The year is 1969. Richard Nixon is now president and members of the New Left are trying to gauge which way he will go on several major issues, especially the war in Vietnam. My novel, The Palmetto, relates the story of Ronnie Morrison from the time he drops out of high school (as a teacher, not a student) in June of 1969 until his several personal crises come to a climax in Fall of 1970. It is the end of the school year and he has decided he cannot abide by the conditions he has been given in order for him to teach for another year. He is separated from his wife, Dale, his sense of self and of security are shaky, and he is looking for some place and some people to belong to. He also has discovered that he is still in love with his wife, though he has little hope of getting her back. On a night he expected to spend alone in his misery, he is invited – randomly – to a local gathering of “freaks” living near the university campus. He decides to take this fork in the road, and among these new friends he begins to find meaning, even purpose, in some areas of his life, while continuing his struggle to find love.
The Palmetto is a public park that sits across from the houses on Drayton Street, the university’s “Freak Row”. The journey of Ronnie Morrison involves many of the members of this countercultural community, and their collective story is told as well as his, as they struggle to live as if they were free, to avoid the draft, and to elude the forces of “Law and Order” which are allied against them, from the city police to the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence program aimed at destroying the New Left. If this weren’t challenging enough, they continue to try to find their niche in an increasing polarized society that sees them as misfits.
This story is somewhat unique in that it describes the late sixties counterculture as it existed in a university town in the American South, and how their experiences are intensified by their proximity to Fort Gregg, an army base training soldiers for service in Vietnam. There are sex episodes, drug episodes, and rock and rock episodes, as they were inevitable during the time. There is also a deep sense of exploration and inquiry on the part of the characters, as each one struggles against what seems to be their fate – whether warfare, or exile, or prison, or even madness.