The East Greenbush Town Park is where I made my first New York friend.
Although we had anticipated a rough adjustment, it turned out to be rougher than we’d hoped. It was the end of the school year, and I had made sure that Jessie and Justin were both learning along the way. They had, in fact, learned some things that most adults haven’t yet learned about navigating your way through life, especially a life with difficulties. Jes. remembers some parts of the trip vividly, but Justin was 3-years old and doesn’t actively remember much, if any of it. However, those experiences are still in there and have an effect on both of their abilities to survive when necessary. I learned along the way that surviving is quite different from living life. It’s good to have that skill when you need it.
After our incredible journey from the Pacific Coast, and our dramatic arrival in East Greenbush, New York, we settled into my parents’ basement and started looking around. My parents had been begging us to move back east and promised to help us settle. We’d been advised by two different friends in Oregon to go to upstate New York to the Albany/Saratoga Springs area. One fellow, Carlos, told us to look up his parents who were part of the PSG (Pickin’ Singin’ Gathering). Another friend kept urging us to go check out Caffe Lena, the legendary folk venue. Paul, although he disdained folk music, was intrigued, so we finally agreed to move. My family had relocated there while was still out west. We arrived not knowing anyone there except my parents and siblings. Their suburban neighborhood wasn’t our ideal location, but we were determined to make the most of it. Now, Paul was out every day looking for work while I went exploring with the kids.
When Jessie was first born, Paul and I had decided that I would stay at home and raise our children, picking up work where I could. During that time, I had driven a school bus, been a crossing guard, made macrame plant hangers for a wholesaler, done childcare, worked for a pot grower and at an herb farm. I had also given music lessons here and there and homeschooled my kids for a couple of months at a time when traveling. In Portland, while Justin was still a baby and Jessie was still not school-age, I was given the opportunity to work for the phone company. It would have been a great salary with benefits at a time when, as usual, we were struggling financially. We researched childcare, looked at the numbers and talked it over. We realized that the cost of childcare would take up almost all of the extra money I would make while our kids were being raised by someone else. Paul had a grave look on his face as he explained that, although I would be bringing in so much more money than him, if I took the job, he would never be able to do what I was doing at home. The kids would be neglected, the house would fall apart, and we would both be miserable. We understood that it would be a disaster. Paul was raised in an even more dysfunctional family than mine. He and his siblings were left to raise themselves amidst violence and total chaos. He struggled with being a parent because he had nothing to base it on. He was angry often - at the world, at life, at his job and at home. I actually loved being a stay-at-home mom, I thrived on it. I felt like I was in my element and could give rein to my creativity in new ways. I was also getting tired of the economic struggle and knew we had to get out on our own as soon as possible. Mom refused to watch my children so that I could work. It being summer, I became determined to explore my new environment. I learned about the town beach with their free swimming lessons for kids, so I headed over there at the first opportunity and signed them up. I knew that I would need activities for them and also saw this as an opportunity for me to meet other parents.
Meanwhile, I was at home with my mom and sister during the days. My sister was only six years older than Jessie, having been born when I was almost sixteen. She was incredibly jealous of Jessie and had a vindictive streak. Jessie was a spitfire when riled and wasn’t going to take it. My mother was very protective of my sister, and I was protective of my daughter. Mom and Dad had been trying for years to have another child after my brother and had dealt with a few miscarriages. When they were finally successful, Mom was almost forty, and my sister had many serious health issues. But now, in 1981, she was older, physically stable and spoiled rotten. She and Jessie started fighting the first day and fought constantly. This also meant that Jessie and I were always in trouble with Mom.
Mom and I were like oil and water. It had been that way for as long as I could remember. I know that she loved me, but I never felt as though she liked me very much. She certainly didn’t like the choices I’d made. When I was around her, I only heard complaints, some of them valid, and unwanted advice. Nothing I did was the right thing in her mind whether it was how I raised my children, who I chose to marry, the lifestyle I had chosen, or just about anything really.
A couple of days after we had arrived, after complaining that our cat was annoying her by walking across the piano keys, located with us in the basement and which we thought was very cool, she showed me a puddle she had found by furnace in the garage. We checked the furnace for leaks but soon realized it was urine. I cleaned it up but the next day it was back. We asked the kids if they knew anything about it. Jessie didn’t know anything, but Justin explained that it was “the bear.” My mom replied that the bear had better cut it out or he’d have to leave, glaring at me as she said it.
One of the conditions for us moving in, a condition that was stated the day after we arrived, was that I was not allowed to cook in the kitchen but that we would have to eat meals with them. Mom hated that Jessie and I were vegetarians. She was determined that she would break us of that silly notion. They ate all processed foods, vegetables that were frozen or from cans and lots of red meat. I had been baking my own whole grain bread, growing fresh vegetables, picking fruits from the Hood River Valley orchards, making jellies, jams and canning applesauce and other fruit. It didn’t matter how much I argued, she had an explanation for everything. There wasn’t enough room in the refrigerator or the cabinets for another family’s food. She didn’t like other people using her appliances. I would be in her way, even if I did my cooking opposite hers. The list went on until I finally realized that I had no choice. We were already here and would have to try to make the best of it.
My parents had assured us that there would be plenty of good paying work available, but Paul was not having any luck finding it. Tensions in the house were growing the longer we stayed, and I knew I had to take the kids out of the house every day or someone would lose it. Paul and I were not doing so well either. After all of the adrenaline from the cross-country saga, this was more than anti-climactic. There were four of us living in one room with a large heating vent in the ceiling amplifying every conversation throughout the house, not to mention any potential nighttime activities. We fought now in vicious hushed tones. Something had to give soon.
Finally, the swim lessons at the town beach started up. I drove the kids to their first lesson and sat on the sand glumly looking around at all of the suburban housewives staring at me in an unfriendly way when a woman walked up and introduced herself as Linda Baker. She said that she’d noticed me drive up in my hippie van with the Indian print curtains in the windows and wondered if I’d like to go sit in the bus with her for a smoke. Wow! What a blessing. We got high together every Monday through Friday while my kids were occupied with their lessons and spent most of the summer hanging out and getting to know each other. These were the high points of my week.
