Hardy Phillips was shaken out of his sleep early in the morning. Annoyed and angry, he opened his eyes to see his older brother Chris staring down at him.
Chris had undergone a transformation in the past year or so - his Wally Cleaver haircut replaced by a John Lennon-like mop of shoulder length hair. He also hadn't shaved in a few months. His khakis and sports shirts had long been replaced by jeans and tee shirts.
"Come on," Chris said. "You're coming with me and Lola."
"Where?" Hardy asked with confusion as he sat up in his bed, rubbing his eyes.
"Paradise," Chris replied with a grin.
"For how long?" Hardy asked, squinting.
"The summer," Chris replied.
"What?" Hardy frowned. "I can't leave for the entire summer."
"You want to hang around here watching Ma get drunk every day and Dad riding your ass?"
"No," Hardy admitted.
"Ma says it's okay as long as you're back in time for school," Chris told him. "Pack your stuff. You can use Uncle Steve's Navy Sea Bag."
"I don't know if..."
"I do," Chris interrupted. "Trust me, you'll thank me later. You've got fifteen minutes. We'll be in the van."
Chris disappeared from the room, leaving a perplexed Hardy behind trying to figure out what in the hell to make of any of this.
At nineteen, Chris had just finished his freshman year at Green College which gave him a draft deferment from the Vietnam War. He was supposed to work at the pickle factory again for the summer but he somehow convinced their parents to let him be a 'free spirit' and work on a farm with some friends in Vermont.
Sixteen year old Hardy was destined to pick tobacco for another summer, grunge work but at least he was with friends and making a little bit of money, but now his brother was kidnapping him for an unspecified road trip adventure.
Hardy was admittedly intrigued by the prospect of getting out of town and doing something different for a change, but he worried about his parents and he was uncertain about Chris' plan. While it would be cool to head out in the VW Bus with Chris and Lola instead of being a captured passenger in his mother's Country Squire station wagon, Hardy wondered if he'd get homesick being gone for so long.
Hardy slipped out of bed and threw some clothes on before cleaning out his drawers, stuffing his belongings into Uncle Steve's sea bag. He pulled out his old Dudley Do Right Lunch Box from his closet and fished out all of his savings which he stuffed into the sea bag, peeling out twenty bucks which he placed in his wallet.
He was wearing a pair of Levi jeans and a gray sweatshirt, inside out with the long sleeves cut off, and a pair of PF Flyer sneakers.
Hardy glanced at himself in the mirror. His hair was looking a little scraggly because he hadn't gotten it cut since early May but with school out there was no hurry for a trim. He took a sentimental look around his room - it was comfortable and familiar but home recently hadn't been the best of times.
His older sister Mary Lou was already a young widow with a two year old to care for, her husband John a casualty of the war even though the Sailor was supposed to be 'safe' on an aircraft carrier off the coast of 'Nam (he was killed in a flight deck mishap).
Hardy's brother Pete voluntarily enlisted in the Army when John died and he just shipped out for Vietnam which was one of the (many) reasons his mother was drinking more. Their Dad, a World War II solider in Europe, was proud of both John and Pete, but he was at odds with Chris, a self-proclaimed pacifist and anti-war enthusiast. Also, it was clear that their parents weren't getting along very well with all the stress taking place in the family.
Maybe getting out of the house and away from home for a while would be a good thing, even if Hardy would miss his pals. There was something intriguing about disappearing without explanation and he liked the idea of his friends left behind to figure out the mystery.
Hardy slugged the sea bag over his shoulder and trotted down the stairs to the kitchen. His insurance salesman father was seated at the kitchen table reading the morning paper and sipping from a cup of coffee while his mother was standing with her back to the counter, also drinking coffee.
"Don't do anything stupid," his father warned. "Stay out of trouble and make sure your brother does the same."
"Yes Sir," Hardy replied.
"Do you want some breakfast?" His mother asked.
"No, they're waiting," Hardy said, grabbing a donut from the box on the counter.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" His mother worried.
"It beats tobacco, Mom," Hardy replied. "I'll be fine. I'll be sure to call if there are any problems."
She gave him a hug. "Write too," she said.
His father gave Hardy a stern look. "The world is going to hell," he cautioned. "Be careful. Be smart. Remember who you are."
"I will, Dad," Hardy promised.
Chris beeped the horn out in the driveway.
"Education happens beyond the classroom," His father said. "Learn. Observe. Pay attention. Use your common sense and good judgement. You'll come back having seen the world beyond Hillsboro."
"I will, Dad."
"Your brother thinks he has all the answers but you'll both discover there's always a lot to learn," his father said.
"Okay, Dad, thanks for giving me the opportunity," Hardy said with sincerity.
"Don't forget why I'm letting you do this," He father scowled. "Come back smarter."
Hardy's mother gave him another hug. "Be careful," she pleaded.
"I'm not going off to war, Mom," Hardy laughed.
"America has become its own battlefield," his father told him.
Hardy gave a nod and left the house with the sea bag, climbing into the back of the yellow and white VW Bus. Most of the back was just a rug on the floor with a side bench behind the driver and passenger's seat. Chris and Lola's luggage and other belongings for the trip were piled against the back.
Lola turned and gave him a smile. "Hey," she said.
"Hi," Hardy replied.
Lola's real name was Louise - she changed it recently to go with her new look - long hair, long dresses, flowers in her hair, and hair under her armpits. She had dropped out of Elms College and had been working in one of the hippie stores near the Green College campus but now she was heading off to a Vermont farm with Chris and his kid brother.
"I can't believe Dad is letting me go with you guys," Hardy said as Chris backed the van out of the driveway.
"He thinks the empty house will help Ma 'get better'," Chris said, rolling his eyes. "Now she'll just drink unabated."
"Mary Lou might be coming back," Hardy said.
"As if that's going to help," Chris said, shoving an 8 track tape of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band into the 8 track player.
"What else you got?" Hardy asked.
Lola handed him a black case of tapes. Hardy saw Jefferson Airplane, The Mothers of Invention, The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Beach Boys, The Beatles' Revolver, The Kinks, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, and Cream among Chris' collection.
"This should keep us entertained," Hardy said.
"He wouldn't let me bring my stuff," Lola complained.
"We're not listening to Sonny and Cher, Barbra Streisand, Nancy Sinatra, and Petula Clark all summer," Chris replied.
Lola spent the next several miles rolling some joints in her lap. She offered one to Hardy who declined so she and Chris lit up and smoked a joint as Chris drove them north into Vermont.
"The next part of the interstate into Vermont should be open in a year or two," Chris remarked.
"I like the back roads better," Lola said. "There's more to see."
"And a lot slower," Chris said.
Hardy glanced out the window at the passing scenery. He wasn't in any hurry anyway.