Left in Andover: A short history of hitting the road

By Susan Leader
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The only thing I really miss about my hitchhiking days in the late ‘60s and ‘70s was the space it offered to interact constantly with people of all different walks of life. Swapping stories face to face with the people who stopped to give me rides established a trust with “the other,” which is often difficult to replicate these days.

My first long distance hitchhiking trip was as a high school senior in early 1969 when my 14 year old brother and I thumbed out to Yellow Springs, Ohio, for my obligatory “campus tour” at Antioch College.

Susan in a college day photo from 1970.

A hard driving salesman going 80 mph in a Lincoln Continental picked us up in Syracuse on the New York Thruway, then dropped us off around 2 a.m. at a restricted access rest stop outside Cleveland. After crossing the overhead pedestrian bridge to the official “hot shoppe” located on the Rte 90 eastbound side, my brother and I spent the remainder of the night sitting in a booth concocting tomato “soup” from ketchup packets and water.

At daybreak we crossed back over to the westbound lanes where we quickly scored our next ride, arriving in Yellow Springs that evening. Ralph and Lila Templin, Dad’s surrogate parents from his School of Living days (hyperlink to “Warp, weft and spinning a life“ Chester Telegraph, 9/30/19)  who had moved nearby, were delighted to put us up for the two nights we remained in town. The trip back home was uneventful, and I matriculated at Antioch a few months later.

For the next three years, Ohio was my jumping off place for multiple adventures on the open road as I set off in all directions to explore America. Hitchhiking, besides providing free transportation, served as a testing ground for my self-reliance, as well as a way to test the goodwill of the world at large, both longhair and otherwise.

Wedding invitation for Herb and Miriam Leader.

March 17, 1971, found me late sophomore year by the side of the road in Indiana with a fellow student, writing a letter home that included details concerning my itinerary as well as an inventory of my knapsack:

“Well, here I am in Indiana, got one ride here from Ohio. Then planning to head south to New Mexico to the desert to check out Pueblo pottery villages. In my pack right now I have 10 oranges, 10 carrots, 2 cans celery juice, 2 pounds Brazil nuts, 3 pounds soaked and roasted soybeans and a couple loaves unyeasted brick bread I made. Also, 12 sesame candies and 20 little packets of $.03 Hawaiian honey. This oughta last awhile. Also, two underwear, 1 sweater, a sweatshirt, a turtleneck, a vest, blue jeans, and a madras dress. I am wearing everything except extra underwear and sweater. It is brisk but sunny. We are now in a ride from Indianapolis to St. Louis with a black dude and a white dude, very collegiate, both from Yale…p.s. I forgot my IDs so if the cops call you about me, that’s why.”

Nine days later, I sent this postcard home:

“Hung around Albuquerque then south to Elephant Butte Reservoir near Truth or Consequences. Then north to hippie heaven Jemez Hot Springs where we slept in a cave and sat in hot water for a couple of days. I made a pot out of some clay there and fired it in our cedar wood campfire, and it got quite vitrified. Then came down spectacular mountains, snow volcano crater to Los Alamos, went to visit San Il Defonso, where famous Pueblo potter Maria makes her black ware. Plan to get to Denver Sunday night at the latest. I was sitting in the hot springs thinking about Mom and what she should do next: this is a serious proposition. You and I should go hitchhike around the country this summer. You’d dig it.”

Herbert & Miriam Bergman Leader’s wedding portrait, December 1945.

Inviting Mom on a grand hitchhiking tour of America with me was not a totally off the wall idea.

Fifty years after the fact, Mom wrote the following screenplay dramatizing a scene from her fancy New Rochelle wedding reception on Dec. 28, 1945.

“Miriam, I can’t stand these stupid wedding receptions. How about if we slip away now and get started on our wedding trip,” the groom queries, looking awkward in his new dark brown suit.

“What’s your hurry, Herb?” replies the bride. She is wearing a two-piece aqua ensemble chosen by her mother. They are both dying to get out of this situation, but at the same time tempted to stay by the array of delicious refreshments.

“Miriam, it’s after 2 p.m. already and you know it gets dark so early in December. We should just take off.”

“Oh dear, I hate to leave now, Herb. Do you think they’ll miss us?”

“They’ll never know the difference. Say good-bye to your folks and we’ll hit the road, okay?”

Reluctantly, Miriam agrees. “But Herb, do you realize they spent two hundred and seventy five dollars on the wedding and everything? I don’t think it’s right for us to skip out.”

“Two hundred seventy- five dollars,” Herb bursts out, “That’s shocking. Think what we could have done with that amount. Well, anyway, can you be ready to go in five minutes?”

“I should think ten or fifteen would be more like it. I still have to pack my knapsack.”

“Don’t take anything much, Miriam. And don’t forget your long winter underwear. I’ll meet you on the corner of North Avenue in ten minutes.

Party favor from the Leaders’ wedding.

“All right, but first I am going to find my folks.”

Miriam threads her way through groups of guests, and finds her parents. “Listen, Mom and Dad. We gotta go now. Thanks so much for everything you have done for us. We have a long trip ahead of us, and we want to reach our friends’ farm tonight.”

The mother of the bride responds in a controlled tone of voice, “How are you traveling, dear?”

The reply comes casually, “We’re hitchhiking, of course, Mother.”

Trying to look unconcerned, Mrs. Bergman responds, “Well, my darling, I don’t wish to interfere, but couldn’t you at least take the bus?”

“I don’t think so,” Miriam parries. “Hitching is much faster, Mom. Please don’t worry about us, we always hitchhike.”

“Just one thing, Miriam. I want you to be sure to take this little box with you,” replies her mother, “It might come in handy.”

The rest of the story is Leader family lore. Several perfect rides with a baker and a wine salesman, among others, topped off by an hourlong hike through a blizzard, the newlyweds arrived around midnight on the Suffern, N.Y., doorstep of Dad’s friends Ralph and Lila Templin.

Miriam Leader hitchhiking in front of Popplewood Farm, Andover, 1979.

After Ralph poked up some embers in the fireplace and a motherly Lila fixed a toast with the wine and bread Mom and Dad had been gifted in the course of the afternoon, it was time for bed. The problem was that neither Ralph, a retired minister, nor Lila actually believed their erstwhile protégée and his attractive date were legally married.

Just then, Mom remembered the little box my grandmother had foisted upon her. As it happens, it contained a piece of the wedding cake, evidence enough of the marriage. With that, the honeymooners were dispatched to a far bedroom of the old farmhouse. Mom recalled she could see her breath in the air and the inside of the window was covered in frost. Those long winter underwears never came off that night.

This true story had a happy ending. However, I have complete confidence that, had my newlywed parents failed to reach their intended destination that night, they would have found safe harbor in any number of remote, frosty farmhouses.

Such is the hospitality of the open road.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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  1. Love your stories Susan! My long-distance hitch-hiking adventure was in the spring of ’74 from Burlington to New Hampshire to pick up a new pack basket, to Minnesota to visit a friend then to Denver and Arizona to attend my best friend’s wedding. Then onto San Diego to see Mom and family, then up through California to Oregon where I stayed for 10 days (debated staying permanently) and then back to Vermont. 72 rides total, including a couple guys who claimed to be producers of Sesame Street in a big blue Lincoln. 😉