When she found out that my name was Cavanaugh, she asked if I was related to Dick Kavanaugh, who was a good friend of hers. I replied that we weren’t related, and she suggested that I should meet him because she was sure I would really like him. She must have sensed something because many years later I would finally meet him and end up in a long-term relationship with him. She often invited us to come jam at her house nearby, but the jams at her house were folk music, and Paul had a preconceived notion that folk music was boring. He had always been jealous of my music and ability to make money with it, and things were already tense between us, so I never managed to make it to any of her jams.
One evening, Paul and I went for a walk and talked about the need to move on. This just wasn’t working. My family was impossible to live with and were actively aggressive toward Paul. He had finally found a job, so we could start saving up some money to make another new start somewhere else. That night, we told the kids what we were planning. Jessie threw a fit. She refused to move again. She wanted to have extended family and wanted to settle somewhere. In spite of her troubles with my sister, she was determined to stay with Grandma and Grandpa if we insisted on moving again. We looked at each other, sighed and reluctantly agreed to stay. That next morning, my mom informed me that since Paul was now working, they would charge us room and board. We realized that this was only fair. We had been there for the whole summer, but it was making moving out next to impossible. I was also pretty sure that they had overheard us talking to the kids the night before and wanted to keep us local.
We needed to get on with our lives and our music, make new friends and settle in. We knew that we couldn’t do that in East Greenbush and wanted to move to Albany. We weren’t sure anymore how to do that successfully, and now there was school to think about. I broke down and registered Jessie in the East Greenbush public school. Everything was a huge culture shock to us. I worried that Jessie might have a difficult time fitting in. Up to now, she’d lived a gypsy life full of adventure, surrounded by street musicians and circus performers. She’d been uprooted over and over again and was struggling with making friends in this foreign land. I hoped that school would help. We also answered an ad in the local entertainment newspaper, Metroland, and started a rock and roll band. The drummer and bass player both had kids similar ages to ours and things started looking up. At least now we could get out of the house with the kids for band practice in Schenectady a couple of times a week. We all became fast friends, relieving a lot of the pressure on us and enabling us to hang on a little longer. Soon, Cosmo Rock started getting gigs at local bars and festivals and hanging out together with our families.
The plan to make the best time we could went slightly awry when we made a necessary stop for gas and bathrooms and inadvertently left our cat at the truck stop. We realized as soon as we got halfway up the entrance ramp, which was longest ramp I’d ever been on and was also very curvy. There was no backing up, and the next exit was much further than we anticipated. Jessie cried the whole way, certain that Autumn would be gone by the time we got back. This was the same cat that I had gotten at Saturday Market as a surprise for Jessie and the same one who had had her first litter of kittens behind my chair on the day that we had rushed Justin to the ER with a concussion after he fell off a tall slide onto asphalt. When we finally did make it back, there she was sitting in the parking space we had vacated, just waiting for us. We scooped her up and went on our way, stopping at dusk, just to be sure, and made it all the way to Ohio before our next challenge. Before reaching Ohio, however, Paul insisted on going to Peoria, Illinois because years earlier he had heard, “If you can play in Peoria, you’ve got it made.” He rather foolishly decided that this included street music and not just vaudeville, so we found a street corner, set up and played some music on the street which was fun but not very profitable and ate up too much of our daylight traveling time. We finally got as far as Ohio when the car broke down on the side of the highway in broad daylight. Ugh! What now?!
Our flywheel fix from early on in the trip finally gave out, and our flywheel was shredded. As we stood there looking sadly at the engine wondering what to do now, a young man came by and offered Paul a ride to a dune buggy shop he knew of. The shop specialized in VWs, turning them into dune buggies and maintaining them. The shop was called “Mud, Sweat and Gears.” Then he offered to take me and our kids to his house. His parents were away and had left him and his sister home alone. So off we went. My kids were used to strangers and had grown up learning how to stay safe and feel out people’s vibes, so they were good to go. I always found that children seem to have a better sense about people than adults do sometimes, and I’ve always tried to listen to them if they felt uncomfortable around someone.
While Paul was off doing car business, the kids got baths, I showered then actually got a nap on a real bed while the younger folks played with my kids. These young folks loved hosting us. My kids were always very friendly and adaptable to new situations. They were having a blast. The sister was making chicken and dumplings for dinner and invited us to stay. At this point, we’d lost most of that day already, so staying put with a real meal sounded good to me. Both kids were having a great time and also looked forward to trying dumplings for the first time. I learned much later how important that meal was to Jessie. Here is what she wrote to me after reading this the first time I posted it in “Memoirs from a Hippie Mama.”
“So.. The thing about the chicken and dumplings...
One thing that you haven't mentioned in all of these posts were how we kept ourselves entertained on the road. Games like I Spy, license plate games and sing-alongs. A big favorite was "She'll be coming 'round the mountain" and one of the verses was "we will a have chicken and dumplings". To me they were almost like a mythological food. Something you hear about in weird magical ways, but don't generally get to try. I'd put it in the same category as Turkish Delight from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
So "She" had finally come. Or maybe I was "She" in that moment. But it was a major moment for me. That song had been part of our soundtrack, and I finally understood it more deeply than ever before.” - Jes. Cavanaugh
Meanwhile Paul arrived at the car shop where the owner gave him three flywheels, just in case we needed them, with the understanding that the payment was to help out three people on the road in the future. Whew! That was easy. We did that all the time anyway. He made the repair then took a shower. After dinner Paul announced that we could now travel at night and had better hit the road. We still had a long way to go and were both burning out fast. The kids were disappointed but also anxious to get to our destination which was their grandparents’ house. We said a tearful goodbye and headed out again.
