"Why are those people wearing so much clothes, Grampa?”
I could guess which picture he was looking at without looking up from my potting. “Well, that’s a long story, Zak.
“Couldn’t you tell me a short story?”
I laughed. “Not easily, no.”
“Was it a costume party?”“No, I’m sure it wasn’t.”My four-year-old great-great-grandnephew was pouring thru the tattered photo album that hadsurvived the shift intact. Our extended family was out puttering in the solarium, enjoying an unseasonably warm November day on our island village.It was too nice a day to wear clothes—so we weren’t.
The album brimmed with family photos, some going back to the 1870s. The black-and-white picture I was sure piqued his interest showed a family reunion of my great aunts and uncles on my father’s side, circa 1900. Standing woodenly by a lakeshore on a nice—if not downright hot—day, they were mysteriously draped in reams of heavy dark cloth. Every younger person seeing that photo invariably asks same question.
“They sure look like they’d be happier without all those clothes on, don’t they?” he said more than asked.
I agreed absently as I transplanted a batch of velvety tricolor violets to a waiting flower bed.
I heard him turning more pages. “Now they look happy,” he said. Curiosity peaked, I shuffled over. Again, I was almost certain I knew which picture he was looking at. I was right. He was gazing at a 1930s-vintage photo of Zep, my great-uncle on my mother’s side, along with friends: They were wearing no clothes, peacefully sitting on rocks beside a creek, faces wreathed in smiles as if safeguarding some wondrous secret. He flipped back to the first picture (I was right about that, too), returned to the second, flipped back to the first again. “How come they’re wearing so much clothes?
”I stopped work awhile and tried explaining how things were in the old world, how Uncle Zep and friends were the rare, rare exception; that, apart from bathing and playing a favorite grown-up game in the bedroom, most everyone kept their bodies covered, hidden from each other and themselves, regardless of weather or place.
“Huh? Hide our bodies? That sounds silly. Why do that?”
I’d thought about that question plenty over the years. “There were lots of reasons. Like I say, it’s a long story. That’s just how things were.”
He had a sudden thought, as if hoping to explain their odd behavior. “Were they playing hide-and-seek?”
I chuckled. Maybe Zak was maybe on to something. “You might say that—but they weren’t having much fun at it. It was a serious game. So serious, people who didn’t play by the rules could go to jail.”
“Yow! That doesn’t sound like any fun. He flipped a page. Who’s that man?” He pointed to a photo of Chester, an overweight distant cousin of mine, logger by trade. He was munching on what looked like a double-cheese hamburger, a pack of cigarettes protruded from his shirt pocket, a bottle of beer stood beside him and concrete jungle of a city looming beyond. I’d almost thrown the picture out; it reminded me of a time I’d hoped to forget. Now I was glad I’d kept it, as it showed what a paltry lifestyle many people led then. I couldn’t have asked for a better example of decadent living.
“That sorry reprobate was one of your distant relatives.”
“What’s a wepobrate?”
“Let’s just say he was one foolish man who didn’t know better then to come out of the rain. He died in his fifties, well before his time, from lung cancer, sclerosis of the liver or heart disease—one of the above. That thing he’s eating? Oh…you probably don’t want to know.”
“Yes, I do, tell me.”
“Well…remember now, you asked. It’s a sandwich made of …well, made of ground-up cow.”
Zak’s whole demeanor changed; he looked stricken. “He ate animals?”
“I’m afraid so.” Most all of us did back then, myself included, for a while."
“You did, too? Why? Did they let you?” I could tell he was in shock, and I regretted telling him, even tho he had to learn sooner or later. Now I had no choice now but to try and explain.
