The High Life

Hemp is the answer. Dyslexia, hyperactivity, schizophrenia, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence, the greenhouse effect, hunger, obesity -- hemp is the cure for it all. That's what Carole Antun and Love Santiago believe, and they are here to spread the word.

It's all in line with the laws of nature, as it says in the Bible: "I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land" (Ezeckiel 34:29), say Antun and Santiago, co-founders of the group Grandmothers for Hemp. The two women, both just shy of 70, made their presence known -- loud and clear -- as soon as they rolled into town last summer.

They see themselves as troubadours, going wherever they feel their message is needed. Antun is a woman who pays attention to her instincts, and something told her she was being led by God when she stopped in Nashville, IN on her way from Florida to visit her son and grandchildren in Indianapolis, IN last summer. The "For Rent" sign at a tiny shop at the end of Van Buren Street sealed the decision. She took up residence in Nashville, and Santiago, her partner of six years, soon joined her. The shop space is now filled with Antun's art, giving it a feeling that Santiago describes as "walking into a Monet painting." They host gatherings of singers, writers, artists, and believers in hemp and miracles. It didn't take long for them to introduce themselves to all their new neighbors -- including the local Sheriff's Department.

Their friendship ignited from similar life experiences and philosophies. Both Antun and Santiago are firm adherents to A Course in Miracles, a living guide pioneered by Helen Schucman and Kenneth Wapnick. Both are committed to the legalization of marijuana, both grew up in New York, both divorced their husbands while they were in their 40s.

They are by no means carbon copies, however. Antun is a Capricorn, a doer. Santiago is a Cancer, a caretaker. Antun describes herself as "pagan," Santiago as a "seeker." Antun tells stories about growing up in Queens Village, an exciting childhood as a popular restaurateur's daughter. She raised six children, three biological and three from her second marriage. Santiago grew up in a family of nine, with musicians for parents. She had seven children by the time she was 33. She first smoked pot in 1976 with her oldest son, who also introduced her to the music of the Beatles.

She remains very close to her children, who still live in New York. "I always felt like my children were my spiritual teachers. They introduced me to marijuana, music, spiritual work," she says. "I love being a mother. My children and my grandchildren are my life." Antun took a different route to the wonders of marijuana -- her first toke wasn't until she was well into her 50s. Before that, she was with the moral majority. When she found out her son was smoking marijuana, for example, she told him it was dangerous and would lead to use of hard drugs. In retrospect, she considers this to be self-fulfilling prophecy. Her son killed himself after battling drug addiction for several years, an event that dramatically changed Antun's views. Who would have guessed that after a life of ups and downs, mothering, owning a New York fashion business, boutiques, and art galleries, that she would discover yet another life -- this time as a hemp activist?

The calling has been an exciting one, creating connections and divisions. One connection was with American hemp guru Jack Herer, author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, whom she met when he and other "hempsters" visited Indianapolis. "We cooked food, made brownies and all that stuff. It was very exciting. I was so attracted to him," she recalls. A division is with her children, who, although they remain close, "are always mad. They wish I wouldn't do this, but somebody has to!"

The most meaningful connection was to come after she moved to Woodstock, New York, where she and Santiago met through a mutual friend. Remembers Santiago: "I told her I channeled songs, I performed. She heard my song and said, 'I think we really have work to do together. You've got to move in!'"

Their first few weeks together, Santiago says, "All I did was laugh. And sing. And read A Course in Miracles. And smoke a lot of pot."

"What else could you possibly want to do?" Antun queries. Then they laugh.

It didn't take long for them to come up with the idea to form Grandmothers for Hemp. Since, they have taken their show on the road to Washington D.C., New York, the Catskill Mountains, Florida, and now to Indiana, where Antun lived previously with her former husband. Both say coming to Indiana was like coming home. Antun maintained ties in the area throughout the years she was away, and Santiago remembers her father, a Hoosier by birth, singing, "Take Me Back to Indiana."

No passerby is impervious to their allure. It's in their speech, which clearly marks them as native New Yorkers. "Marijuana" becomes "marijuaner." It's in their energetic style -- "I feel like I'm 14," says Antun. She spins stories constantly, extols the virtues of hemp, openly tells people of their gifts. Her voice lilts and draws, underlining words in thin air as she speaks. "I just constantly want to tell somebody about hemp and the laws of nature," she says, whether it's to someone in the supermarket or to the policeman who has just arrested her for possession (she has been arrested three times; Santiago twice).

Santiago back-channels as Antun speaks, issuing agreement and gems of wisdom: "Far out." "Fabulous." "Awesome." "We are only limited by our minds." Santiago is likely to be seen wearing combat-style lace-up boots, her white hair sticking up unabashedly in all directions. Already a riveting presence, she comes even more to life when she plays her guitar and belts out songs she has written about Mother Earth and hemp: "... when hemp is legal / hemp is regal / hemp for feeling / hemp for healing!"

To Antun falls the public relations, planning excursions and cooking up vegetarian dinners for their guests, using heavy doses of beans and hemp oil -- "a very nutty, wonderful flavor" -- served up with Rossi Burgundy on ice.

The ideas flow nonstop when they are together. Now in the works is a film about their lives and of other "miraculous women." A dinner theater. A talk show. A book on painting. For them, it's all possible if you believe. That's why it's not a matter of if marijuana becomes legal, it's when.

"Are you ready to help us save the world yet?" they ask. The Course in Miracles tells them that we are going to create heaven on earth -- and when hemp is legal, says Antun, that's what it is going to be.

This article originally appeared in the Bloomington Independent. Liz Peterson can be reached at liz@indepen.com.

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