Columns

2008.02.13 The Mysterious Lily Eng

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

I heard a wonderful story on the radio Saturday. Colleen and I were driving to Ann Arbor to visit Maddie. I was trying to get some writing done while she drove, but this tale developing on “Weekend America” wouldn’t let me loose.

The hosts of the program have been collecting stories for a series called “Song and Memory” and someone named Harley Hansen recounted an adventure from the long-haired days of 1970.

It was a very moving tale—at least to someone else who was coming of age in that period.

He had finished his first year of college and didn’t want to go home for the summer because his parents weren’t fond of the “hippie look.” He headed for his sister’s house in New Hampshire and during the course of the summer, decided to hitchhike to the Strawberry Fields rock concert north of Toronto.

He talked about the hassles a few hundred concert-goers had trying to get across the border, but what he remembers most is the pretty girl who was in the car that stopped to picked him up.

The two of them walked around the concert grounds together and decided to ride the Ferris wheel at a nearby carnival.

The big wheel stopped with Harley and his companion at the very top. They had a commanding view of the concert down the hill with 50,000 people sitting on the grass. And just then, the Youngbloods started singing their anthem of the times: “Everybody get together try to love one another right now.” His “song and memory” event was launched.

“And so I look over at this beautiful woman thinking, “Maybe I should try to kiss her. No, I’ll make a fool of myself.” And then of course, the Ferris wheel started up, the song ended and we wandered back to our group and enjoyed the rest of the rock and roll event."

Harley still wonders what became of that girl. Whenever he hears the song, he closes his eyes and he’s 19 years old again and can feel the sun on his face at the top of the Ferris wheel.

For me, the song is Leonard Cohen’s “Isaac” and the girl is Lily Eng. I didn’t have the magical moment of Harley Hansen. It was just an interesting time in a Canadian youth hostel.

My friend John and I had both completed our service to our country—for me, inner city day care center work in Saginaw, Michigan’s murder capital of the 1970s—and we took off into Canada on a bicycle trip. First to Montréal, then down the St. Lawrence and into New Brunswick, and down the coast to Cape Tormentine for the ferry to Prince Edward Island.

As I remember it, there was a narrow spit of land jutting out into the bay with the island off in the distance. We pedaled up to the hostel, paid our five bucks or whatever the cost was, and spread out our sleeping bags like a dozen or so other young travelers. It was like camping indoors, but it was a step up for John and me who slept the night before in a burned out house we found alongside the road.

Someone got out his guitar that night and performed for us. Before one of his songs started, he mentioned that he kept forgetting the closing line and hoped that someone could help out.

The song was familiar to me. It was “The Story of Isaac,” Leonard Cohen’s take on the biblical story. “You who build these altars now, to sacrifice these children, you must not do it anymore.…”

The guy was good. He droned toward the closing like Leonard and then he stopped and looked up. “The peacock spreads his fan,” I sang, and the singer thanked me profusely.

The next morning we had time to kill waiting for the ferry departure and we talked to some of the other guests, including Lily Eng and Peter Dudar from Toronto. Why do I remember those names from 32 years ago? It’s just one of the mysteries of the mind.

Lily and Peter were traveling out to the island, too, and I thought Lily was a very interesting person. And then they were gone.

When I hear “The Story of Isaac” sung, I remember the welcoming sight of the Cape Tormentine hostel, the good company of the other travelers, the open water leading to our next adventure, and of course, the mysterious Lily Eng.

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