As dawn approached, Paul and I realized that we were never going to make it to the herb farm where we had the promise of work on the gas left in the tank and also didn’t have enough money to make up the difference. We thought long and hard then made a detour to Wheeling, West Virginia to pawn his twelve-string guitar. He loved that guitar, having bought it in Santa Cruz many years before, but we didn’t have a lot of choices left, so we left it in the pawn shop never expecting to see it again. Paul kept that ticket safe in his wallet for many years until he gave it to one of my maternal uncles who had heard our story and decided to go to the pawn shop to see if he could retrieve the guitar. We assured him that way too much time had gone by. It had been many years, but he insisted. My uncle was a real character and had his share of crazy adventures. He kept telling us that it’s important to have faith because you just never know. He actually got that guitar and, before driving home to Florida, brought it up to a second cousin living in western Pennsylvania who would be going to visit in-laws in Chatham, NY. When my mother got the phone call, she went to Chatham to pick it up, and Paul was reunited with that much-loved guitar more than 10 years later. We usually had faith that things would work out, but this was a good reminder not to give up when things seem impossible.
We arrived at the herb farm and breathed a sigh of relief, forgetting for a moment that Paul and his sister were like oil and water. The visit didn’t go very well. She constantly complained about Paul to her husband, who was a quiet unassuming man. He finally went to sleep in his tree house which was a fully furnished cabin retreat ten feet in the air. We worked for a couple of days weeding the herb beds, which was back-breaking work, but in a couple of days we made enough money to go on our way. We now had enough for the rest of the trip and were even able get a motel room that night, with cash this time. It was going to be our last night on the road. Paul and I were exhausted by now, aching from bending over the gardens for days, even more stressed out than when we had arrived in Pennsylvania from dealing with Paul’s sister, and we wanted to arrive in New York well rested and freshly bathed. Plus, the kids had been real troopers on this trip, going along with all of our craziness. We wanted to give them the treat of another night in a motel room. I think the trip for them was just one big grand adventure full of games, songs and new people and places. While for us it was worry and scheming as we made our way across the continent. But now, even with the cost of the motel room, we would arrive with some money left over, or so we thought.
We woke up that morning excited, knowing that in a few hours our trip would finally be at its end. We had breakfast in the motel restaurant, confident that we would arrive in the afternoon. When we went outside to the bus, we found that one of the tires was not only flat but had big chunks of rubber out of it. We needed a whole new tire. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised us. We’d just gone over three thousand miles on that tire. But, so much for arriving in the afternoon well rested and relaxed. Now even the kids, who had been totally engaged in the trip until now, were done with this adventure. It took hours to get the new tire, but we were finally headed toward Albany, NY. We had been on the road for over three weeks.
My parents lived in East Greenbush, a suburb of Albany. We got off the thruway in Albany and started heading east to cross the Hudson River when suddenly Paul jumped out of the driver’s seat and started running alongside the bus, trying to stop it with his feet and body. I thought I was watching Fred Flintstone for a minute, remembering the way Fred would drive his car with his feet on the road. Both kids started laughing, not realizing the dangerous situation we were in. I was sure that Paul had finally lost his mind and wasn’t sure what to do. Then he turned sharply into a Mobil gas station and crashed into a pilon, stopping the bus abruptly. Apparently, we had lost the brakes.
After a brief but frantic discussion, we decided to go on, as slowly as we could, using our gears to slow us down when necessary. We were so close to the end of our journey now. We made it to my parents’ house, pulled into their driveway, making a huge entrance by crashing into their stone wall. I sat silently in the passenger side of the bus watching the stones come down like dominos as my family came running out of the house to see what all the commotion was about. There were no cell phones back then, and they had no idea when to expect us, although I did call a few times from a pay phone so they wouldn’t worry. I wish I’d had a camera to take pictures of the looks on everyone’s faces, or maybe I’m glad I didn’t. Anyway, seeing their grandchildren made everything a little less intense. A journey that should have taken less than a week, took us more than three. The kids were thrilled to be there; My parents were thrilled that we had finally arrived safely; and the next day, Justin, who was three and a half years old, came running in the house proudly exclaiming that he had fixed the bus for us.
We dashed outside to discover that he had found a can of oil in my parents’ garage and poured it all over the engine. We stood there not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The engine in those old VW buses were in the back, easily accessible to a three-year old, especially if the hood is not attached securely, which it wasn’t. As Paul and I looked at each other, all we could do was laugh which my mom and dad couldn’t understand. But they hadn’t been on the trip with us with all of its ups and downs, and never understood me anyway. Luckily, the only harm done to the VW was the smoking as the oil burned off. It seemed an appropriate ending to that saga. Now it was time to figure out how to settle in this new area for who knew how long. And, even more importantly, how to get out of my parents’ house and into our own home as quickly as possible. It was not going to be easy living there.
As we were leaving Salt Lake City, Paul and I realized that the trip was going to take a lot longer than anticipated unless we could figure out a low to no-cost way to repair the bus. Now, we were really glad that we had made a stop in Reno before hitting Salt Lake. We both knew before we left Oregon that this journey across the country would require more resources. When it was just the two of us, we could go hungry for a day or two, hit grand openings to get a free buffet and jump at opportunities, even if they were a little risky. Now we had two kids to care for and keep safe. We’d planned lots of stops into our itinerary for running around and seeing some sights, had packed what food we could and budgeted money for more supplies and a couple of meals out. When we went through Nevada, we saw billboards advertising an all-you-can-eat buffet for $2.99 (and kids eat free) in Reno. What a great opportunity. There were four of us, and we figured we could take a doggy bag or two or four. We didn’t realize at the time how important that stop would become.
So far, the flywheel was still holding out from it’s first repair with the barn nails and the old leftover brake part. In spite of the stop for that repair in the mountains, we’d made pretty good time. We arrived at “Circus Circus” in Reno, paid our $6.00 and walked into a huge place with flashing lights, lots of noise and various circus performers all around. Both kids were awed, though Justin, at 3-years old was mostly wide-eyed and slightly scared. It turned out that the money was for admission to this extravaganza, not just the buffet. Of course, this was Nevada, and they were counting on everyone gambling. They could afford to give away food and entertainment when you were losing so much money to the games. We dragged the kids away from the acrobats overhead and entered the dining room. I could not believe how long the rows of tables were. They ran the entire length of this huge hall with an amazing assortment of all kinds of food available. Then, there was another smaller room with desserts and beverages. There was food for any type of meal, too. You could eat breakfast, lunch, dinner or a light snack.
