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In February of 1972, I lived with my parents and my sister and several of my Dad’s Black Forest Rhodes bandmates and their families (and our Great Dane) in a large mansion named Seven Gables in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. On the back of photos of the house, my mom had written “Cottage Hill” (more about this historic home here)
Cottage Hill 1972
Friends from Kearny: David D. and Roy W. wrote these letters to the “Estate Dwellers” from their apartment at 473 Edinburgh, San Francisco (which I just learned is 6.8 miles from Haight Ashbury according to Google maps). I’ll just say they were clearly at Haight Ashbury in spirit. David did most of the writing. He writes about being out there, partying and contemplating his future. Apparently, my mom did the actual writing back, and I sure would love to read some of those letters! I don’t think I ever knew Dave, but I learned he struggled with drugs and alcohol for years and died too young. I only very recently relocated Roy through another friend – he’s back in California. The last time I saw him, I was about 18, and I hadn’t seen him since I was a little girl. Through the kindness of Dad’s friend Harry P., I was backstage at the Grateful Dead show in Las Vegas. I think Roy was touring with them – I walked by him and stopped in my tracks. Roy has a face you never forget! (Plus, I always thought he was really cute… somehow I have no photos of him)

When I talked with Roy recently, I asked him if he had any photos or memorabilia from “the old” days, but he told me he’d had a house fire years ago and lost all of his things. I offered to send copies of these letters to him if he wanted, for a glimpse of the past. After scanning them I had to share a little bit. Here’s a snapshot:
Envelope 1972

Feb. 1972 Dear Folks,
How are ya all. I got weird waiting for you to write back, so I decided to get a little pushy about the whole thing and write you again. Besides, as Karma would have it, I have something to say to you. First of all, to the Whites ( I guess), on Valentine’s day night, I attended a St. Valentines Massacre Party where I got all torn up on acid. At the party were a whole brood of the notorious Hog Farmers. Being as by 1 o’clock in the morning I couldn’t remember my legal name, I ended up leaving with some of these people and in the morning while having a chat with a fellow named Doug, I learned that we shared acquaintances with a rocka-rocka-group of musicians who have banded together and called themselves “Black Forest Rhodes”. He even had a button with the above name printed on it. … Anyway the whole trip was beautiful those people are the most beautiful people I have had the pleasure of meeting since I came to California. I was so spaced I barely spoke a word and probably left a very unrealistic impression as to what my personality is really like…

Black Forest Rhodes
Of the few facts I remember about the house: it had seven bathrooms(!), one of the occupants had a pet rattlesnake, and tiny mice lived in the keyhole of his door. In the letter dated Feb 1, 1972, David listed these people who I believe lived there at the time:

  • The White’s: My Dad’s bandmate Jerry and his wife and son, whose son Jason was my 1st friend.
  • The Gwnyness (sic) – one of many ways our family name Gwyn was butchered by people attempting to spell it. Mom, Dad, Alison and me.
  • Danny and Friend – not sure about them
  • Jamie & Linda – Another of Dad’s bandmates and his girlfriend or wife
  • My dad’s bandmate Tom, his wife Carole and daughter, Melissa, another of my earliest friends.
  • Mike – not sure.

Bell Bottom Beauties

I’m sure everyone pitched in around the house, I imagine the women probably did the cooking, cleaning and childrearing, and the men were in the band (only a few months prior to this, the band had opened for Bruce Springsteen while touring in Virginia and some sites in New Jersey.) Mom said the place was pretty run down when they were there. As it was, although I don’t know the exact date we left, I know they didn’t last there long. Money was short, and this was just one of the earliest of many moves we made while I was a young kid. I have only the haziest of memories of the place, and for years I wished I could go back and see it. Unfortunately, the house was torn town years ago and the estate is now a nature preserve.

Two things that strike me about these letters. One: The handwriting is so nice! I can’t even imagine a 20-something year old male being able to write such lovely flowing script today. Obviously we’ve moved into the email & texting age, and I have read about the loss of the importance of penmanship as “keyboarding” skills have supplanted it. I think it’s kind of sad, but maybe I’m just showing my age. The second thing that strikes me is the relative permanence of the letters. Email whisks across the ether and is gone. Letters take time, thought and follow-through. Then the paper, the envelope, the post mark, the small damages to the paper from handling become artifacts – evidence of past connections.

I have saved most of the letters I have received since I was about 7 years old. They fit in two small plastic boxes. I am sure I would be embarrassed to read some of the letters I sent to my friends when I was a teenager. But I think I’d be glad to know they were still around.

One Response to “Letters from San Francisco to Cottage Hill, Carlisle, PA, 1972”

  1. on 28 Mar 2009 at 3:16 am Eric Hundin

    I found your blog on MSN Search. Nice writing. I will check back to read more.

    Eric Hundin

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