“No, they didn’t have any say in the matter. People killed them first, and they didn’t like that at all. We thought we had to, for health reasons, that plant foods alone weren’t enuf. You were thought weird if you didn’t eat them. Like always wearing clothes, it was just the way things were.” I sighed, remembering how peculiar life was then; I hadn’t thought about the old world in a while. “People back then didn’t care if animals had feelings or not—I suppose they liked to think they didn’t. They just knew they liked eating them, so they paid others to kill them, where they didn’t have to see it, and bring their cut-up bodies to grocery stores.”
He looked at me with a pained understanding. Zak had piercing blue eyes that quickly saw to the heart of things. I suddenly felt like someone who’d survived an unspeakable past of flesh-eating cults. “You sure lived in strange times, didn’t you, Grampa,” he concluded. I agreed. They were strange days indeed.
“Hey, mom, what’s for dinner? We’re not having animal, are we?”
“No... Oh, what’s he been telling you now?”
Later, Zak’s questions weighed on me. Why did we wear all those clothes? And why did we eat animals? We’ve lived so long in a freebody andplant-diet culture it’s easy for young ones to assume we’ve never lived otherwise.
I resolved, then and there, in the spirit of understanding bygone eras—and indulge my writing penchant—to commit to pen and paper my recollections of those strange times. I wanted to explain to current adult generations why, amid other absurdities, being naked was deemed a crime; tell how freer spirits coped with it; and explain why some felt the need to devour part of an animal carcass before thinking they’d had a real meal.
The way I saw it, both age-old cultural habits stemmed from the same profound disconnect from nature.
Somehow, mankind took a grievous detour from living the way we were meant to on our fair green planet, and hadone helluva time finding the way back.Most people,acquiescing to the sad situation over long millennium, didn’t think anything amiss—which is what made our journey so…interesting.
With both clothes-wearing and meat-eating habits deeply ingrained in most of our cultures, we dealt with the hypnosis of social conditioning—what Deepak Chopra called “…an induced fiction in which we have collectively agreed to participate.” In discouraging moments, I felt humanity was like a terminal cancer growth infesting the face of the planet, a runaway train barreling towards oblivion. In upbeat moods, I realized each of us had had it within their power to transform the situation and turn our world around by the way we chose to live—by what we felt and what we thought, what we wore and what we ate. It could be a damn slow process trying to transform our poor, beleaguered world, but we knew it was a matter of time before it got back on track and became the peaceful world it was meant to be. That’s what kept us carrying on.
I chose to focus more on outer body liberation than inner for many reasons—tho I didn’t attribute any more importance to securing personal body freedom than saving the animal kingdom from mankind’s ignorance. The more neglected subject appealed to my love of hopeless causes. Suffice it to say, difficult as it was resisting the ingrained flesh-eating ways of the world, it was even trickierwalking down the street naked on even the nicest summer day.
I suspected I was undertaking a fool’s errand, hoping to make sense of it all. We harbored such murky, contradictory, downright weird, feelings about our bodies and what we ate that I may as well have tried explaining how each drop of water in the ocean affected the other. The way we lived was incomprehensible, like walking into the middle of a millenniums-long serial matinee—Story of Humanity, Episode 4,684—and racking our brains trying to make sense of it all. We’d sit thru it, determined to get something out of it if only because we’d already paid the admission price. I suppose my quixotic nature enjoys the challenge of hoping to explain the impossible: Avast ye, windmills!
My family had been hounding me to put some of my recollections down on paper, anyway. I decided to tie the two projects together and add my personal experiences to the mix. As I lived thru much of the period I write about, I can tell first-hand how the world changed for me and my relations regarding food and dress and our general relationship towards nature. Beyond that, I’m an armchair historian and draw on research—and, at times, psychic intuition—to fill in some of the blanks.
At age 112, I may forget what I was going upstairs for, or where the stairs are—hell, sometimes if we even have an upstairs—but, strange to say, I can recall parts of my life like they were yesterday. It has always been my mixed blessing to vividly relive certain episodes in my life. Revisiting old memories rekindled sweet memories—and bitter outrages at a long-gone corrupt order. By writing, I think I vanquished a battalion of old demons. (Here I should add I don’t purport to remember conversations verbatim, but I strove to recreate their essence.)
