I RAN INTO her at a downtown park around lunchtime. I hadn't seen her in about 20 years. She called out my name and I turned and looked closely. It was Samantha!
When I last saw her she was in thongs, jeans, a torn T-shirt, long hair parted in the middle and no makeup.
Oh, yes, she had earrings and love beads around her neck. She was about 18 and the portrait of the middle-class hippie. She was a beautiful young girl. She was also determined to be as counter-culture as she could get without ending up in jail. She attended college on and off, but mostly she attended peace marches protesting the Vietnam War or anything else that represented the establishment.
She was a neighbor's child, and I liked her spunk.
But now she was dressed a la Talbot's -- in a nice suit, heels and a short-shingled hair cut. She is still beautiful, her hair just a little more blond, she wears makeup and carries a matching handbag.
And I said, ''My god, it IS you!''
We hugged and laughed. We had always had a slightly bantering and laissez-faire type of relationship.
We sat on a park bench for 30 minutes and talked; she was on a break from her corporate job, a manufacturing job that she loves.
She laughs frequently now. She used to just frown as she tooled around in the Volkswagen beetle her parents gave her, carrying other kids on special missions to straighten out the world.
We got right into the Persian Gulf as the war was freshly over. And I let her lead the way. I was amazed.
''My brother is in the Navy, on a carrier, and we are so overjoyed he'll be coming home. Of course, we don't know when.''
''You mean you didn't protest?'' I teased.
''No,'' she said, ''this war is different. Vietnam was long, wrong and painful. The terror and torture going on in Kuwait were unconscionable.''
I asked about her family, and she added, ''I finally finished college; then I got a job in sales. I even married Shane, and we have two children.''
And right here I have to admit that just as she felt about the Vietnam War, I had similar feelings about sending our troops to the Persian Gulf. Sometimes I feel our foreign policy is a mix of philanthropy and intervention, not all just moral. I told her this, and then she told me.
''Well, I think this war was to help a people who needed immediate help, and we had to stop that international madman. He would have continued to pillage and ravage, and then he would have developed nuclear capabilities and let them fly on the Eastern and Western worlds.''
''And now I'm hoping we can help establish peace in the Middle East,'' she continued. ''Maybe that's too much to hope for, but I think it can be done with coalition help. . . And then I hope we can turn our strengths to our own home problems. I hope this is our last war, maybe it will be.''
''You mean, Sammy, you are a hawk now, a Bush leaguer, a Republican?''
''No, I'm a Democrat, but I feel that we did the right thing. It's been scary. I think the President and our military leaders had some intelligence information that told us this would be a short war . . . I am proud of my country and so proud of our fighting men and women.''
I sat there amazed again at the philosophical changes in this young woman. She's still got spunk. She is even optimistic now.
I have to confess I never thought ''short war.'' I was worried the whole time and was extremely pessimistic. I supported the troops but had doubts about our reasons. I would have worn love beads or worry beads if I could have,
And after I left her I thought she is wrong about one thing -- all wars are painful and full of terror.
What an about face! Yet I found I was proud of her. She finally feels better about her country.
The '60s were a rebellious time -- the battle for civil rights, student revolt, the women's movement -- and there was just cause for the foment. But the '60s heroes were short-lived, and they left us no lasting messages.
Just maybe the Samanthas of America will have real heroes now, like Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Colin Powell, who carried out their orders so well, and a United Nations that finally seems effective.
That may be just what we all need -- real live heroes to stoke our optimism.
I'm ready if you are. I'd like to feel good about my country once again.