We moved to 10605 East Burnside in Portland with the help of a couple of friends who drove from the city. Thankfully, we didn’t have a lot to move. The house we moved into was perfect. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen large enough for a table and chairs and a good-sized living room. It also had a front porch and a huge fenced in back yard. There were two other houses on the little dirt road that went down into a gully off the main drag. It was on a major bus route and was within walking distance of a small neighborhood grocery store. However, the previous tenants had left the house a mess, and that is an understatement. We were appalled at the condition of the house, especially the bedroom that their young child had been in. We set to work cleaning immediately.
One thing they forgot to tell us was that the house came with a resident tomcat. His name was Leon. He was a large slate gray feisty, scarred tom who thought it was his house. I love cats, but this cat was unruly and rude. When he insisted on using our daughter’s bedroom as a litter box, we threw him out. He kept meowing at the door to be let in, to no avail. I was relieved when it seemed as though he’d given up and moved on. However, that night we heard the sound of glass breaking in the bathroom and ran in just in time to see him jumping through that broken window. Paul scooped him up and threw him back out as I taped up the broken window and cleaned up the glass. As soon as he was outside, he went to another window and started banging his head against the glass, and we realized that’s how he had broken the first window. We drenched him with water. Eventually, I was able to train him to stop using her bedroom and just use the great outdoors, but it was a struggle.
Leon ended up being a great cat once he learned the rules. He was sweet with Jessie and, when the new baby came, he tolerated just about anything from him. It wasn’t long before we realized that we were not his only home. One day, as Jessie and I were taking our daily walk, we saw Leon coming out of a neighbor’s house. Jessie ran up calling his name. The woman who lived there told her that she must be mistaken because her cat’s name was Felix. Meanwhile, Leon was rubbing up against us and purring. We knew it was him. We saw him at other houses during our time living there and no longer wondered why he disappeared frequently for days at a time. Although we tried to take him with us when we moved again, he insisted on staying behind. I guess he didn’t want to leave his other families. We thought it was awfully nice of him to have let us live in his house for a while.
Once we cleaned and unpacked, I went looking for a midwife. After my horrible experience birthing Jessie at the hospital with the doctor yelling at me and smoking his stinky cigar in the room, I wanted a home birth this time. There was a school for midwives in Portland, and I soon found a group of three women to attend my birth. I was now 7 months pregnant and anxious to start preparing. We often frequented the library getting books for Jessie to prepare her for a sibling and got all of our supplies together sterilizing them in the oven and packing them away for the big day, or days as it turned out to be. Paul arranged for some time off from his job to help out afterwards. I also contacted our friend Debbie who agreed to come as a support person for Jessie during the birth. She also arranged for a couple of days off from her job to help us out.
Finally, the big day came. I went into labor and contacted the midwives to let them know. We all know that old saying about the best laid plans, right? Well, one of the midwives was sick and wouldn’t be able to attend. Oh well, at least I still had the other two. Nope the second one couldn’t make it either. That was okay, we were still prepared with all of our supplies and support set up, or so we thought. Debbie’s boss decided that she couldn’t actually take the time off after all. She did come after work, though. Paul and I sang throughout my labor as I rested my large belly against our standing space heater for warmth in our drafty home. It was now winter in the Pacific Northwest which meant lots of cold rain and not much sun at all.
After too many hours of labor, it was past time for Jessie to go to bed. She had asked to be present for the birth which we had agreed to, but it was getting late and she was starting to crash. I promised that we would wake her when it was time. Debbie took her off to her room where I could hear the crying and screaming. My labor was going full force at this point, but I was distracted by my needy child. Against the advice of my midwife, who wanted me to focus on the birth, I decided to go to her. As soon as I walked into her room, my labor stopped completely as I sang her to sleep. Once she was sound asleep, the contractions came right back, stronger than ever. After 45 hours of labor with 10 of them being transitional, Justin was born. He had been facing the wrong direction, making it difficult for him to come out. At some point, I heard the midwife talking to Paul about needing to take me to the hospital. She was getting worried. I screamed out, “No! I am not going anywhere. I’m having this baby right here.” They gave me an ultimatum. I had an hour, and then they were taking me to the hospital. Within that hour, he finally turned and came out with his sister standing by, glowing. This three and a half-year-old child actually held my hand and said, “I know it’s hard work, Mommy. You can do it.”
Remember those best laid plans? Well, it all went out the window. Paul’s boss needed him at work that morning because the other cook had suddenly walked out. Debbie had to go back to work, and the midwife got called to another birth. Now here I was with a newborn baby only a few hours old and an energetic, excited three and a half-year old after a grueling labor that had left me totally exhausted. Before he left, Paul fed Jessie and set our lunch in the refrigerator while I tried to sleep. Justin was in a small cradle on the other side of the bed. When he woke up, fussing to be fed, Jessie hopped out of my bed and raced for the cradle. “Don’t touch the baby,” I called out. Too late! She scooped him up and started running back to me, dropping him on the floor. It was all I could do not to scream at her, but I didn’t, and he was fine. It’s a lucky thing she was low to the ground and equally lucky that babies bounce with their soft bones. After that, the cradle stayed next to me at all times. I’d had two children now and both arrived without a community around to support me. I’d had no baby showers or meals delivered. I had a few visitors, mostly people Paul had met at work, but I was in a hostess role for them, so I finally asked Paul to stop bringing them by. Debbie did help as much as she could, and I think that’s what got me by. Luckily, my depression did not come back.
I slowly recovered but soon noticed that my chronic back issue was much worse than it had been before the birth. I have a severe case of scoliosis and earlier in my life had worn a steel and leather back brace that stretched from just below my hips to my chin, causing me to look up slightly. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, in my case, a double curve that, among other things, pinched off part of one of my lungs. I wore that brace from the summer leading up to high school until graduation. It was a nightmare, but I endured it knowing that it was saving my life. The brace was not a corrective measure but was meant to stop the progression of the curve. Now suddenly, it was flaring up again. There were days that the pain was so bad, I could not get out of bed. On the days that I could walk, we still went for our daily walks. On other days, I spent a lot of time lying in bed reading and playing games with Jessie. Paul got in the routine of leaving a cup of milk in the refrigerator and a covered bowl of cereal on the table so that Jessie could fix her own breakfast just in case it would turn out to be a bad day. He also made our lunches every morning for weeks. I finally started being able to tolerate even the worst days and started going back to my usual routine when Paul got word that his dad had cancer and was dying. He didn’t have much time left, so Paul arranged to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a while.
When Justin was only a few weeks old, I was on my own in a new city with very few friends and no car. I was washing laundry by hand and hanging everything all over the house since it was still the rainy season, including diapers because I couldn’t haul the red wagon that we usually used with a child in a front pack. Luckily, the grocery store was so close, I could go every couple of days and not have to carry a lot. However, one day I left with Justin on a front pack, and a backpack on my back for the groceries. Jessie was an amazing walker, often walking miles with me. This one day, I had gotten a little too much, and the backpack was heavier than I realized. But it was only a short walk home along a dead-end road that led up to the main street right across from our house. As we walked along, Jessie saw a flower and insisted that I lean down to smell it, which I did. As I leaned down, she leaned against me and I toppled over onto my back. I tried to roll over, but the backpack was so heavy, I couldn’t budge. I felt like a turtle on my back. I wanted to cry. Jessie tried to help to no avail. I couldn’t reach the straps that secured the front pack and couldn’t take my arms out of the backpack, so I just laid there hoping someone would walk by. There was no traffic on this road during the workday, and it was before the dawn of cell phones. After about an hour, a stranger did come by and helped me up. He did laugh, which I understood. It was a pretty ridiculous sight. That was one of my most embarrassing moments, and I’ve had more than a few.
At least spring comes early out there, so now I was getting outdoors enjoying the flowers and greenery. Paul was gone for a month and a half. When he returned, Justin didn’t know who he was and was very clingy. Justin wouldn’t go to his dad, and I know that Paul was very hurt by that. Unfortunately, I think that had a huge effect on their relationship going forward, and it always saddened me. Eventually, things went back to some semblance of normal. I had met our immediate neighbors, all of whom had children for my kids to play with, and finally had a sense of community. Now that the weather had broken, we looked forward to resuming our busking career at Saturday Market in downtown Portland.
After living in the motel for a few weeks, we finally found a little cabin in Rhododendron, Oregon. It was a tiny unincorporated town on Highway 26 that was located just west of the Mt. Hood recreational area. I was excited to move into our own place. The weekly rental at the motel was expensive, and I wanted a little more privacy. The only advantage of living in a motel was the ever-changing variety of people moving in and out. There were a few other weekly renters, and it was fun seeing them regularly. However, there was really nowhere else to go. Jessie and I were used to taking walks every day and exploring our surroundings. Even though the cabin was also isolated, there was a post office and health food store in a little strip mall within walking distance.
Living in the cabin was okay at first. We took our daily walk to the strip mall, taking our time and hanging out there for increasing amounts of time. However, even though I have been extremely shy for most of my life, I was also social and craved the company of others. The woods were pretty wild with no trails near us, so that was out of the question. Paul took the car most days to make it up the mountain to the lodge, so we were on our own six days a week for most of the day. Once in a while, I would drive him so that I could have the car, but I got bored fast.
