Fritz Perls, cigarettes, and the summer of ’69

I was vacuuming today in my Cinderella life when I got to thinking about the Lakeside Motel where I spent part of a summer perfecting my smoking skills while working as a chambermaid.

I’d ride my new 10-speed out to the Lakeside wearing cutoff jean shorts my dad had confiscated and I’d found. Every day of that summer was hot and as I moved from unit to unit with my cleaning bucket and toilet brush, I’d sometimes find not-quite-empty packages of du Maurier, Players and Kools. The latter were menthol but I had no standards when it came to sneaky smoking. On this warm June day, I can still feel and smell the combination of summer heat, contraband cigarettes, and Pinesol.

Distant memories have been coming to the fore lately since I joined a Facebook group of hometown memories. It’s a happy pandemic distraction and we oldies love it. In the past week or so I’ve connected with people I haven’t seen since high school grad nearly a half century ago (have I mentioned the name of this blog is now stale dated?)

Thoughts of the Lakeside led to remembering the summer that Fritz Perls and the Gestalt Institute took it over.

Fritz Perls

I don’t understand enough about Gestalt to explain it (Psychology Today describes it as a client-centred approach to psychotherapy that helps clients focus on the present and understand what is really happening in their lives right now; a premise that makes all kinds of sense to me), except to say it was developed by Dr. Perls and headquartered in Big Sur. To me, it was the most astonishing thing to ever happen in my small west coast logging community. People would pop in to my parents’ store with tales of the role playing exercises they’d witnessed on the motel dock. They were being seals or something, I recall one man saying.

It was the summer of 1969; the Woodstock summer, the Manson murders, the moon landing. For me, a wistful hippy wannabe who liked mainstream comforts, the Gestalt Institute was a fascination. On my street, Pete Olsen’s old home was turned into what was known as the College House, its inhabitants all young and longhaired. I was thrilled and couldn’t walk past it often enough.

Not the actual College House inhabitants, but you get the drift.

My parents also ran the local newspaper and I recall Dr. Perls and his second-in-command Barry Stevens in our home, first as interviewees then as guests. My dad invited a photographer, who was attending Gestalt at the motel, to use his darkroom. She became a friend and the non-teenage me can see that my parents were open, interesting, and cool. The photographer had a son. Ben Henry. He was younger than me and had a crush. My family howled when he’d serenade me at my bedroom window on a harmonica. Ben smoked pot. A bonafide hippy boy.

As suddenly as they arrived, the Gestalt Institute packed up and left and the town lost a fascinating cast of characters. Dr. Perls died the following year.

The motel was never as interesting and not many years after, it ceased being a motel altogether. 

The smoking thing ran its course and is well and truly in the past, although sometimes when I get a whiff on a hot summer day . . .


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Nineteen sixty four – I remember the moon landing – Gordon and I watching on my mother’s twenty-one inch TV moored in a combo record player behemoth.

    I determined to produce an ARTWORK.
    So that Fall in first year Sculpture with Californian Tom Henderson at U of M I crafted what was a terrible Pomelo affair with clefted slits and pock marked holes.
    Associate Professor Samila pronounced my effort the worst thing he had even set eyes on. So much for a meaningful tryst at the Moon.

    Years later I would be at ACAD as an Assistant Curator with work coming in from Americans in NYC. I still remember the exquisite delicacy of sewing threads in combination with acrylic paint when the Forum Gallery because of John Coleman who knew these artists suggested Kirschenbalm, Rutenberg and Gillespie. Gillespie by far was the extraordinary talent. I believe he died early – possibly tragically. Kirschenbalm was the fancy thread guy married to the more sedate Rutenberg.

    I would have purchasd Gillespie first and almost tied with him would have been Kirschenbalm with his tiny floating astronauts in a very vacant deep space.

    But as these things always go – Premier Lockhead’s buds the Tavenders came to see the show and wanted a large impressive piece for their vestibule and smacked down two thou or so for the Ruterburg Piano Trio dyptych.

    This was quite the bargain – the provincial Conservatives had paid Customs duties to get the haul over the border and there sure wasn’t much of a fee involved to carry the stretchers from the gallery to a Calgary home.

    So big noise – small outlay. Better yet – an easily understandable image – heavens an NYC Piano Trio. I began to see how crafty the Canadian ArtScene really was. Hardly anything Canadian about it.

    Certainly no one was touting anything new or different. Especially not including any space programs.

    This is how come we got Trump. Same old – same old.


    1. Gery Lemon says:

      Marion, you need a blog. I’d read it.


  2. marilynatlegacytelusnet says:

    Impressive – ad supported? Fun memory! Mim


    1. Gery Lemon says:

      Thanks, Mim. It was quite an era.


  3. ridykun says:

    Thanks for the memories, Gery. Much of this seems familiar to me🙂


    1. Gery Lemon says:

      It was quite an era, Rick.


  4. Daughter #1 says:

    Sounds fascinating!


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