After eating, Paul suggested that we hang out for a while and let the kids have some fun. Maybe we could spend enough time to have a second meal. Finally, someone from security told us that we really had to spend money to stay. Paul went over to a slot machine in the gambling room and lost a few times. He grumbled about wasting our time here and suggested we leave. I reminded him that I hadn’t had a turn to try and wanted to have a little fun, too. He shrugged and agreed to hang out with the kids while I hit the slots, and I agreed to only spend two dollars. Justin still didn’t like being away from me, and minors were not allowed in the gambling areas. Paul, who didn’t ever do much of the childcare, carried him off to see the clowns. Justin loved clowns and was fascinated by them. Jessie, however, was frightened of them, well maybe more like terrified. I knew that Paul would have his hands full but thought I’d have my quick turn and we’d resume our trip. Then, I won on my first try and slipped another coin into the machine. Wow, I won again and again and again. I was smart about keeping my winnings in a different pocket but just kept winning again and again. I didn’t lose once. I’d started out playing the cheap machine, but it was starting to add up, and I was afraid to go to a different machine and ruin my streak. I also wanted to keep an ear and eye out for my family, but the bigger winning machines were further in the interior of the beast.
Pretty quickly, Jessie had enough of feeling terrorized by the clowns and wanted to go back to the jugglers and acrobats who were near where I was working. As soon as he spotted me, Justin broke away and came running over, hanging on to my leg and crying. Paul whisked in, with Jessie right at his side, and dragged him off of me taking him back out into the hall. It didn’t last long though. He soon broke away and was back at my side. I was starting to get annoyed. This seemed like a prime chance to fill our coffers for the long saga, and Paul couldn’t seem to keep Justin away. This went on for a little while until the same security guard, who had been watching us the whole time, told us we had to leave. Apparently, the manager had noticed because we were causing such a scene. I realized that it was over. Justin was pretty upset by this time; Jessie was bored; and Paul was frazzled. We figured that we had gotten our money’s worth and it was time to move on, so we did. We had spent $6.00 to get in and left with a little over $50.00. We didn’t realize at the time how much we would need every extra dollar. Now, as we were leaving Salt Lake City, having successfully traded for a motel room, we also realized that we were going to have to stop every night around dusk, making our trip brutally long. This extra money would help, but maybe not enough now to make it all the way to upstate New York. We’d researched what towns allowed busking, but there weren’t very many along the way. We’d have to get creative. At least we didn’t have to worry about high peaks any more.
Many people believe that the mid-west is flat, and I guess it is compared to other parts of the country. They often complain about the tedium of traveling across such flatlands, seeing nothing but fields and farms. If you have ever driven through that part of the country in a VW Bus, you’ll know that it’s not as flat as it looks. We breathed a huge sigh of relief once we passed through all the western mountains until we realized that the bus slowed down slightly on every rise. It didn’t look to us like we were going up or down hill, but the bus certainly always let us know. And, the road just went on and on. Even though we managed to stop at rest areas or truck stops before dark most of the time, it felt as though it took forever to cross the Great Plains.
In general, we really liked driving through Nebraska. For the most part, the people were friendly and helpful, and Nebraska had the best rest stops for children. There were always playgrounds, picnic tables and lots of shaded areas to run around and play. One evening, as it was just starting to be dusk, we decided to try to go a little further and get off at the next exit to find a place to spend the night. Unfortunately, the next exit was closed, and the next one was too many miles away, so we were finally forced to turn on the headlights as the dark settled, slowly coasting to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. We sat on the side of the road, hoping in vain that no state troopers would come by. However, they soon did. As they pulled up behind us, Paul started rummaging around for our registration and hopped out of the car as they were starting to walk towards us. Suddenly, both cops crouched down with their guns drawn and Paul immediately threw his hands up yelling, “There are kids in the car!” The troopers slowly walked forward and patted Paul down, then shone their flashlights into the car. They made both of us get out and yelled at us for what seemed like quite a long time telling us both to never jump out of the car or rummage around again when stopped. To them, it looked like we were up to something. I never forgot that lesson.
Eventually, they asked why we were stopped and if we needed help. We told them about our car issues and started explaining why we were sitting on the shoulder when the volunteer fire department showed up. Now there were four emergency vehicles surrounding our little family. The troopers were insisting on calling a tow truck to get us out of there, and we were protesting vehemently, explaining that we had little money left, certainly not enough to pay for the tow and the rest of this ill-fated journey. We were trying to get to Pennsylvania, where we had the promise of some day-work at an herb farm owned by Paul’s brother-in-law. I had been growing an herb garden and using them medicinally since 1975. I was looking forward to doing some work there.
The police didn’t seem interested in my hobbies and weren’t feeling very sympathetic to our plight, but I’d always taught my children to be friendly with law enforcement. They always waved when we passed them, and Jessie often engaged them in conversation if we were stopped for any reason. My kids helped me get out of a lot of speeding tickets back in my younger days. I know that they helped immensely that night, too. All of the volunteer firemen who had stopped were enjoying hanging out with them, asking them about their trip so far. Luckily, the kids were also street wise by now and knew what not to say to officials. After going round and round with the police, begging and arguing, with the eventual support of the volunteers, and the pleading eyes of our children, they finally agreed to give us a jump and let us drive in the dark without our headlights while Paul and I held flashlights out the windows with the emergency vehicles in front and behind us with their spotlights and flashers on. The flashlights were the cops’ idea, which I thought was more than a little silly, but we did it anyway. The kids loved being in their own parade! Somehow, we were always able to spin difficult events into something fun and exciting.
When we got to the truck stop, the volunteer firefighters handed us money to buy breakfast “for the kids” with enough left over to fill our gas tank. They had taken up a collection. We were so impressed with their kindness. I even cried a little. We ate breakfast at around 3 or 4 am then took the kids out to the playground, swinging on the swings and sliding down the slide until the sun came up. As we headed down the road, Jessie exclaimed that she’d had the most fun ever. She was totally impressed by not only the parade but also with being able to play outside at the playground in the dark. For her, it’s a fond memory. She remembers the big puddles on the ground under the swings and her dad pushing her on the swing while trying to avoid those puddles. It's always interesting to me how people in the same family, experiencing the same things, remember them so differently. For me and Paul, the "responsible" adults, it was incredibly stressful. For the kids, it was fun and exciting, an adventure to be remembered and treasured.
