The Young Mothers of Invention

(Greece, 1970) - Pamela Hyatt

What a kick to hear about Anna recently.. (sorry kids, I only knew her as Anna, not as Wangchuk)..FABULOSO red hair LEAPT out at me in my mind's eye (wherever the heck THAT is!) and I saw her grinning gleefully from a deckchair on the foredeck of the Hellenic Lines freighter, SS Livorno, as we crossed a cold Atlantic, then a warmer Med bound for Piraeus in the Spring of 1970.

A gaggle of Dharma dames and kidlets, aiming to chase Namgyal Rinpoche, around Crete. All of us on that wee ship, the only other passengers being a Lyndon B. Johnson doppelganger mitt Texan accent, (swear ta God!), and some honeymoon couple who appeared solely for meals. Pauline Fediow, Pat Evans Malham (preggers) with daughter Anna; sister-in-law Barb Malham; Francie Downing with five-year-old son, Michael; Cheryl Reitappel, also preggers, with Steven's chile; Freyda Olsen — not yet preggers by Jeff; and there were some other women whose visages are captured in my photo album but am embarrassed to say their names have departed my cranium; my 8-year-old son, Carson T. Foster (sharing a cabin with Michael — what a kick for those lads), and myself with eight-month-old Zacharias Ward next door.

Our captain was a gorgeous guy, so delighted to have a plethora of smiling dames on board his vessel that on our first (maybe second) night out of New York harbour, he set off a gazillion red emergency flares to welcome us. ZOOM! BADDA BING! US Navy jets streaked overhead, not amused. Tres exciting.

The Atlantic was rough that early April, major storms, not fun. Quel treat when we steamed thru the gentle Straits of Gibraltar one sweet sunny evening, Morocco to our right, Iberia to our left. Damned if the silent lounge radio didn't leap to life with the Beatles' "HERE COMES THE SUN"!

Arriving in Piraeaus, we three mums (Francine, Pat, and I) clambered into a large cab with our various sons and daughter, asked the driver to take us to a downtown, inexpensive hotel that welcomed children. Hotel Minerva, a huge suite, with cribs and ample beds. Nifty view of that darling hill opposite the Acropolis, topped by a wee temple where Saint Paul had waxed eloquently about his fave philosopher. Lycobetus?

Every day we'd wander out into Constitution Square, sit at one of those vast sidewalk cafes and watch the passing parade, which inevitably produced a couple of Dharma bums hot off a plane, train, or bus. Rumour had it that Rinpoche was up on Mount Athos with the inner circle lads, (you know the gang: Tony, Jeff, various Brians), and eventually they'd be coming to Athens.

So yeah, we did our sightseeing of the Parthenon, the main museums, the Plaka. Heaven bless Cheryl and Freyda. They chose to visit Delphi for a three-day sojourn and kindly invited Carson to join them. He was eight, he'd been avidly reading books on Greek mythology since I announced our family outing, so was hot to trot to the oracle's abode.

Two weeks into our Athens sojourn the word whipped round the Dharma Centre gang that Rinpoche's group had gone directly to Crete, so MOVE ON OUT! We did, that night, on the overnight ferry to Heraklion. Inside cabin (no porthole, arghhh), four bunks wherein lay moi and infant Zack, Pat and toddler Anna, Francine (and, I think, Michael), and Carson. The stuffiness of that cabin propelled my blond son up to the main deck where he curled up in a big stuffed chair and slept soundly. Can't recall if Michael joined him. Do know that various dames were seasick. Not moi.

Heraklion at last. Pat and I found a cheapo hotel, washed diapers in cold water till I finally threw in the ecological towel and bought disposables. Lovely days on a nearby beach, nifty explorations of the charming Knossos Palace, and of course, wondering WHERE WAS HIS NIBS?!!

At last, word filtered through the grapevine, "Rinpoche is at Sitia! GO!" Everyone raced to rent cars. None of the men wanted to travel with pregnant dames and kids, nor did the non-preggers females. I had an international driver's licence, hence was awarded the delectable task of being the sole driver of a rented Volks beetle transporting Pat beside me (Anna often on her lap), Cheryl behind me with Zack on her lap, Carson beside her, and Freyda behind Pat. (Yeah, she switched with Pat and Cheryl vis-a-vis toddlers perching on her knees).

