word and note. camp became the wellspring of my repertoire.
in my naivete, i didn’t realize that what i identified as girl scout songs were actually contemporary folk songs. songs that were the expressions of an American generation who wanted to make a difference. weaving the harmonies and the fabric of the stories were Peter, Paul and Mary. and Mary Travers became a role model for this young scout.
i didn’t have her long, straight blonde hair or signature bangs. her willowy form. or her vocal chops. but i did have a burning admiration for her spirit and conviction. she influenced the kind of music i listened to then—and to this day. courageously, she taught me the importance of openly and honestly expressing my point of view. and by exuding a sense of confidence, she inspired me to take a step out of the shadows—at least every now and then.
as an undergraduate, i began to listen to Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. but i never left Mary behind (Peter and Paul came along, too). i continued to sing the songs, accompanying myself on my too-large Gibson J55 wide-body acoustic. and when i became a camp counselor, i passed on the folk tradition to newbie scouts. If I Had a Hammer. Blowin’ in the Wind. 500 Miles. (i hope you’ll take the time to go see and listen to some of the original videos; they’re so great.)
i was traveling last week when i heard of Mary’s passing. as i watched the CNN ticker pass across the bottom of the screen, vivid memories of Mary and of her impact on my life brought tears and a huge lump in my throat. for the last week, i’ve flipped through the channels night after night, hoping that someone would broadcast a tribute to my folk hero. media disappointment prompted me to seek out YouTube videos and to watch a 2004 PBS special i had recorded last spring (Peter, Paul and Mary: Carry it on, a musical legacy). the passion and commitment expressed through Mary’s music will live on. in me. and in all those others to whom she was a divine inspiration.