I almost forgot to write about one last thing that we needed to do before leaving the West Coast. Remember our cat Autumn who’d had her first litter of kittens behind my chair on the night of Justin’s concussion? Before we could get her spayed, she had another litter of kittens. As soon as they were weaned, we took her in for her surgery but still needed to find homes for the kittens. We packed them into a box and headed for Portland’s Saturday Market where we had originally gotten her. We had so many good memories of playing there and wanted a final goodbye. It turned out to be the hottest day of the year, an unusual occurrence for springtime. The poor kittens were getting overheated in the covered box, so we opened the lid to give them air. They started scrambling all over the car. The kids were in the back seat trying to hold them in, but it wasn’t working. We finally pulled off the road to stop at a park for lunch and to let me get into the back seat for damage control. When we opened the doors, as carefully as we could, to get out, so did the kittens. There were five kittens running all over the park. As soon as we captured one and put it back in the car, another one would escape. It was crazy! After chasing them for over an hour, Paul was all for letting them fend for themselves and going back home. Both kids and I were not okay with that, so we continued to chase them around, finally giving up after another hour or so and heading to town with only two of the original five. I felt terrible, but what could we do? We couldn’t even see the other three anymore. We got to Saturday Market just as it was closing down for the day and did manage to give the two kittens away then turned around and went back home. What a fiasco!
Having made the decision to move back east to live in my parents’ basement in upstate New York until we could get a place of our own, I was filled with trepidation. I knew we were making a good to move, but my parents and I had never gotten along, and they hated Paul. I never understood why considering that he literally saved me from eventually overdosing on speed at the beginning of our relationship, giving me an ultimatum – be with him or keep shooting up. Of course, my parents only saw his long hair and radical politics, which actually were less radical than my own. I knew that the living arrangements would not be easy and hoped we could settle quickly into our own home. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult it would turn out to be, or for how long.
We had our VW bus all prepped for travel. I had attached edges to the table in the back that stuck up above the surface to keep any crayons or other toys from rolling off. It was already set up with curtains and beds. I sewed pockets into the curtains to make drinks, snacks and other necessary items for children easily accessible. There were still no seatbelts or car seats at that time, but I knew I didn’t want them running all over the bus. I had also learned by then what kinds of food traveled easily. I remember thinking that I should write a book on safe and reliable traveling with children because I had already done so much of it. We left in late April and planned to travel for a week. We didn’t consider the fact that we were traveling in a VW bus loaded down with all of our possessions, two children, two adults and a cat over a couple of different sets of mountains.
The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. We were almost at the top of Donner’s Pass on I-80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when our bus just stopped. We could see the summit. It was so close, but we just couldn’t get there. We jumped out of the bus around to the back to look at the engine and see if we could figure out the problem. There it was, right in front of our eyes. The two wheels of the fly wheel were shifting back and forth and had widened the slot that held the two pieces together. We looked at it for a while when I remembered the jar of barn nails that Jim had given me as we were leaving. We pounded a few of the largest ones in there, but it still wasn’t quite enough. A year earlier, our left rear wheel had come off our Plymouth Valiant and passed us on the left as we rode over a narrow bridge with a logging truck headed our way. I don’t know how he did it, but Paul managed to steer the car straight as our back end was up in the air and all of us held our breaths. After chasing the tire into a corn field, he put it back on and tightened the lug nuts as tight as he could. Not long after that, Paul repaired the brakes and had one small piece left over on that same wheel. We worked on those brakes together a few more times and still couldn’t figure out where it went, so he finally threw it in the toolbox, hoping for the best. The brakes worked fine after that, and now that old leftover brake part fit perfectly with the nails into the leftover space in the flywheel. That repair took us all the way to Ohio … but not without too many stops along the way.
Although we thought we had fixed it, the car now only ran during the daytime. Once we turned on the headlights, it would totally drain the battery, so we slept the first night in the bus. We also stopped more frequently than anticipated to let the kids run around. And I did make them run – literally. Every stop, we ran circles around each other and all around the rest areas. By the time we stopped running, they were happy to sit back down in the bus. The next day, we drove into Salt Lake City just as night was falling. We turned on the headlights and, as the car died, we coasted into a motel right off the exit and went in to see if we could afford a room. We did have money, but we had a long way to go. We hadn’t budgeted in car repairs and had hoped to only take a week to make the journey. It already looked like it was going to take much longer than anticipated, so we needed to conserve our resources. We thought , if it was too much money, maybe they would take pity on us and let us sleep in our bus in the parking lot.
The attendant took one look at us with our long hair, hippie van with curtains in the window and our kids trailing along behind us and asked if we had any pot. At first, in our paranoia, we denied having any. He kept at it, insisting that we must have something and explaining that Salt Lake was the driest town in the US. He pleaded with us! When he offered to trade us a room for a few joints, we finally took pity on him. We gave him more than he asked for since we had gotten paid for our work harvesting in weed and had more than enough for ourselves. He threw us the master keys, turned on the No Vacancy sign and asked us to keep an eye on the place while he was off partying with his friends. No problem! We got nice soft beds, showers, and the kids even got TV, a rare treat. This wasn’t going so badly after all. The young man came back the next morning looking a little bedraggled but with a big grin. We tipped him well, in weed of course. We even sold him some of our quite large stash and went on our way. We still had a long way to go.
Looking back at it now, we must have been crazy carrying all that weed in our vehicle with our two kids. But things were very different back then, and it never occurred to us that we were taking a big risk. Also, we didn’t know anyone where we were landing and knew we’d need our stash to survive my family.
