My mother’s brown hair is long and parted in the center. She is sewing a eucalyptus seedpod to a dress made of pale green drapery fabric, laughing with her friends. She is 19 years old.
It is February 1970, a few months before the first Earth Day, and students at San Jose State College in California are throwing a “Survival Faire,” during which they plan to bury a brand-new yellow Ford Maverick. The Maverick and all combustion engines are to be declared dead because they belch pollutants that have helped create vile, ground-hugging smog in San Jose and cities around the world. The Maverick, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery wrote, “was pushed through downtown San Jose in a parade led by three ministers, the college band and a group of comely coeds wearing green shroudlike gowns.”
My mother remembers those gowns well, 50 years later. The students that day were worried about dirty water and overpopulation as well as dirty air, but my mother was optimistic. “I assumed that human beings would step up when we had to,” she says. And to an extent we did: Cars in the United States are 99 percent cleaner than they were back then, thanks to pollution laws.