Then the car died, leaving us stranded. There was no grocery store in the area. Even the little touristy places were too far away to walk with Jessie, so I shopped at the health food store, and Paul brought food home with him. Once in a while we would drive to Portland for supplies. Meanwhile, my pregnancy was progressing, and we were in the middle of nowhere with no doctor, no vehicle and no friends. I started to get worried and became very depressed. The cabin was smaller than the motel suite, and I didn’t know anyone. The post office and health food store were usually empty, except for the workers who probably got tired of chatting with me every single day. I made myself take Jessie out every day but spent a lot of time laying on my bed, leaving her to her own devices. I’d gone from being an engaged, loving parent to being almost catatonic. It was so bad that sometimes when she brought me a book to read, I would start crying partway through and couldn’t finish. Something had to change, and fast.
Something did change. Paul lost his job. There was no work to be had anywhere in the area, so he started hitchhiking to Portland to try to find work there. Portland was about an hour away, and we still had no car. When he finally found a job, he left hitchhiking at 4:00 am to be sure he was on time and usually made it home between 9:00 and 11:00 pm. It was a nightmare. He was exhausted and grumpy, snapping at me for every little thing. Jessie never saw him. On his day off, he mostly slept since he was so sleep deprived during his work week. My depression got worse. Before long, I stopped going out for our walks, leaving my poor toddler in the tiny living room which also doubled as her bedroom as I lay on my bed crying. I knew I had to do something, but I couldn’t even think. All I could do was cry.
Just when I thought I couldn’t go on another day, an old friend from Connecticut came out for a surprise visit. Jim was an energetic 6 foot 3-inch-tall drummer who drummed on everything. In Connecticut, this incessant drumming sometimes drove me crazy. Now, it was music to my ears. I started to feel alive again. There were no extra beds, so he slept on the floor in that doll-sized living room. It was such a small room that he couldn’t stretch out all the way, but he didn’t mind. He had come looking for an adventure. He certainly found it with us.
I was also expecting my dad to visit soon, but I wasn’t sure when. We didn’t have a phone so, when I’d called home, I found out that he was going to be in Portland for a newspaperman’s conference and wanted to come visit while he was there. I gave him our address and knew that he would just show up whenever. He arrived the day before Jim was supposed to leave. Our bedroom was barely big enough for a double bed, with no room for Jessie, so that night we had two tall grown men sleeping on our living room floor next to Jessie’s tiny bed. You had to climb over a corner of our bed to get to the only bathroom. At some point, I heard my dad laugh and say, “This is just like when I was on the submarine in the navy.” I thought he would be upset at the lack of accommodations, but he just laughed about it.
I loved having Dad there. He and I were very alike, and very close. We had a strong connection and got along well, as long as Mom wasn’t there. When she was around, Dad didn’t say much and let her run the whole show. I always suspected that Mom might have been bipolar, but she was never diagnosed. Her mood would switch dramatically without any notice. We’d be having a wonderful time one minute then the next minute, she was screaming, and my brother and I would have no idea what even happened. She also made things up, and Dad always believed her unconditionally. When Dad and I were alone though, we had the best conversations. I could be myself with him, and I think he felt the same. One day, as we were out touring the area, he turned to me and said, “Don’t tell your mom this, but I thought it was great when you went hitchhiking to California. I admired your adventurous spirit. I did a lot of hitchhiking in my Navy days. I knew you were smart and would be alright.” I started to cry, thanked him and told him that I was not alright now. I talked about how depressed I was and worried about not having health care during this pregnancy. I didn’t know what I would do when he left. Surprisingly, he didn’t suggest I come back to Connecticut. Instead, he encouraged me to figure out how to get into the city, and soon.
He was such a huge help during that visit. Paul was working all the time and spending all of those extra hours hitchhiking back and forth. Dad always hated Paul anyway, so it was a good thing that they didn’t spend much time in the cabin together. Dad took Jessie and me sightseeing all over the Hood River Valley. Getting out and about made me start to feel alive again. He also played with Jessie, recited poetry and sang to her constantly. My depression had been hard on her and, although I tried hard to engage, I had failed miserably. I started dreading the day Dad would return home. But his visit had lifted the fog somewhat, and we started taking walks again. I felt terrible about having abandoned my child to my misery after having been such a dynamic mother who was always engaged and reveling in being a parent. Now I was determined to turn things around.
Not long after Dad left, on one of those walks, I met a couple who lived a couple of cabins away. They invited us for dinner. They made spaghetti, and it was the first time I had tofu. I’d never even heard of it before that night. It was 1978. At dinner was another couple. They were friends of theirs who lived in Portland and wanted to move to the mountain. They were currently renting a two-bedroom house in Portland with a huge yard on a little dirt road arc with two other houses on one of the main streets and a major bus route. They asked if we wanted to trade houses. I was 6-months pregnant, had no doctor yet, no car or phone and was living in the middle of nowhere basically by myself with my toddler. It didn’t take me any time at all to agree. They talked to their landlord, and we started packing. Paul and I had been together five years and had already lived in eight different places. I hoped this place would last for a while. I was ready to settle and have my baby.
Paul and I both had to admit that Wyoming was gorgeous, but we were burning out fast. We were tired of being trapped in a cramped and fully packed car with our traveling companions, tired of juggling entertainment for a 2 ½ year old and just plain tired of being on the road. We had no desire to sightsee. We were ready to get to our final destination. Ha, ha! Did I just say final? No destination ever seemed final. However, when we made it to Wyoming, we decided to stop at a scenic spot called Wind River Canyon. It was time to let Jessie run around a bit, and this seemed like a great place.
It really was an amazing spot. Like its name, it was very windy with the big rushing Wind River running through the canyon. When we all piled out of the car, Debbie and Steve went one way while we went another. It was a much-needed break for everyone. Paul and I watched Jessie running through the tall grass. Wow! She seemed to be running faster than usual. It looked as though her feet weren’t even touching the ground. Then suddenly, we realized that she was airborne. The wind was so strong, it had picked her up and was whisking her away … toward the river. We both took off running. I’ve never seen Paul run so fast as he did then. Luckily, he grabbed her foot, as she went flying ahead of him, and pulled her into his arms. As I held her close to me and turned to go back to the car, expecting her to be traumatized, she laughed and said, “Did you see, Mommy? I was flying in the air, just like Piglet!” I had been reading Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne to her, and she was referring to Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. She loved that adventure more than her dad and I did and remembered it for a long time to come. I, on the other hand, didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Later that day, it was no surprise when we hit a snowstorm and had to spend the night in a motel. This was an expense that we hadn’t expected or prepared for, but it turned out to be a good thing since Jessie had picked up some stomach bug and vomited all night long. I didn’t sleep again that night, but it was nice to take a shower and lie down on a real bed in our own room, away from all the tension of the trip. We left the next morning and finally dropped our friends off in Portland, Oregon before heading on to Amber’s home. We were awfully glad to see them go. It was probably the most stressful road trip I’ve ever made. However, we did remain friends for years. Debbie and Steve became especially important people in our lives. By the time we reached our destination, I had a constant headache and was running on fumes from lack of sleep. I needed to rest, but I was there to help Amber with her first child. Her partner was being no help at all, and their relationship was floundering. Now they had two more adults and a toddler to contend with as well as their own drama.
They lived in a small place in Husum, Washington which is located on Mount Adams, one of the snowcapped Cascades. Unfortunately, we were not the best house guests. Jessie was a little wild from being cooped up for so long on the road, and Amber had an infant who needed quiet to sleep. Paul and I were completely exhausted and frazzled. We needed to land and recharge. There were no facilities in the cabin they were living in, so trenches needed to be dug, water had to be hauled, cooking and cleaning needed to be done. Amber and Greg were fighting, and we had just left a situation where a couple was fighting constantly. We soon realized that Paul needed to go out and find work fast. So, he started looking. He finally found a job at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, on the other side of the Columbia River, in Oregon.
Timberline Lodge was built during the Great Depression by the WPA. Franklin Roosevelt had decided to create work for the artisans in the country. There are huge hand carved newel posts and other carvings. There are mosaics and murals, beautiful tile work, sculptures, stained glass and more. The entire place is a masterpiece of craftsmanship. I highly recommend visiting there. Mount Hood is a snowcapped mountain and an active volcano expected to erupt again at some time. There is skiing year-round, and it is always busy there. In order to maintain his job, Paul had to live close by, and they offered free room and board to employees, so he moved in. I soon found out that I was pregnant again. It never seemed to take much for me to conceive. I used birth control religiously, but it didn’t seem to matter. My children came when they wanted to come regardless of any precautions. I never had any morning sickness with any of my pregnancies, but I was exhausted. I hated having Paul living so far away and made the drive once a week to visit him there. He also came back to Amber’s every other weekend, but things were getting more tense at the cabin as each day went by. I knew I had to move out soon.