We found a rental at a trailer park in Beaver, Oregon and had to downsize quite a bit. We were always flexible and quickly figured out how to make do with a much smaller residence and a tiny fenced in yard. We were still in the same area with the same community, and we had a reliable babysitter right next door. However, Jessie did have to change schools. This was a little bigger school than the one in Hebo and less personal. The first big change was that they didn’t believe in letting the kids move up a grade for certain subjects that they excelled in. The second one was asking me to sign a waiver giving them permission to spank my child if necessary. What?! No! It amazed me how hard they tried to convince me of this necessity. I was ready to pull her out and homeschool her when they finally (reluctantly) relented.
Then, one day Jessie brought a permission slip home from school for me to sign. It was permission to join the “Good News Club” which would be meeting during school hours. Good news sounded okay to me. Paul and I talked it over and couldn’t see any harm in it. Of course, there was no description sent with the slip, so we had no idea that it was a religious club. Jessie would come home talking about how much fun she had and never mentioned any religion until one day when she brought home another permission slip. This one was asking our permission to let her sign her soul to God. That was the end of the Good News Club. She was unhappy about it, but Paul and I had both been raised Catholic, were not religious now and had agreed long before this to teach her about all religions and let her choose for herself when she was older.
Although Paul and I didn’t practice any organized religion, we were very spiritual and believed in the connection of all things in the universe. We also believed in the power of our minds to change the course of things. One example of this was when we had taken our VW bus to a remote beach that was only accessible during low tide. We lost track of the time and suddenly noticed that the tide was coming in. We hauled the kids back into the car quickly but realized we were running out of room for a running start up the steep hill. After trying three or four times to make it up the hill only to have the tires spin out in the sand and the bus roll back down onto the beach, Paul decided that we should try something different. He very solemnly explained that we were all going to hold hands and concentrate very hard on getting the bus up the hill. The water was almost up to the back wheels by this time. We’d run out of room for a running start and certainly were running out of time. We knew this was our last chance. He counted to three, and we all concentrated on moving the bus. I could even hear us humming. We very slowly and smoothly rode up to the road with no spinning at all. Even Paul, the biggest believer of all, was astonished. We were sure that was the end of our vehicle.
In spite of the changes we were undergoing, we still loved the area and our friends. There was always something to do, lots of potlucks and music jamming with many alternatives around as well. One day, a friend told us about an event happening that afternoon in a big open field nearby. It was a traveling Chautauqua. Paul was at work that day, so I packed up the kids and went. A Chautauqua is a traveling show that combined education with entertainment. The very first one was held in Chautauqua, NY in 1874. The tradition was revived by Patch Adams and The Flying Karamazov Brothers in 1981. They arrived in a hippie school bus and entertained the crowds while teaching self-health. At this one, The Flying Karamazov Brothers entertained the crowd with their band and unbelievable juggling tricks. In between acts, Patch Adams talked about how to take care of your teeth by demonstrating flossing technique with two large dancing teeth and a big piece of rope. He did other things, but that’s what I remember most about him, this big goofy clown dancing around and tripping over his big clown feet while flossing between these two people dressed up as teeth.
Ken Kesey was there and, I found out within the last 10 or so years, so was a current friend of mine who was traveling with those folks in his youth. Kesey was not the friendliest guy, but everyone else was very cool and welcoming. The high point for Jessie was Lancelot, the unicorn. A couple of hippies had bred goats until they finally got one with a horn in the middle of its forehead and the silkiest curly mane and tail that I’d ever felt. They bred a few more later, but Lancelot was the first. It was a real live unicorn, and Jessie was awed! Unfortunately, like so much from those crazy days, I don’t remember many of the details, but that was an amazing day. Many years later, when I was living in Albany and part of Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, we got to open for Patch Adams at an alternative education conference. I also ran into one of the original Karamazov Brothers at The Oregon Country Fair in 2014, after living in upstate New York since 1982. We enjoyed a waffle breakfast together, then I went to see him juggle again at one of the entertainment sites. It amazes me, in writing these memoirs, how much living we packed into a relatively short amount of time and how the same people keep popping up no matter where I go.
However, as much as we loved the area, our stay there was not as long lasting as we’d hoped. Paul lost another job, the unemployment rate in Oregon was skyrocketing and we had just gotten a large tax return. It was time to think about a new plan. The trailer park was okay, but not ideal. We missed having a large yard and a little more privacy. A few other things came into play right around that same time. One was that our son Justin had developed a recurring rash on his back that just wouldn’t quit. Every doctor I spoke to told me the same thing. It was a fungus, similar to athlete’s foot that was caused by the wet environment. I could keep treating it with an antifungal cream, but the best solution was to move to a drier place. Our babysitter’s mother had been encouraging us to move to upstate New York for our music. She told us about Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York and said that our music would fit right in there. We also met a new friend, Carlos, whose parents lived out there and were part of a group called the PSG (Pickin’, Singing, and Gathering). He encouraged us to go look them up. Coincidentally, my parents had recently moved to East Greenbush, New York for my dad’s new job at The Troy Record, the local newspaper and were also pushing us to relocate there. We could stay in their basement as long as we needed.
Paul and I always lived our lives listening to and watching for signs that come along to show us the way. It sure looked like the signs were pointing us to the Albany area. Growing up in Southwestern Connecticut, we always thought of New York as the metropolitan area of New York City. I had gone camping once in the Adirondacks as a teenager but otherwise only knew the Big Apple and bits of Long Island. But it was time for a move and going there would be a new adventure with a place to land until we could find work and our own place. We already had our VW bus and knew how to pack well, so we started that process. We threw a farewell Open Mic, packed up our VW and went to say goodbye to our good friends, Jim and Patty. Jim came by to see us off the next day, walked up and handed me a jar of old barn nails of varying sizes. Jim is an eccentric and a kind of gypsy. He’s an amazing artist and writer. He has always lived an unusual life as did we, and I greatly admired him. He was older than us and had been around, taking his bumps along the way. As I took them, he said, “You never know what you’ll need on the road.” I agreed and put them in our toolbox, knowing that somehow, at some time, they would come in handy. I had tears in my eyes as we left our beautiful Shangri-La. This was the hardest leave taking so far, but we were headed for new adventures which always cheered me up.