Others, of course, have already written brilliant analyses on the growing body-freedom movement. There’s Joshua Birdfeather’s When A Clothes-Minded World Unraveled (Kumquat Press, 2032), and the classic work, Transparent Planet, by P. Zanluv (Lightyear Press, 2037 edition). And the wave towards vegan diet is ably covered in Sarah Poundworth’s standard, Food at Last (Enzyme Publishing, 2042). But I’m certain to be adding a unique perspective to the body of literature here.
You see, my family, in a peculiar case of genetic extremes, was forever divided down thru time on matters body-related. Those on my mom’s side historically leaned towards a more natural mindset, enjoying getting free of clothes, reveling in the wildness of nature and eating whole, plant-based foods. Those on my dad’s side, on the other hand, favored wrapping like mummies, devouring critters by the barnyard-ful, and had no use for nature beyond something to exploit. That these two lines ever got together only showed how love could conquer all.
Here’s the thing: I inherited both sides.
For the first half of my life they engaged in perpetual civil war inside me, dad’s side winning. My repressive genes claimed the day growing up (even while longingfor release from my oppressive jeans). A natural nudist as a toddler, I learned all too soon to repress the urge to ditch clothes on even the hottest day; I came to feel secure and decent only when cocooned in cloth. I even became terrified at the mere thought of others seeing me naked (don’t look; I’m hideous!). You’d have concluded, and rightly, I thought myself grossly disfigured somehow, even tho I was normal looking, if a bit lanky—not unlike a stretched-out figure in an El Greco painting. The predictable result: I became an enthusiastic, if guilt-ridden, closet nudist.
My dietary leanings were similarly schizophrenic. (Mom, the family cook, had broken away from her own family’s tradition of healthy diet, conceding to Dad’s tastes.) Some strange part of me relished eating dead animal: Hand me the knife, paw; I’ll kill the critter myself. Don’t he know he’s our dinner? I loved fried chicken and craved sirloin steak and roast beef, done medium rare, was—to use a phrase apropos of the times—to die for. I lived for junk food too, inhaling Twinkies, fried potato chips and sticky buns; I gobbled sugar-loaded cereals awash in cow’s milk like a condemned’s last meal and downed gallons of Royal Crowns like Iwas perpetuallydying of thirst. Another part of me, tho repressed, loved to munch on apples, snack on nasturtium plants—stems, leaves and flowers—and savor crunching down on a single round hazelnut.
Respect for nature? That’s where dad departed from his family norm. Growing up in a big city, I learned to make the best of the nature-starved, compulsory-dress environs. But I always sensed it was an artificial habitat, always longed for the sanctuary of wildness that I learned about early thru our family’s annual, month-long visits to the West’s pristine wildernesses.
Along with the photo album, some of my relatives’ bedraggled journals and scrapbooks survived the shift intact as well—crammed full with faded news clippings, letters and email printouts—even a few of my scribbled notebooks. From these I refreshed my memory and gleaned anecdotes and quotes to further illuminate those improbable times.
Those peers still alive, who were there and know only too well how upside down, inside out and bass-ackwards things were, maybe don’t want to be reminded—and I wouldn’t blame them. But then, making sense of the past often allows a keener historic perspective, freeing you to marvel at your place in the time stream. And those not yet born, now blessed to be living in epochal times of planetary restoration, can’t help but bring out of these remembrances of humanity’s recent dark ages a fresh appreciation for our glorious green Earth.
If at times I seem like an old know-it-all, I don’t mean to be; I suspect picking up the quill sometimes brings out the frustrated professor in me. And I beg the reader to make allowances if I approach my subjects in a scattershot way. My mind is a bit of an anachronism—throwback to a vanished era—and one considereda bitodd even then.
Earth Haven, Mount Shasta Isle
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