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and neither could Amber. She was my closest friend but was struggling with her partner and trying to manage a brand-new baby. I was newly pregnant and exhausted with a rambunctious 2-year old. Unfortunately, by the time I moved out, Amber and I were no longer speaking to each other. We were two very strong personalities trying live in a tiny cabin under unforgiving circumstances, and our friendship broke under the strain. I had to get out fast, so Paul found us a weekly motel room rental with a living room, bedroom and kitchenette near Timberline Lodge, at the base of Mount Hood, in Zig Zag, Oregon. We loved the name of the town, loved being in the mountains and, even though the space was small, it was finally our own. Debbie and Steve had settled in Portland, and we had reconnected. One day, I made the drive into Portland to visit with them while Paul was at work.
Steve had decided to start growing his own psilocybin mushrooms and insisted that I bring some back for Paul. I wasn’t doing any of that now that I was pregnant and wasn’t tripping around my child anyway, so it was just for Paul to do alone. That would have been fine except that we didn’t really have new friends where we lived, and Paul didn’t want to trip alone. Steve had warned me that they were strong and quirky. The dose seemed to vary from shroom to shroom. Paul started pressuring me to join him. “Just take a little bit. It won’t harm the baby, and we’ll take it after Jessie is asleep,” he said. After an hour of arguing, I finally agreed to take the tiniest little bite. I figured it would appease him, and I wouldn’t have enough in my system to even get a little buzz. But boy was I wrong.
I put Jessie to bed in the main area and went to join Paul in the bedroom. I took the tiniest little nibble while trying to make it look as though I had taken more. The last thing I wanted was to have him start his trip angry with me, but I also didn’t want to eat them. Then I settled down with a book. Before long, Paul started moaning, so I went over to check on him. He had eaten one and a half small mushrooms heeding Steve’s advice and not wanting to go for a blowout trip alone. It took a while before he responded to me. When he finally opened his eyes, he looked scared. He rambled on about a monster inside his head eating a hole right through his brain. Then he started screaming. I wasn’t sure what to do. I tried to quiet him down, reminding him that Jessie was sleeping in the next room. At that point, he curled up in a ball with the pillow and blankets over his face and just moaned the whole night long.
I stayed by his side saying soothing things, but I was getting worried. Surely that little crumb that I’d eaten wouldn’t do much, or would it? When I started feeling otherworldly, I knew I might be in trouble. I’d made a vow not to trip with my kids around. I had seen all of those TV shows about the dangers of drugs, like the Dragnet episode where they found a child drowned in the bathtub because the parents were too high. Maybe it would be okay if she stayed asleep. However, luck was not on my side. Pretty soon I heard a little voice saying, “Mommy, I need to go potty.” Okay, this should be easy. I got up off of the bed and realized that I had no idea where the bathroom was or even how to get out of the room that I was in. The fact that everything kept getting larger then smaller wasn’t helping any.
I knew that I couldn’t find my way to my daughter, so I thought fast and called out, “Okay honey, can we play a little game? Come find Mommy in the dark.” She giggled and said, “That’s easy. I can find you.” Once she came in, I said, “Now can you find the way to the bathroom, too?” At this point the room had shrunk down so small, I thought I would bump my head on the ceiling, so I was crawling. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. Of course, Jessie loved the fact that we were crawling around in the dark, and that she got to be the leader. We made our way – very slowly – to the bathroom and back to her bed. She settled back down while I sat on the floor next to her bed. I sang her to sleep and just kept on singing until I was finally drowsy enough and aware enough to find my way back to bed where Paul’s moans had quieted to a dull hum. He apologized the next day for having pressured me into tasting those mushrooms, and we spent my whole pregnancy worried about any ill effects they might have had on our child, while Jessie remembered that night with glee. She would comment on how much fun it was to play with Mommy in the dark in the middle of the night. All’s well that ends well. My son was not harmed by that night, but I learned a valuable lesson about mushrooms. I never liked them anyway. They’d always had a dark ominous vibe for me, and I never ate them again after that.
We stayed one night in Yellow Springs, Ohio where Debbie and Steve, our traveling companions, would stay for a visit with their friend. Getting to Kansas City from Ohio should have been pretty easy. It was only about 9 hours away, though we knew it would take longer because of having to stop more often with a small child. We left bright and early, anxious to visit our dear friend but just as glad to leave our annoying traveling companions behind. The plan was to stay with Brian for a week then travel on to our final destination. We didn’t realize that there is a Kansas City in two states. The Missouri River separates the two states and Kansas City straddles Missouri and Kansas. We stopped off briefly in St. Louis to see the big archway to the west because we weren’t going to miss any of the sights along the way. We had a car this time and could go wherever we wanted. The Arch is “the nation’s tallest monument, soaring 630 feet above the Mississippi River, 886 tons of stainless steel welded into a seamless curve, assembled with such precision that if either leg had veered off by just one-sixty-fourth of an inch the two couldn’t have been joined in the middle. Completed 50 years ago this month, the Gateway Arch, the Midwest’s best-known monument, was hailed as linking ‘the rich heritage of yesterday with the richer future of tomorrow.” - Smithsonian Magazine October 2015
We had decided to take our time but were thrilled when we finally hit Kansas City, Missouri. Our thrill soon faded when we started asking for directions to Brian’s apartment. He was still working and wouldn’t answer his phone for a while. We figured we would find his place then explore the area on our own. Everyone we asked for directions told us the same thing, “Well … you can’t there from here.” We thought it was a joke played on tourists until a kind hippie told us that it was true. It was not easy to get from one part of the city to the other because they were actually two different cities. I think that’s changed now with both Kansas Cities being part of one big metropolitan area, but at that time, they were very separate.
We headed out of Missouri and into Kansas. We had plenty of time on our hands, so we found a park. It was a busy park, so Paul pulled out his guitar and opened up the case. We may as well try to make some money while we were waiting. Another hippie came rushing up and told us that we’d better close the case because the mayor didn’t allow busking in his city and arrested all homeless people. He was very adamant about it and surmised that we might both end up in jail and have our daughter taken from us. It didn’t take any persuasion for us to pack it up. We certainly didn’t want to take that risk. Apparently, we could have gotten away with it in Missouri, but we weren’t going to make that confusing drive back and forth again, so we stayed put enjoying the park and nice weather and playing with our daughter. When it was finally time to connect with Brian, we couldn’t seem to find his place. We started asking for directions again only to hear the same old story we’d heard in Missouri. “Well, you can’t get there from here.” I think we drove around in circles more in both Kansas Cities than ever in my life. I swore I would never go back there.
We finally made it Brian’s apartment which was tiny. We slept on pads on the living room floor for a week. It was fine except for the roaches. It was the first time I had ever seen cockroaches. I was horrified! Brian assured us that they were harmless and only came out in force in the dark. They were quite common in Kansas City. They weren’t common to me, and I’m not sure I slept through the night for that entire week. I was sure they were going to drop down on us from the ceiling. You could hear them skittering around all night. When the light was turned on, it was like a wave moving. I didn’t want to stay the whole week, but we had planned for Debbie and Steve to meet us there, so we were stuck. It was wonderful hanging out with Brian and his girlfriend, but the roaches were disgusting. Instead of the relaxing break we had planned on to recharge, we left there more exhausted than when we’d arrived. We spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying the spectacular scenery of the Great Plains and napping in the great outdoors. Brian had been one of our closest friends in Santa Cruz, and it was wonderful reconnecting with him and catching up. The week actually flew by, and we felt a mix of regret at leaving our friend and relief to be back on the road. We packed up the car the day before, planning to leave early the next morning. Our friends hadn’t shown up, so we planned our route, looking forward to making the rest of the trip by ourselves. That morning, who came running down the street just as we were saying our goodbyes? That’s right. Debbie and Steve had made it to Kansas at the last minute. Damn! They had left Ohio a couple of days earlier figuring that they’d spend a few days with us at Brian’s but had trouble getting the rides and were getting worried that we would leave without them. We would have, too. In the long run, looking back on it, I’m glad they made it even though the trip itself was a nightmare. They became some of our closest friends while living out west.
Of course, Steve didn’t like our planned route and wanted to know why we had planned without them. We explained that we thought they wouldn’t make it. Paul also reminded him that this was originally our trip, and he was just a passenger. I thought they were finally going to come to blows, but Debbie and I soothed the ruffled feathers and we headed down the road in a thick, heavy silence. It was a tense ride that day when the car suddenly broke down. Ugh! We didn’t have a lot of money, hadn’t been able to make any along the way with our music and were starting to worry. We still had a long way to go. Steve was loaded and offered to pay the lion’s share of the repair if we took his proposed route and went up through Wyoming. He and Debbie had always wanted to see The Grand Tetons. Paul and I had already seen this majestic mountain range and knew that there was still a big chance of snow in that region. We wanted to stay on I-70 and head north later on, avoiding any potential storms but, against our better judgement, we agreed to head for I-80.
After making that decision, a lot of the tension from Steve dissipated. There were no sardines stinking up the car and very little bickering. It seemed as though Debbie and Steve were too tired to fight anymore, Steve only sat in the front seat away from our 2-year old, and we all started to relax and enjoy each other’s company more. We saw some beautiful and interesting places along the way. However, we were stopping more often now because we were all worn out. Paul and I had a sleepless, uncomfortable week at Brian’s and Debbie and Steve had spent days trying make the 9-hour drive from Ohio to Kansas. For Paul and I hitchhiking seemed easier since we didn’t have to do the driving and could mostly sleep whenever we wanted, as long as we got the rides that is. However, we certainly weren’t going to hitchhike with our child. In spite of all of the trials and tribulations, we were starting to feel relieved to have extra drivers helping out with the burdens. We’d headed north out of Kansas City and picked up I-80 west. After a long, boring trip through Nebraska, we finally made it into Wyoming. So far, so good.