That Volks had problems, kept cacking out then resuscitating itself. Final straw was when it gave up the ghost enroute up the last hill. A pickup truck approached, three lads leapt out, pushed us UP AND.. pointing waaaaaaaaaaaaay down towards the seashore, shouted 'SITIA', gave a final heave and down we drifted.. allllll the way, and came to rest in a parking spot by the beach. Uncoiling ourselves from that midget vehicle, sweating like stuck pigs, we were startled to hear a familiar voice from above and behind us:

"Well, Pamela, it took you long enough!"

There stood our teacher, on a small balcony, grinning down at us, Tony beside him, equally cheshire cattish. "Come up here and see what I've painted!"

Right away, he spun our heads in a new direction, away from the hassles we'd just experienced dans l'auto, heck, away from all fretting.

That night I recall sitting on the beach, Zack asleep in his snugli on my chest, Carson's head on my lap. Almost a hundred students listening raptly as Namgyal, perched on a large rock, spoke of karma, touching on so many aspects of it. Pitch black sky above, festooned with brilliant stars, planets, wandering satellites, the Aegean lapping softly beyond us, the mournful horns of distant freighters, a balmy night — utterly wondrous!

Of course, the next day was nuts. Where's the teacher? FOLLOW! FIND HIM! DRIVE, HE SAID! So we packed fast, leapt into the Bug, drove east until we located his car at some motel, checked in, flung ourselves into bathing suits, (he was often in the water), and joined the group. I cannot tell you the names of the villages in which we stayed.

With the exception of the final one, at the eastern end of Crete: Chania. Such a sweet curved harbour, the town had strong Venetian influences, along with a deserted minaret which Carson and I climbed. By this time, wee Zacharias Ward was beginning to be feverish, taking in food and expelling it almost immediately in liquid form. Rinpoche had just announced he was off to Egypt, whomever had the money to join him was welcome.

Much as I wanted to explore those pyramids with our teacher, Zack's condition was too serious. I flew back to Athens with the children, went to their Sick Kids Hospital, learned that Zack had dysentery, (something even Greek kids get); was told to get him OUT of the Mediterranean immediately. Treated the boys and myself to a Wagons Lit compartment (three bunks at night) and we entrained for Lausanne, my favourite Swiss city, former home of my favourite uncle.

When Zack was fully restored to health, I took the lads up to Leysin Fedey, above the eastern end of Lac Leman in the High Alps. There we stayed in a nifty hostel - Club Vagabond, owned by two Canadians, catering to English-speaking bikers and hikers, $1.50/day bed & breakfast.

Two weeks in that emerald meadow setting, snow-capped peaks guarding our valley, the sound of cowbells and distant Vespas the only thing to break the silence. It was THERE that I really MET my sons, saw that they were very old friends. There was nothing and no one to intrude upon our companionship: no household tasks, no jobs, no zooming from one place to another. Hearts opened in very new ways.

I wish I could tell you the specifics of the talks that Rinpoche gave in Crete. I just know it was an amazing experience. What I discovered on that journey, was that I was a very competent individual, capable of finding shelter and food for my sons on a daily basis, and I did not need a man to direct me. That sounds simplistic in this year of 2008 considering all that women are able to do on their own now, but I was born in 1936. I'm from a generation that was taught that a woman MUST be led by, approved by, a man. Besides which, as the daughter of a travel agent, I'd hitherto travelled with precise itineraries, everything arranged in advance. This trip was extremely empowering for me.

Incidentally, a sidebar here. On Crete, when swimming one day, I asked Rinpoche if he knew what the oozing red sore above my right breast might be. "Shingles", was his reply. I winced, remembering my dad had had an horrendous case years ago.

"It's an indication that there's something you haven't taken care of emotionally. It's a warning. Be grateful it's on your surface, much better than something interior and more serious."

Those words have enabled me to view the periodic recurrence of that unpleasant itchy stuff with gratitude and awareness.

The trip continued, for my sons and myself, to England and visiting many relatives. I discovered, to my immense joy, that my wildest, most eccentric cousin, Greville Hyatt, was designing furniture for Idries Shah's estate in Kent and was, in fact, a devout student of Shah's. What a treat! Finding that another Hyatt was also engaged in studying the high teachings! Sonofagun, my heart rejoiced!

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