Paul was always one for “bad” jokes and puns, so he started telling at least one joke a week. It was an immensely popular segment of the show. Most of them were real groaners. After a year of hearing these jokes week after week, folks started getting tired of it and came asking me to do something about it. It was around the same time that Aron Kay and other yippies were pieing political figures such as William Buckley, Phyliss Schlafly, G. Gordon Liddy and many others. They even pied Andy Warhol because he had dinner with the Shah of Iran. Every pie's flavor was chosen on purpose. Paul really admired the yippies for doing that, so I decided to give the “bad joke of the week” segment a big ending. I had already pleaded with him and knew that Paul would never willingly give it up. One week, I came up with a plan to pie him in the face after his joke. I chose whipped cream because it reminded me of the old comic routines with cream pies. Later on, a friend, Clinton, suggested that shaving cream is a kinder way to do it, but at the time all I knew was whipped cream. As he told his joke, I filled up a pie pan with whipped cream and waited … and waited … and waited, while he told more and more jokes. He usually only told one, maybe two, but this night, he went on and on. The crowd was getting antsy, and the whipped cream was melting. Because I was holding the “pie” in the back of the room, I couldn’t go up and give him the hook. When he finally finished, I hit him with this pie pan full of half liquid cream. Sploosh! The crowd loved it. Paul was shocked but had always been a good sport and, that was the end of “bad joke of the week.” It was fun while it lasted but everything must end sometime, and even Paul had to admit that this was a great ending.
We met a lot of interesting characters at these Open Mics. One man we met there was a songwriter named Mitt. He was not a hippie. He was a local and was very conservative. He had a connection with a local radio station in Tillamook and hired us to record one of his songs in multiple harmonies. There were six of us on that recording. It was my first experience in a recording studio and my first time hearing myself on the radio. I was hooked. One day, he came to the house to jam and met our kids for the first time. At that time, Jessie loved to dress her brother up in her old dresses. She even had a name for him in drag. She called him “Rubessa.” He enjoyed it too, probably because of all the attention he was getting from his sister, and we saw no harm in it. That day, he was wearing a frouffy, lacy dress, toddling around without anything on underneath because he was potty training. I always found it easier to teach my kids to use a potty when it was easily accessible, so they had a potty where they could see it, not hidden away in the bathroom, and didn’t wear training pants. It worked very well for all of my kids. This was well before they started making disposable training pants, which in my opinion are too much like diapers to be highly effective. The kids were playing around us as we jammed, dancing and listening to the music when Justin fell, and his dress flew up around his face. The look on Mitt’s face, as he realized that we didn’t have two daughters, was priceless.
We also met a woman flutist, Marla, who lived on a farm with her boyfriend Tom. One Easter, we were invited to an egg hunt at their farm. Most of the eggs were in the barn, so off we went with a whole troupe of friends to find them. Jessie decided that she needed to use the bathroom, so we left the group and started walking back to the house when we were suddenly attacked by their flock of geese. They surrounded us and started trying to bite our legs. Justin was still small, so I scooped him up while holding on to Jessie and kicking at the geese. Finally, another adult came out to help us, and we made it to the house. Jessie’s memory is that I picked her brother up and left her to the strong beaks of those geese. She still reminds me of that. In reality, I was trying to protect both children and could only lift one of them, but we all remember things in our own ways. Another incident at that farm happened when we arrived one time for a visit. They had horses, so there was a metal gate that had to be opened to drive through. Jessie loved being a “big girl” and opening the gate for me. This one day however, there was a curious horse that strolled over as she opened the gate. It startled her, and she screamed, scaring the horse and sending it galloping down the road. Tom came running out and chased the horse almost all the way to the highway before he finally caught him.
Of course, our friends, Patty and Jim were living there as well. They were the reason we ended up moving there in the first place. Although they didn’t have a farm, they also raised animals and gardened. They bought a lamb, who they named “Buck Burger” as a way of letting the kids know that this would someday be food. They were all cautioned not to play with the lamb for that reason. Predictably, they didn’t listen and played, not only with the lamb, but with the baby rabbits, too. We would chase them away, and as soon as our backs were turned, they’d go right back. Nothing could keep them away from these cute little babies. One day there was an unusual heat wave, and all the baby rabbits died. We were invited to a delicious dinner that night. Jessie raved about how good the food was and wanted to know what we were having. When Jim told her that we were eating Buck Burger and rabbit, she cried and never ate meat again. It was a hard lesson but one that farm kids have to learn. She was obviously not destined to live on a farm.
Another man we met was a stand-up bass player named David. He had one of the longest beards I’d seen and braided it in creative ways. He was a gentle giant, and Jessie was fascinated by him. He often joined us in our sets at the café. He was one of the few friends who didn’t have children of his own. David introduced us to an older man who had landscaped his yard as a fantastical playland for kids and adults. There was a rope swing that went out over a deep pond, gardens with fun decorations, play structures for all ages and unusual trails. Looking back on it now, I realize how much of an inspiration that was for my own landscaping.
There were lots of couples with kids including one couple who worked on a dairy farm and a pot farmer and his partner who had recently had a child. This man grew square plots of marijuana scattered throughout the National Forest which bordered his home. Every square was kept separate and pollinated by hand with every one of them being a different strain. He often hired his friends to help out in the fields and paid us with any branch we would like to cut. I often babysat for his child and was also paid in weed. He had studied the genetics, creating his own strains very scientifically. He eventually made enough money to pay all of his tuition for medical school, much like our friend in San Francisco who raised her tuition for art school by being an upscale call girl. That year, one day right around harvest time, he heard a knock on his door. When he answered it, he saw a man from the Forest Service in his uniform. He admitted later that he was a little worried. The Forest Service official told him that he had received an order to fly the planes over that part of the forest the following day. He wanted to warn him so that he could get his friends together to do the harvesting immediately. A bunch of people worked all afternoon and almost until the morning getting all of the plants in before the fly by. I always thought that was such a nice service.