For me, one of the hardest things about making these big moves was leaving behind the people I had come to know and love. I’ve had to say goodbye to many friends over the years, and I think it’s hardened my heart a bit. On the other hand, it’s also enabled me to open up to people more quickly. I’ve learned that there’s no time like the present. Why waste time when I’m not sure where I’ll be next year? As a result, I have many sisters and brothers around the country who shared formative times in a variety of places. Some of us remained connected while others drifted apart. The bond is still there, and it’s strong whether or not we ever see each other again. There were also times when those bonds unraveled to different degrees, but we stuck it out to the end. So far, anyway.
Paul and I knew it was time to move on. We had unthinkingly come back to many of the same things we’d left in the first place. It was a very conservative area politically and socially. My family was also very conservative. They were uncomfortable with even the idea that I would breastfeed my child. So, I was asked to “go to the bathroom to do that,” which I refused, of course. Out west, where she was born, everyone fed their young ones that way. I’d been hanging out with hippies. I’d learned about herbal healing and organic gardening. I was growing and learning and thriving in this new world. A lot of those ideas hadn’t really reached my hometown, yet. We were also just barely getting by, even with both of us working and Paul taking on an extra job. Although we were drowning, we’d made some close friends, had reconnected with old friends who’d survived those early initiation days and were able to let our daughter bond with her grandparents. All of that made it harder to say goodbye. But it was time to move on. So once again, we started to plan.
Remember Amber? She had moved up north to the Cascade Mountains as we had hoped to do and was having a baby. She invited us to come help and be companions. Her boyfriend was there, but the relationship was not the best. She could use the support. We had bought my dad’s old 1966 Plymouth Valiant, the car I learned to drive in. It was a reliable car and could take us across the country again. We’d gotten a tax return to pay for the trip and should be all set. One of the new friends I had was another Debbie. Having been born in 1953, I often ran into “Debbies”. This Debbie was and still is a photographer. She’s one of those people who is born to be artistic. You just can’t seem to help it. She and I spent a lot of time together during that year and a half. I still have some of the photos she took of Jessie and another of my first two children, she took a few years later. Now, as we were getting ready to leave, her boyfriend suddenly left her for another woman. She wanted to leave with us and make a new start. Of course, we said yes. She and Jessie got along well. Debbie would help out with her, the driving and the expenses, plus we’d all know another person when we got there. It did mean three adults and a child in a four-door sedan packed with everything we could fit to start up a new household but … we could do it!
Everything was lining up according to plan. In my experience, before every journey, there’s that time when you’re over-thinking everything and going over all the details, driving yourself crazy. What could possibly go wrong? In my life, things often go wrong. And, I have to admit, if you’re moving across the country like a gypsy, there’s plenty that could go wrong. On the other hand, if you’re a true hippie, you must have faith that things will work out if you keep those positive vibes. We were all about the vibes.
Two weeks before we were set to leave, Debbie’s boyfriend returned. He’d gone to some Caribbean Island to be with another woman, and it didn’t work out. He wanted to reconcile. Debbie was all set on leaving with us, but the pressure was getting to her. She loved him. We totally let her off the hook, so she could be free to do whatever she wanted. We could manage the trip on our own. Just keep those positive vibes going. It turned out that what she wanted was for her beau to travel with us. I didn’t think much of the guy, and we hadn’t even met him yet. There was no way I wanted to add another person into our cramped car anyway. Jessie wasn’t a baby anymore. She was two and a half and needed space to play or create while we drove. As it was, we would have to make frequent stops to let her run around. When I added in the space he would need for his belongings, it was an easy, “NO!”
Between Debbie crying and being indecisive then crying more, and Paul’s frugality reminding me that we would spend less money, less time driving with more people sharing the burdens and they didn’t have a car which made a caravan out of the question, I reluctantly relented. We quickly met Steve. He seemed like a nice guy and eventually became a close friend. He was also over six feet tall. I guess we figured that we would just cram everybody and everything in as best we could and hope for the best. So, we scheduled some meetings to strategize our route and set some kind of schedule.
We wanted to visit friends and family along the way, so the first stop was the Pittsburg, PA area. We stayed with Denis and Nigel who had a punk band. Denis was also an artist who did a comic. He was a childhood friend of Paul’s. We eventually lost track of them over the years. Last we’d heard they were in Los Angeles. I don’t think they ever heard of Paul’s death, though I did try to find them. We also had a friend in Kansas City, Debbie and Steve had one in Yellow Springs, Ohio. They were also really set on visiting the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. We knew that there was a good possibility of snow at that time, so we nixed that idea, but they never really dropped it. The plan so far was to stay south of the Rockies to avoid any bad weather.
Two days before we were ready to leave, I decided to go say goodbye to Amber’s mother. It was a beautiful morning as I put Jessie in the car and drove to North Stamford along the winding, hilly roads. We had a wonderful but tearful visit then started home. Along one of those particularly winding stretches of road, my car made a horrible THUNK and just stopped. I sat there stunned for a few minutes then got out to look. I had no idea what the problem was, but I wasn’t going to figure it out standing there, so I scooped up Jessie and stuck out my thumb. I made it home and called my mom who called a towing company to come get the car. Then, she called her multitude of friends and found us another car that day. Mom was always amazing that way. She had friends everywhere and knew how to get things done. The new car was registered that day, so we packed it up and were ready to go. Mom wasn’t pleased that we dropped off the spare tire to make room for the very last bit. Paul assured her that we’d be fine and wouldn’t even need the tire, which we didn’t.
The morning before we were scheduled to leave, we heard the doorbell ring. Paul went downstairs to check and came back up with a stricken look on his face. He said, “The police are downstairs wanting to talk to you.” “What?!” I was already stressed out about the trip ahead, trying to fit everyone and everything in, all the negotiations then having to replace the car at the last minute. I didn’t think I could handle another drama, but I walked down quickly to get it over with. “Yes, I was Deborah Cavanaugh. Yes, I did own a 1966 Plymouth Valiant. What? No, I didn’t drive it over the edge of a ravine and leave it nose down in a creek!” That’s when I started to cry. I admit that I’m a crier when things get to be too much. It enables me to regroup. So, I just cried for a few minutes. When I was done, they called the towing company that was supposed to have taken the car. They hadn’t gotten to it, yet. Apparently, overnight some kids found it along the road and pushed it over the side, where it landed headfirst into the creek. When they pulled it out, they remarked that the headlights still worked. I was very sorry to lose that car.
It was a trick to fit everything into the new car which was, thankfully, a little larger. Paul and I were moving a small family. Although we were small, there were still three of us, and it was originally our move. We were just bringing them along. Everyone had their own personal belongs that we packed into the trunk and the floor of the backseats. This meant that the back was just a large platform. Steve insisted on bringing his comic book collection, which was an investment that he didn’t trust being away from him, but they couldn’t get packed away. They had to be accessible to him. He did end up financing something big with that collection later in his life. They were amazing comics with Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and many more. We didn’t mind him reading them in the back seat, except that my 2 ½ year old daughter was always in the back and wasn’t even allowed to look over his shoulder. They would argue over those comics incessantly. He and Debbie were trying to work out their stormy relationship during this trip, and it was making everything very tense. Before too long, Steve bought sardines at one of our stops and started eating them as we drove. Paul pulled over, got out of the car and lost it. He threatened to leave him there. Between the fights over the comics, the bickering between him and Debbie and now the sardines, I was good with that. Let’s leave him here! Leaving him meant leaving Debbie, and we couldn’t really do that, so we finally decided not to just leave him there on the side of the road with his comics and sardines, but there were rules. No more sardines, no more arguing between him and Debbie inside the car and he would always have a front seat, with his comics. I wondered later if maybe it was manipulated to get him a front seat. We hadn’t really thought about the height issue in the back, and he really did need a front seat, being so tall.
The next stop was Yellow Springs, Ohio. Debbie’s friend was there. Betsy had a small child that they hadn’t met yet. She looked like a very cool person, but we needed a break from the two of them, so we proposed dropping them off there and moving on to Kansas City to visit our friend there. If they could get to Kansas City in eight days, we would bring them the rest of the way. We gave them Brian’s phone number hoping that they would call and say they decided to do something else, then we drove on our way, our load quite a bit lighter.
So now here we were back in my hometown, close to my family and Paul’s mother, back with our old friends. Luckily, our time out west had narrowed our circle of friends, enabling us to choose who to hang out with more wisely. At least, that’s what we thought. It was true to a certain degree. We had a family now and needed to be much more responsible than we had been in the past. We did do a few packed gigs, but as soon as the novelty wore off, the crowds dwindled. We were still only a duo with no plans to expand into a full band, so we eventually just jammed with friends and each other. We continued to expand our minds since we had stopped expanding our horizons, at least for now, but always made sure that our daughter, Jessie, was cared for by someone else at those times.
