In the summer of 1974, over the objections of my parents, my sister G. and her friend D. set off on a long bicycle trip to New England. Their ambition was adventure and a much needed change of scenery from the dead-end job she had been working in central Pennsylvania.
My parents feared for two 19-year-old girls out on the road alone, and with more reason than any of us could imagine at the time. Of course the obvious danger for any young women traveling alone was to encounter a man with ill intentions; this was probably what my father feared most. He could not have imagined the real dangers that waited for them at a festival in a park in Amherst, Mass., one sunny summer day.
The Celebration of Life seemed like a hippie fest—free food, free drink, and a message of love and acceptance for anyone who cared to stay and hear. D., the worldly skeptic, had no great attraction to the raggedy kids who preached the gospel of love and peace that day; G. was a different story.
“They all seemed so happy,” G. told me later. “I had to find out why.”