As a mom, there have only been a handful of times I have let my children see me cry. Yesterday, when I learned of the death of the great Pete Seeger, was one of those times. When I tried to explain who he was and some of the things he stood for, I could not complete my sentences. So I turned to YouTube and let Pete speak and sing for himself. Within minutes, my 4-year-old was dancing to “If I Had a Hammer,” and then we were all singing “We Are Not Afraid, To-day.” And of course, since we are farmers,“Inch by Inch.”
Meanwhile, my family and friends started sharing their personal Pete Seeger stories. My father told me about seeing him play near his cousins’ New Jersey chicken farm when he was a boy. My husband’s mother recalled seeing Pete play concerts at Jewish Community Centers near her home in Bayonne, New Jersey, during the 1950s when he was black-listed and few would hire him. My friend’s parents had a first date at a Pete Seeger concert. Other people sailed with him on the Clearwater or sang with him at summer camp, a political rally, or on a street corner.
This is my Pete story. I was raised on his music and my parents still keep his CDs on pretty much continuous loop in their house. When I was pregnant with my son seven years ago, I had placenta previa, a medical term for a low-lying placenta. The doctors said I would need a C-section if things did not change. I got even more worried when I had another ultrasound and the doctor was questioning whether the placenta was healthy in general. This was late in my pregnancy and that night I had a dream.
I dreamt that I was standing with Pete Seeger in his kitchen, just as gigantically pregnant as I was in real life. I immediately launched into a series of frantic questions about social change. Did he believe activists should be patient? How can we be patient when so many issues are urgent? Pete did not answer any of my questions and instead pointed to this amazing bowl of citrus fruit on his table. I remember being surprised by the variety: There were tangerines, limes, lemons, and even those giant grapefruits I have only seen at the shuk in Israel.
He responded to me in that wonderful gravelly voice of his with an ironic smile and sparkly eyes and said, “I think you should have some fruit.” The fruit did look amazing, but I returned to my question, “What kind of activist should I be?” He smiled again and pointed to the fruit.
That was the dream. The next morning I jumped on my email. The first thing I saw was an email from my doula. She said the number one thing I could do to keep my placenta healthy is to drink lots of fluids and get extra vitamin C. I was overwhelmed with a sense that things were going to be OK with the pregnancy, and I told my husband to pick up a bag of pink grapefruit on his way home.
My boy was born healthy and without need for a C-section, thank God, just a few weeks later. And yesterday, I was able to talk to my almost-7-year-old about the good ship Clearwater and about what it means to stand up for what you believe in when you feel alone.
His death is a reminder to all of us to do our part to make the world a better place, keep our air and water clean, stand for justice, and to always keep the music playing.