We lived in a three-story apartment building with six units. There was a teenaged girl on the first floor who became our regular babysitter, until we discovered her stealing our pot. There was also a wonderful Irish woman next door with a small child. It was a great place for Jessie to grow up. We could walk everywhere. There was a firehouse nearby that would keep her fascinated for hours. There was a playground and a library which were a long walk but doable. Of course, the cost of living was higher at that time, so I went looking for a job. We knew that childcare costs would be ridiculous and, although my parents lived only a few blocks away, my mom was not willing to help out. She wanted to take Jessie on her own terms at her convenience. My dad wanted to see her much more than that, but he wasn’t the one doing the work, so Mom always won out.
I understood why she was reluctant. She’d become a mother when she was twenty-two. I did the same. My brother came almost four years later. Life for my parents was very stressful. We lived in poverty because, although my dad had a very prestigious job and had to look the part, he got a low salary for the work he did. His job involved hobnobbing with politicos, lawyers and judges, so he needed a good suit and a good-looking car. My mom had to have new dresses for events they attended while my brother and I wore hand-me-downs. Mom also worked. In the beginning, she worked nights, leaving Dad to care for us in the evenings. Once we were in school, she worked during the day always getting out in time to meet us at home when school was over. They did manage to eventually buy a house because Dad’s parents helped them. The house they bought was in shambles and needed lots of rehab, which Dad did mostly himself. This meant that I grew up in a construction zone for a large part of my childhood. When Dad finally started making a livable salary, Mom got pregnant again. I was sixteen. When Jessie was born, my sister was only six. Mom was not really in grandmother mode yet, but she did her best, sometimes taking Jessie during the day while my sister was in school. She didn’t like the idea of being a grandmother. She thought she was much too young and insisted that Jessie refer to her as “aunt.” So, Jessie started calling her Aunt Grandma.
Paul and I had always smoked openly in front of Jessie. We didn’t believe in hiding it because we didn’t think it was wrong and shouldn’t be illegal. We were young and naïve and didn’t realize that she might inadvertently make trouble for us. The first incident was as we were leaving our apartment one afternoon and she suddenly blurted out, “Oh wait, I forgot my dope!” She said this just as our Irish neighbor was also leaving. Thinking quickly on my feet I said, “Oh yes, Dopey Dolly! Let’s go back in and get her.” The next uncomfortable moment was with my mom. While living in Santa Cruz, we had found an old bamboo bong with an inscription on it in Chinese characters. We quickly found someone to translate it for us. It was a legend about the power of three, so we decided that, from that point on, we would only do three bong hits at a time. Jessie was enthralled with the bubbling of the bong, so we let her make bubbles when there was no smoke in it. One day she went grocery shopping with my mom at the local small market. When Mom dropped her off, she seemed terribly upset. She confronted me almost immediately saying, “I can’t believe you’re letting your baby smoke pot!” What!? I guess that, while they were standing in the checkout line, Jessie suddenly said, “Hey, Aunt Grandma, do you smoke pot? I do three bongs all the time.” I had a lot of explaining to do but did manage to talk my way out of it. Jessie even insisted on demonstrating.
Compared to the heavy drug scene we had left, the one we came back to was very tame but still fun, nonetheless. There was a new dealer in town who was a hippie with older kids. His girlfriend was not much older than his boys. To us, he seemed like an old man, but he was probably in his mid to late thirties. He had an old beat up sedan that he let his kids paint. There were slogans like “listen to your mother” and others and lots of crazy psychedelic designs. His house was on a dead-end road and was constantly filled with partying people. I didn’t feel comfortable bringing Jessie there, so Paul and I always went without her. We had our babysitter living right in the same building, so we had the freedom to go out any evenings we wanted, and we could afford the cost because we were both working. One time, we even got a ride from the cops to his block.
It was a massive snowstorm, but there was a party scheduled, and we’d already arranged our childcare. The sitter’s mom was fine with her daughter sleeping over. It wasn’t like anyone was going out anyway. There was no way to drive, so we set out on foot. It was an exceptionally long haul, but we were determined. However, by the time we got halfway there, we were frozen and exhausted from battling the wind and driving snow. We heard a car coming and decided to stick out our thumbs. When the car stopped, we realized that they were local police. They asked us why we were out in the storm and where we were going. Paul told them that we were on our way to a “snowed-in” party and certainly didn’t want to risk taking our car out. They shook their heads saying, “Crazy kids!” and gave us a ride. We had them drop us off at a house a couple of blocks away, so we didn’t bring attention to our real destination. They were genuinely nice and cautioned us to be careful making our way back home. We made it home before dawn and tired waking our sitter to send her home. She wouldn’t wake up fully enough to go downstairs, and that’s when we realized that most of our pot was missing. It was the last time she worked for us.
Because I didn’t have childcare during the day, my employment options were limited. I needed a job where I could bring my child. My first job was as a school crossing guard. That didn’t last very long. I was assigned to a busy intersection near the downtown area. It was hellish trying to cross the kids during rush hour with angry drivers honking their horns, screaming at me to get out of the way and even sometimes trying to run me down. It didn’t feel like a safe environment to have my child in. The next job I had was driving a school bus. I loved the training in the big buses, but they ended up giving me a short bus. The drive to work was nerve-wracking. My little white Vega had brake problems. Actually, the brakes were so bad, I didn’t really have brakes at all and no money to fix them. The walk to work at 6 am was too far with a small child, so every morning I drove the car to the top of the hill leading to the buses and waited until the train went past then slowly rolled down the hill over the tracks and coasted to a stop in the parking lot, often stopping by gently hitting a pole. Occasionally the train would run late and, although I was tempted to risk it, I never did. I always waited for the train.
I enjoyed driving the bus and mostly enjoyed the kids until I got assigned to drive the most disturbed kids … with no aide on the bus. One little girl tried to dart off the bus every time I stopped to pick up some else. The few times she got away, I had to flag down a stranger to chase her and bring her back. I couldn’t leave my bus full of kids unattended to go running after one child. Another little boy took off every item of clothing one at a time, throwing them out the window until we arrived at school with him completely naked. For a short time, I had a boy with a broken leg who came with an aide. That made all the difference in the world. When he went back to his regular bus and I was left without any help, I complained – again. They assured me that they would work something out. A week later, I got my new assignment. I was being given a big bus! (hooray!) the woman who had been doing that route, to and from the projects, had been attacked by the high school students on the bus and was hospitalized. They needed a replacement. When I balked, they assured me that they had put a radio in the bus so I could call for help, if I needed it. Needless to say, I quit.
I was naïve in many ways. I had always been brutally shy, probably because of the threat of violence in our home every day. I think I was more terrified than shy. As a result, I never really had friends until Junior High School. Then, I started hanging out with a fast crowd. We all smoked our first cigarettes in the fall of seventh grade and started showing an interest in boys. My Junior High School went through ninth grade but after eighth grade, my parents decided to take me out of public school and enter me in a private Catholic high school. Ugh! I didn’t know anyone and had just been diagnosed with scoliosis and encased in a leather a steel back brace that stretched from just under my chin to just past my hips. What a way to start a new school. I was bullied and ostracized and had no experience with the opposite sex until college. I had no idea how to flirt. I didn’t even recognize when someone was flirting with me because, who would do that anyway? I believed I was unattractive and was eternally thankful to have found anyone who could tolerate me. Paul, on the other hand, was a big flirt. Because he was so into flirting and interested in other women, he assumed that I felt the same. I got in so much trouble with him for hanging out with my male friends while he was at work. It never even occurred to me that he would be jealous because who would want me? We were just friends. We started fighting incessantly, mostly over one man in particular. I guess I should have realized something was askew when this guy asked me to slow dance with him one night at a party.
We had always argued, but this was different. Paul was working two jobs, and I had just quit mine. The only time we had off together was late nights and Sundays, and he slept most of Sunday trying to catch up. He hated his day job as a cook for a school cafeteria. There were too many unreasonable rules and regulations for him. His other job was late afternoons, evenings and Saturdays. We had managed to buy a car but were just barely surviving in spite of all our work. Our relationship was starting to fall apart, and we knew we needed to do something.
We were incredibly happy living in Santa Cruz. We’d finally found a place that felt like home. However, that soon changed. I’ve always had prophetic dreams. I’ve often dreamed about people’s deaths at the time that they are dying. I’ve also gotten warnings in dreams about things that were avoidable. It’s been both helpful and frightening. When I was a child, I had a recurring dream that haunted me for years, coming a few times a week. In this dream, I was cursed by an evil witch. I never knew why she cursed me, but she said that everywhere I stepped the ground would turn to quicksand. I ran through the town trying to get to my home where I thought I would be safe. As I ran and the land turned into a gloppy mess, with men, women and children sinking and screaming, people started throwing rocks at me from a distance telling me to leave town before I destroyed everything. I kept running and running to get home. When I finally got to my home, it was an apartment building I didn’t recognize and a family I didn’t know. Standing on the roof was a man holding a small child yelling at me to leave and never come back. I would wake up from this dream crying, and my mom would run in and assure me that since I didn’t recognize anyone, it had to be just my own worries creating it. I never could understand what worries would cause me to dream about quicksand, but once the dream stopped coming, I forgot about it until one night in 1976.
Our daughter was 8 months old when I had that same dream that I used to have as a child. When I woke up from that old dream in Santa Cruz, as a young mother, I realized that the people on the roof were my current family and the building was our apartment building. I immediately woke Paul and told him we had to move away. I described the dream, and although he knew I’d often had prophetic dreams, he brushed it aside and told me to go back to sleep. We liked it there, at least for now, and I must be overreacting. That morning he went out to get the newspaper and came home looking shaken and pale. On the front page of the paper was an article about what would happen in Santa Cruz if a big earthquake occurred. The neighborhood we were living in was close to the beach. It was predicted that the whole area would turn into quicksand as the ocean swelled from the quake. That was all it took to convince him to move out of California, so we decided to move to Oregon and try to get work in the orchards. That big earthquake did hit Santa Cruz many years later and destroyed a large part of the city including our neighborhood and many of our favorite spots.
In order to make this necessary move, Paul quit his job and hitchhiked north. While Paul went north, I moved out of our apartment, putting all of our possessions in storage, and moved into the local park with our friend, Amber. She had a VW bus that we slept in and lived out of, but we spent most of our time outdoors. We had agreed that Paul would make phone calls to the pay phone outside of a nearby café, The Broken Egg Omelet House, every few days to check in, letting me know about any progress he’d made and where to go when it was time for us to join him. This was well before the age of cellphones, so we set a day and time for the first call then planned the next one each time we talked.
I settled into an easy routine with Amber and little Jessie, thoroughly enjoying our gypsy lifestyle. Amber had planned a visit to Connecticut to visit family, and Jessie and I were going to travel with her, coming west again in a few weeks to meet up with Paul, hopefully giving him enough time to settle before we reunited. To make all of our grand plans actually work, these scheduled calls and the timing in general were crucial. When Paul missed a phone call a few days before we were due to leave for our trip east, I started to panic. What should we do? The calls were scheduled one at a time. We hadn’t thought about what to do if we missed one. I stayed close to the pay phone all that day and the next day. I wasn’t willing to live in the park with my baby alone and without any vehicle to sleep in but was worried about leaving on a cross-country trip without checking in with Paul first. How would I find him again when we returned? We were hanging out in the park, the day before we were supposed to leave, when a waitress came running up asking if I was Debbie Cavanaugh. Thankfully, Paul was finally calling. The pay phone was not accepting calls in, so he finally decided to try calling the café. He let me know that he’d been unable to find work, was very discouraged and was on his way back to Santa Cruz. We waited for him and all left two days later in Amber’s VW bus for the long ride back home to Connecticut.
We decided to take a southern route since all three of us had arrived in California via the northern routes and wanted to see new sights. We went to The Grand Canyon, and lots of other magnificent places. This was before the days of seatbelts and car seats, so we set up a tiny play area on the floor in the back for Jessie. She was very close to walking on her own, so I felt a little guilty sticking her in a moving vehicle for days, but she actually took her first steps while we were driving down the highway. By the end of the trip, she could toddle back and forth in the bus but not on solid land, and I could see how confusing that was for her. I learned a lot during that trip about how to travel effectively with a young child. I figured out what toys were the best to keep her occupied, what foods worked, what art supplies to take along and how to make them accessible without them rolling away. We made that whirlwind trip in three days, taking turns driving and sleeping, driving all night long and living on coffee. I drew the short straw and ended up with the middle of the night shift, so for three days, I drove at night and catnapped during the day between reading and playing with our young daughter. Although I was exhausted by the end, I was young and bounced back quickly. We only had one potentially dangerous situation to handle during that trip.
We had made sure to gas up before we hit Texas and decided to take Interstate 40 across, so that we could drive all the way through that state without stopping, heading further south if we wanted after leaving Texas. It was 1976, and we knew that Texans still didn’t really like hippies very much. We made it to Oklahoma on fumes, but at least we weren’t in Texas. While Amber filled up the VW bus, Paul and I went into the truck stop to pay for the gas and get some coffee and tea. We knew we were in trouble when the noisy place went totally silent as we walked up to the counter. After taking the money for gas, the waitress refused to serve us. As Paul started to argue with her, I noticed a low rumbling and grumbling starting to grow. I pulled at his sleeve assuring him that we didn’t really need anything and insisting that we leave. As we walked out the door, we heard the jukebox start to play “Up Against the Wall Red-neck Mother.” We ran to the bus and took off in a hurry as some of the patrons ran outside watching us drive away. Thankfully, Jessie, who had been safe in the bus with Amber at the time, never had any notion of danger. I have always been pretty lucky on the road.
I’d decided not to tell my parents that we were coming. I thought it would be nice surprise. I was the one who was surprised when we arrived in Connecticut only to find out that my parents were on vacation in New Hampshire. Ugh! It didn’t take me long to get an address for the house they’d rented. I swore the neighbors, who had given me the information, to secrecy, and off we went to find them. When we got to the vacation house, no one was home. “Oh, no! What do we do now?” I suggested that we park the bus out of sight, behind the bushes and break into the house, surprising them when they came home. Paul and Amber weren’t so sure about this and even tried to talk me out of it. I love surprises, except not always when I’m on the receiving end. Eventually, despite their misgivings, they went along with it anyway. I guess I was pretty convincing, and it was my family after all. Looking back on it now, like so many other things, I realize how stupid that was. It never even occurred to me that we might have had the wrong house. It’s amazing that my parents didn’t faint or have a heart attack or something. But, they didn’t. My mom screamed, then cried. My dad shook his head in disbelief then laughed. He always loved my adventurous spirit, though he did his best to squelch it when I was younger. We had a wonderful visit and went back to our hometown with them a few days later. Paul and I immediately got a gig at a local bar, had a great turnout and, in our youthful enthusiasm, decided that this must have been our “big break.” We decided to stay and left poor Amber to make the long drive back alone. She was on unemployment and had to get back by a certain date to report to them.
My family was thrilled and helped us set up housekeeping, providing us with furniture and household goods. We had left all of those things locked up in a storage locker back in Santa Cruz, which we paid on for years to come. Obviously, in our youthful enthusiasm, we didn’t realize that there was no such thing as a “big break.” Our newfound fame slowly dissolved, leaving us back in our hometown facing all the same demons we had left. Little did we all know that eventually, our wanderlust would kick in again, though I guess Paul and I suspected as much. We weren’t really interested in settling. We were still ripe for adventure and anxious to see what the world had to offer, and the Pacific Northwest was still calling out to us. But for now, we could enjoy our old friends and family, and it was nice to share this with our daughter. So far, in her first nine months, our daughter had hung out with many different and very unique people, gone to more concerts than many adults, lived in an apartment, in a city park and in a VW bus. She had learned to walk while crossing the country in a moving vehicle and was now settling close to her grandparents, who she barely knew, and adjusting into a vastly different environment. Luckily, she was raised to be flexible and was still quite young. At not yet a year old, she had already had more experiences than many adults have in a lifetime. Although I know she doesn’t actively remember these things, they helped mold who she would become. It certainly molded me, maybe in ways I don’t even realize. If I had to choose all over again, I would make all the same choices.
In addition to driving or hitchhiking to San Francisco for music, there was plenty of music right near our home in and around Santa Cruz. The center of activity was the Pacific Avenue pedestrian mall. This was the major hangout spot. There was always music there. There were always buskers (street musicians). I once saw Arlo Guthrie playing on a street corner. We hung out for a little while, and he told me that he liked to busk because it was a good reminder of where he came from. Paul and I occasionally busked there too, but he was working full-time, and we had our first baby, so our time was limited. That didn’t mean we weren’t playing tons, just not on street corners. We once went to a party and jammed with Sammy Hagar. Another time, I sat in on vocals with Don McCaslin’s band, Warmth, at the Cooper House, an old courthouse from the 1890s turned into a restaurant and café. They played there every day and night, usually outdoors by the sidewalk café. There were great clubs, too. The Catalyst was a cool, funky venue right in the hub of the action. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the big earthquake that happened there years after we were gone. It was rebuilt but had lost its funky quality that made it so warm and welcoming.
There was always something or someone interesting to be found on Pacific Avenue. One day, as I rounded a corner, there was a man in full combat gear, guns and all, just standing there like a statue. I thought at first that he was until he moved slightly. He was protesting “the police state.” Another day, I was walking along when I heard a familiar voice. Back when we were living in Connecticut, just before we decided to leave on our big adventure, we had picked up a hitchhiker near Hartford and brought him to our apartment where he stayed for almost a week. His name was David. He was homeless and traveling the country by thumb. He played harmonica, so we stayed up night after night jamming and partying. When he left for the west coast, we gave him some winter gear, hat, coat and gloves, so he wouldn’t freeze. David had the most unique voice. It had been destroyed by cigarettes and alcohol but had a very melodic, though raspy, quality to it. Now, here he was, holding court on Pacific Avenue, playing his harp and regaling all the hippies with his stories. He recognized me immediately and insisted I sit with him for a while singing along.
We were often running into people we knew. Paul randomly found a former co-worker from Connecticut, and I found out that my cousin Tommy was living in Santa Cruz. By the time I tracked him down, he was moving on the next day. He was only a couple of blocks away from our apartment, and we had a nice visit. We also ran into the woman who had given us a ride out of the blizzard in Big Springs, Nebraska. Then, there were the folks we just ran into in San Francisco. This still happens to me all the time. Five years ago, I went out to Oregon to the Oregon Country Faire, a huge hippie festival held every July Fourth weekend/week. As I was walking through the packed crowd of thousands of people, I saw an old friend from Albany who was vacationing there. Neither of us had been in touch for a while and were quite surprised to see each other there. Though, I have to admit that I’m not really surprised by much these days.
My life changed in so many ways while living there. I was raised on fast food, TV dinners, instant mashed potatoes and Velveeta cheese. Suddenly, I found myself in an environment where there were food coops and people harvesting wild foods. There were natural healers using plants instead of chemicals to cure illnesses. There were nursing mothers everywhere of all ages, not just young hippies. I started learning all of these things, using herbs for healing, learning about vegetarianism and finding out more about nutrition than I’d ever imagined. There was a wonderful bookstore on the mall simply called “Bookshop Santa Cruz.” One day I found a cookbook in the free box on the sidewalk outside entitled “The Bread Book.” I started baking my own bread. I made bagels and pizza dough, bread, biscuits, muffins, coffee cakes, and more. I still own that book and use it often, as tattered and stained as it is. It still has the best cornbread recipe I’ve ever found. I also got the Tassajara Bread Book at that bookstore. It was in Santa Cruz that I ate my first taco and discovered my love for Mexican cuisine. I ate my first taste of Jicama at a potluck dinner in San Francisco that was a fundraiser for a Hispanic community and met Malvina Reynolds there.
We also discovered Peyote in Santa Cruz. We’d heard of it, of course, but hearing about it and trying it are two vastly different things. We got a batch and cleaned it thoroughly, removing all of the little while strychnine hairs. It was disgusting to eat, but once you vomited, it was like entering another world of light and color. It was the opposite of mushrooms, which I always found dark and foreboding. It was worth feeling like I was going to die for those minutes, which did seem like hours, until I purged the poison. It was easy to get, and eventually, we made it into iced tea. Our favorite snack became iced tea and pot cookies. Pot was readily and easily available as well. The Vietnam War had ended in April of 1975 and California was getting Vietnamese refugees. Some of them were a little sketchy, but we were all about peace, love and acceptance, so when we met a guy who offered to sell us a pound at an unbelievable price of $100, Paul decided to take the chance.
That was a lot of money for us back then, so we hit up two other friends to see if they wanted to get in on the deal. Of course, they did. The dealer was understandably very paranoid so they came up with a plan for Paul to walk through San Lorenzo Park and leave a paper bag with the money under the designated bridge where there would be a paper bag waiting for him there. He was not to stop but had to just pick up the bag and keep walking. When he got to the bridge, there was the bag with the dealer standing nearby. Paul picked it up and walked on. The dealer picked up the bag with the money, took a quick look inside and ran like a bat out of hell. At that point Paul looked inside the heavy bag and found a pound cake. By that time, the other guy was long gone. Paul came home a very seriously cut up the pound cake into equal portions and we all ate our hundred-dollar cake with a chaser of iced tea. Luckily, our friends were understanding, and we all chalked it up to a lesson learned.
So, why did we ever leave? That story is coming next.
One of the best things about living on the west coast in the 1970’s was the music. We saw the best shows there. Paul and I had been “Deadheads” for a while before making it west. So far, we’d only seen east coast shows. The Grateful Dead was a San Francisco band. We didn’t follow them around the country the way many others did, but during those traveling days we always seemed to be where they were. Who knows, maybe they were following us. The first Dead show I ever saw was 1972, somewhere in New Jersey. I struggle to remember details from those earlier days. Then Paul and I saw them together all over the east coast, mostly in New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, New York City and New Jersey. East Coast concerts had a very different vibe than the West Coast shows. Some of the best shows were The Garcia Band with many different people sitting in including Papa John Creech at one show just blocks from our house where Amber could babysit. We saw Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Emmy Lou Harris. We went to a local bar to see Neil Young’s band The Ducks, but Paul was too young to get in, so we stood outside and listened.
We also saw The Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins at The Keystone in Berkley on New Year’s Eve. Jessie was four-months old. Although this was way before anyone even had car seats for infants, I was aware that the music would be too loud for her little ears, so I always managed to find a quiet spot where I could still hear and see. The Keystone was small, so it was trickier, but I found a backroom with a window that looked onto the stage. I could see well, and it was loud enough to hear. When the band took their break, I was sitting on a bench in that room nursing Jessie when Nicky Hopkins walked in and sat down. He explained that the crowd in the Green Room was sometimes too much for him during a gig. We chatted for a while, then he asked if he could hold my baby. He hung out and cooed to her a bit then left to go back onstage. He was a very cool guy.
Shows were mellower out west. There were shows everywhere and many free shows in and around Golden Gate Park. It wasn’t a long drive at all from our home in Santa Cruz up the coast to San Francisco. We still didn’t own a car, but our good friend did, and she loved the company. The deal always was that Amber would drive one way, and Paul would drive back. I was always either pregnant or holding a baby, since there were no car seats, yet and we were all very young. I didn’t mind not driving and still love having a chauffeur. That way, I get to enjoy the ride in a different way, though I really love driving when I’m alone.
On March 23rd, 1975, Bill Graham organized a fundraising concert to benefit the San Francisco schools. They had been forced to cut their budget and were doing away with all extra-curricular activities. This meant sports, and all of the arts, including music. The S.N.A.C.K. Benefit Concert, or S.N.A.C.K. Sunday, was an all-day musical and cultural extravaganza. Tickets were $5 at Kezar Stadium. It was the first large benefit concert in history and led the way for future ones. It raised almost $300,000, mostly in ticket sales, enough to cover the costs for one year. You can do the math if you want, I just know there were a lot of people there. The bands were Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Doobie Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Santana, Joan Baez, Grateful Dead with Merl Saunders on organ, Bob Dylan with The Band and Neil Young. Between sets there would be motivational speakers like Willie Mays, Jesse Owens and Marlon Brando and of course the mayor of San Francisco to rev up the crowd. It was an unbelievable concert. Everyone was great, but Santana blew away everyone else. He even came up and jammed with The Dead and whipped them into a frenzy. The parking was horrendous that day. We had to park miles away. Meanwhile, other people parked wherever they wanted and were being ticketed and towed. Pedestrians were everywhere blocking the roads, walking home or to our cars. I’ve been in some ridiculous traffic jams before, but this was the worst! It took hours just to get to the car because you couldn’t get across the street without climbing over someone’s car. But, we were all hippies and most of us were mellow … peace, love and all that. Here's the audio from that day.
Another great show was at Marx Meadows on May 30th, 1975 in Golden Gate Park with Jefferson Starship, Diga Rhythm Band and Sons of Champlin. The Sons of Champlin were a popular, mostly west coast band and were really great but never made it nationally. Stanley Owsley, or Bear as we known, the king of LSD and sound wizard, was running sound for Starship at the time and ended up running the board for The Diga Rhythm Band. The Diga Rhythm Band was an amazing percussion-based psychedelic world music band that consisted of, among others, Mickey Hart who was one of the drummers for The Grateful Dead, and Alla Rakha, a world renowned Indian tabla player who specialized in classical Hindustani music and often accompanied Ravi Shankar and appeared on many recordings. The Diga Rhythm Band sadly only played three public gigs, and I'm glad I caught one of them. That day, they were joined onstage by Jerry Garcia on guitar and David Freiberg on bass for an almost 15-minute version of "Fire On The Mountain."
They were awesome. The whole day was awesome but incredibly hot. It had been 94 degrees in a wide-open field with hundreds of hot sweaty hippies.
As always, we’d agreed that Amber would drive there, and Paul would drive home. Paul, not having a car of his own, jumped at the opportunity to be behind the wheel. He was also a great driver. Now, I have always trusted in the universe, or as some people refer to it, “Guardian Angels.” Well, maybe not always, but I did learn that lesson early. When you have that trust, you can be a little riskier. We all had trust, though Paul trusted a little more than anyone else. We took many chances based on the belief that things would always work out in the end. We followed the hippie motto, “Just go with the flow, man … go with the flow.” That day we had all smoked a little, some more than others. There was plenty of variety offered, and other delights as well. None of us really drank much if any now. I think we’d all burnt ourselves out on alcohol previously. I was pregnant as that time and wasn’t drinking at all. We were all exhausted, so Amber fell asleep next to the window in the front seat while I sat in the middle keeping Paul company while he drove. It was a breath-taking ride home down the winding coast along cliffs that sheer off into the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we’d stop on that route and watch for whales swimming by. This day, however, everybody was beat and just wanted to get home.
I gazed out the side window for a just little while when I realized Paul hadn’t said anything in a little while. I looked up and saw that his eyes were closed with his chin resting on his chest. I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t seemed sleepy only a few minutes ago. I certainly didn’t want to startle him and have him jerk the wheel and crash or plummet over the cliff to be dashed on the rocks below, but I didn’t know what to do. I gently said his name a few times, trying to keep my voice calm. Then, I noticed that he was actually driving … safely. I thought I’d better wake Amber. It amazes me now that neither of us ever freaked out. We just took it in stride that here was another bizarre experience in our lives. We quickly decided to be ready to grab the wheel if necessary and trust that it would be okay. We were very alert as he drove down Highway 1 in his lane, making all the curves, never speeding, going right down the road for miles, while we sat there willing the car to stay on its path. After many minutes, he rolled his head around, lifting it up to look ahead, stretched his shoulders and said, “Aah, that was a nice little nap. I feel really rested now.” Amber and I sat there incredulous with our mouths gaping open for minutes, then we both lost it. After holding in all the stress of that terrifying experience, it came out all at once. It was a combination of awe, anger and laughter. What an end to that day! Those are the experiences that really cement relationships. I wonder if it's because no one else would believe you but a fellow accomplice?
On September 28th, 1975, we went to a "secret" free show at Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park. It was billed as The Garcia Band and Jefferson Starship, but it turned out to be Starship and The Grateful Dead coming out of their break. They were great. There are disagreements about the attendance, but it was somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 people, turning on and tuning in. Phil Lesh said in his biography that it was the last time the whole band dropped acid for a show. It was a definitely a psychedelic scene that we just heard about through word-of-mouth. Whenever moving to a new scene, Paul always made connections fast and always heard about these shows through the grapevine. The next summer we heard about a bicentennial free show by The Grateful Dead on July 4th, 1976. Thousands of us showed up for that historic show that never happened. Various hippies kept calling Bill Grahams office to ask if it was happening, and they would decline to answer. We took that to mean that they were coming, but they never did. The park was filled with hippies having the biggest party that I have ever attended. Here's an Archive of the Dead's set.
I can’t even remember, let alone name all of the musicians I saw while living out there. There were always people showing up randomly to sit in with the different bands. We also did a lot of jamming ourselves. Our home was always filled with music. I sang all throughout the day, singing to my baby and myself and singing with Paul when he was home. We found many other musicians along the way, jamming at parties or just in small groups, learning new songs and writing our own. Much of my relationship with Paul was built on our shared music and crazy adventures. Rather than running away from home, we were both running toward a new home at breakneck speed. The music grounded and healed us, individually and as a couple.
While living in Santa Cruz, we met all kinds of unique characters. There was a hippie couple with a baby girl very close in age to our daughter. Jewel and I became new mom companions. We were both young and newly settled there and were both staying at home with our babies while our partners worked. She was 18 years old with long red hair. Her husband, Rain, was an older guy with long white hair, and their little girl was named Honey Tree. We all had long hair then. Paul’s was down to his waist. He wore it in a ponytail, but sometimes I braided it. I was just growing mine out having never been allowed to do that as a child. I kept it long for many years as a rebellious act. We women wore long peasant skirts or patched jeans. Somewhere, I might still have a pair of old jeans from back then. Sometimes Jewel and I would meet in San Lorenzo Park with the two girls and just hang out watching the world go by. There was usually a lot to see because everybody used the park. There were festivals in the park, too. And many homeless folks lived there.
We thought of many alternative names for our daughter, Karma was my favorite at the time, but Paul was dead set against it. He pointed out that we still didn’t know where we would go from there and, because many places were still very conservative, he wanted her to have a more traditional name. We agreed on Jessica and thought Lee would be a nice middle name. I had been interested in astrology and numerology and started doing the numeric calculations for her name. The numbers added up to 4. This meant that her personality would be very much like her Virgo qualities, meticulous, intelligent, practical, analytical but also tend to be introverted, overcritical, fussy, harsh and judgmental. I thought that would be too much to saddle her with double those traits, so I started experimenting with other names. I came up with Lea. It is another word for a meadow, which I liked, and numerically it came out to 9. The number 9 in numerology is a very powerful number. It is ruled by Mars, the God of war. People with this number tend to have a strong and determined character that propels them to achieve success. However, it can also make them fiery and impulsive. I figured that might be a nice balance for the influence of Mercury, Virgo’s ruling planet.
Paul had a habit of picking up homeless folks that he would meet on his way home from work and invite them in for coffee. This was fine up to a point, but when they kept stopping by while he was at work, it got pretty annoying. Some of them were quite interesting like one man, Stephen, who had gotten multiple electroshock therapy treatments by mistake when his chart was mixed up with some else's. He was now living on the substantial settlement he'd received and was traveling the country by thumb. He twitched constantly, like he still had that current running through him. Our dog, Topaz, hated him and had to be put out on the back porch where he barked non-stop, sometimes making himself hoarse. He would usually start his frenetic barking before this guy even knocked at the door, often while he was still out of sight, so I always knew when he was due to arrive. He was very sweet and harmless.
Then there was the astrologer. He showed up looking for a place to stay the night. He offered to do a chart for our newborn daughter in trade. He spent hours drawing the chart then meditated on it for a while and started to read it for me. About halfway through, he looked at me and said, “Watch out for her knees.” I asked him what he meant, but he didn’t really know. He told me that it had just come to him out of the blue. I wrote it down and didn’t think about it again until a few years later when I noticed a pattern where Jessie would complain about her knees hurting a couple of days before she got sick. That became my cue to start her on extra vitamin C or some herbal preparation. Every time she complained about her knees, she would be sick a few days later. It was incredibly helpful to me as a parent.
The only homeless people that I had any real personal contact with were men. I don’t remember any homeless women, although I have a very vague memory of seeing a woman once out in the distance. A lot of people went missing in that area, so I assumed that the women stayed out of sight for their own safety. At that time, Santa Cruz was the murder capital of the world. We saw posters for missing people all the time, so we never went out alone at night. One of the regulars in the park was a man who had at one time been a nuclear physicist and had reevaluated his priorities. He had a steady, dependable income making a lot of money for that time. He had a loving family and was part of an active community. He woke up one day and realized what his job was actually doing in the world and just walked away from the whole scene. He now lived off the land, eating foods that were growing wild all around. He showed me rosemary growing wild in the park and in empty lots in town that I could use in my cooking. He was a very sad and brilliant man, eager to share his knowledge and his stories to have some personal connection, but he was tortured about his old life and couldn’t see past that sometimes. Whether it was his decision to retreat from the life he once had that caused him to lose his grasp of reality or something else, like many of the homeless people I met, he wasn’t always lucid but usually sought me out when he was.
“Moses” was of Jamaican descent and was possibly the most popular homeless man in town. I usually saw him in front of the Albertson’s grocery store. He was a very large man with long bushy hair that stood out all around, like a halo. He would stand at the big windowed store front with his arms spread out above him, very loudly channeling the “Word of the Lord.” He’d go on for hours at a time, and no one could speak with him during those times. Sometimes little respectful crowds would gather. He was really interesting and cool to listen to. It always made the shopping experience unique to what I’d grown up with. I saw it as street art. It was very entertaining and a good way to pass some time. When he was in the park, only a very few of us could actually talk with him at all. He was very peaceful and gentle-hearted but also withdrawn. He said it was exhausting having the word of God come through him. He told me that he lost control of his body at those times and was outside of himself not feeling any exhaustion in his arms until afterwards. He also usually lost his voice for a day or two after proselytizing. I think he spoke to me because I had a baby and was obviously safe. He mostly talked about spiritual things and turned me on to the book Be Here Now by Ram Dass.
Paul and I also met up with a few random people we had met in Connecticut, proving that it really is a small world. I was walking down Pacific Avenue one day and heard a very distinctive voice that I recognized immediately. It was “Michael,” a homeless man we had picked up hitchhiking before our big adventure a year earlier, while we were still living in Connecticut. It was in the fall of 1974. He was heading west and had no hat or coat, so we supplied him with warm clothes and put him up for a couple of nights. He played harmonica, so those few days he stayed with us in Connecticut, we stayed up most of the night talking and jamming. He had a very distinctive, raspy voice. One day, I heard that voice as I came walking down the street, and now, here he was, playing his harp and holding court on the sidewalk. We ran into lots of people from our recent past in Connecticut while we were there. Paul also met a former co-worker from Connecticut at the restaurant where he worked. There were others that we’d met in passing along the way, the woman who had given us a ride from Denver to Salt Lake City, an acquaintance from Paul’s days living in Greenwich, Connecticut as a kid and more. It was easy to meet people because everyone just hung out in these public places, sitting in little groups on the sidewalks, on park benches or strolling along. But we also learned quickly that some of us are just drawn to the same places.
I learned things from all of the people I met there. Having grown up very shattered and sheltered, I was just starting to learn about life. There were activists, commune dwellers, musicians, artists, healers... In that short 18 or so months, I learned about wild foods, herbal healing, “health foods” and “whole grains”, motherhood, spiritual enlightenment, alternative politics, sexuality and so much more. My mind was not only expanding, it was exploding. I’m sure that it also had a profound effect on a newborn just discovering the world. In our lives were people of all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, all orientations, and that was all before she’d even turned one year. I wonder what she still holds with her from that specific time. There are other eventful and colorful times, but this was her earliest. She obviously doesn’t remember details, but the overall vibe of that time and place has helped mold her as it has me. As for me, I still grow rosemary because it doesn’t grow wild around here, and I’ve been used to having fresh rosemary since 1975. I practice spirituality rather than an organized religion and still own my old copy of Be Here Now. I am comfortable with all people regardless of how they choose to live, as long as they are not hurtful, and I have an amazing sixth sense for danger when it’s needed.
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.