We had finally landed in a community with like-minded people, many of whom had kids that befriended our own kids. I soon found out about an alternative school that was there. This was the second time I’d heard about alternative education, the first being in San Francisco in the artist community we were in briefly. As you’ll find out later when I make the move to Albany, New York, the third time was the charm. There was so much that I could relate to, that inspired me and influenced my life for many years to come. However, like many things, it wouldn’t last for us. We soon got word that our landlord had found himself earlier than expected and was coming back home. We had a month to move out. In all fairness, he had offered to let us stay there with him as long as it took to get a place. He soon found himself fending off well intentioned travelers who had gotten the word about our hippie bed and breakfast. I guess that went on for years, much to his chagrin. Although, I’ve heard that he had a good laugh about it.
One of the many visitors we had while living in Hebo was our old friend Clinton. Clinton is the juggler who had lived in our backyard in Portland and who became a good friend. After his year off traveling by thumb around the country, he went back to Yale to finish his degree in Geology. We had kept in touch and knew we would see him again eventually, probably that summer. However, with nomads, you could never really count on anything. He showed up on one of the most terrible days, a day full of surprises.
That day, I had taken the kids to the little school playground less than a block away from our house. We went there often, having no play structures in our own yard. There were even woods behind the school where we would often gather wild foods for our meals. The playground was usually empty but not that day. This time, we were sharing it with an older man and his granddaughter. As I’ve said before, Justin was a daredevil. There was no holding him back, and he loved slides. This playground had a rather tall metal slide, so I would always go up the ladder behind him, making sure he was safely seated at the top then go around to the front and catch him as he slid down. We’d been doing this successfully for weeks, and he always waited for me to say “Go!”
This time, he waited for me then started down the slide putting his sneakered feet out to the sides to slow himself down when suddenly, he flipped over the side, still near the top, landing on his head on the blacktop below. I lunged for him and managed to grab the tip of his sneaker as he hit with a loud crack. I was horrified and wanted to scoop him up immediately, however my mother was an RN, and I knew that I shouldn’t move him. I knelt down next to him checking to see if he was conscious and trying to assess how hurt he was. He wasn’t crying, which scared me. Meanwhile, the only other adult at the playground, the grandfather, came running over and started screaming at me. “What kind of a mother are you? Why don’t you pick your child up?” I managed to block out everything except my son and kept whispering to him as he started focusing on me. Eventually, he moved of his own accord and started sitting up, still dazed. Once he sat up, I did scoop him up, grabbed Jessie’s hand and started running for home. As we entered the driveway, Justin threw up all over me. I knew we had to take him to the hospital.
Paul came running out and, when he saw Justin bleeding and vomiting, also started yelling at me. He wanted to know what I had done to our son. Once again, I bit my tongue and ignored him, walking into the house to clean up and grab the car keys. I was greeted by Clinton and an old friend of his from their home state of New Jersey. My first thought was, “what a bad time for a visit.” Then I realized that they could stay home with Jessie while Paul and I made the trip to Tillamook to the closest hospital. Luckily, when Clinton saw what was happening, he took Paul aside and talked him down then sat with Justin while I changed into clean clothes. Within minutes we were on the road, headed to the Emergency Room.
The hospital was a rinky-dink little facility that didn’t really instill much confidence in me, but we had no other choice. They checked us in fairly quickly and led us to the X-ray room. Once there, they had me lay Justin down on the table and handed me a lead vest to wear so I could stay in the room with him. When I asked where Justin’s protection was, they answered that they didn’t have any child-sized vests and actually only had that one. After freaking out at them for their incompetence, I promptly took it off and draped it over my small child. They didn’t like it, but I guess they knew enough not to argue with a mama bear. It was all starting to hit me now and, with everything that had happened so far, including being screamed at by two different men earlier, I was not to be trifled with. Miraculously, there was no fracture, but he did have a concussion. They wanted to keep him overnight, but I refused. I didn’t trust this place to keep him safe, and it was at least a half hour away. They gave me directions to wake him every hour and ask him simple questions to be sure he was okay. He was already very drowsy and would probably sleep in between.
We finally got home well after dark to find dinner waiting for us. Thank-you, Clinton. Jessie was all ready for bed but had insisted on waiting up for us. I settled Justin, set an alarm for an hour, put Jessie to bed and ate some dinner. An hour had gone by already, and it was time to wake Justin. He barely woke up but did answer everything falling back into a deep sleep immediately. I set another alarm and exhausted, sunk into our recliner hoping to nap, when I suddenly heard a distressed meowing from behind my chair. Our cat was struggling with having her kittens and needed assistance. Everyone else had gone to bed already, so I stayed up all night long delivering kittens and waking Justin hourly. Justin recovered quickly and was back to his old self of climbing high things, trying to escape whenever he could and taking ridiculous risks. The ironic thing about this accident was that it wasn’t really a risky thing or shouldn’t have been. I realized later that the rubber on the side of his sneaker had stuck to the side of that metal slide and had flipped him over. Ever since then, I have cautioned parents at various playgrounds about that danger. I even saw it almost happen again with another kid years later. Luckily, that child pulled his foot back in before actually going over the edge.
The next day, I got a formal introduction to Vernon, the friend that Clinton had brought with him. Vernon was even more shy than me, which was saying a lot. As a child, I was so shy that I would be doubled over with stomach cramps if I ran into a schoolmate at the grocery store. I battled waves of nausea when called on by teachers in school. I never looked anyone in the eye, not even family members, so I understood what he was going through. However, Clinton was outgoing and had been on the road the previous year. Vernon's shyness was too much for Clinton. He felt like he was carrying a lead weight. He asked if he could leave him with us for the summer. Paul was not excited about having him stay. He had been with us for three days and hadn’t said a word except a whispered hello with downcast eyes. On the other hand, I was always glad to have more people around, and the kids had taken a shine to him. I also understood shyness and liked this quiet man. Poor Vernon wasn’t thrilled at being dumped by his friend either, but he also wasn’t happy about the idea of constantly meeting new people on the road. We all finally agreed to the arrangement. Vernon ended up being one of our best friends. Once he adjusted to this new situation, he opened up and became a member of the family. We were all incredibly sad to see him go when Clinton returned to get him to hitchhike back to New Jersey together.
Clinton had gone north to Washington State and hung out with the Flying Karamazov Brothers, a world-renowned hippie collective of jugglers. He came back with all kinds of new tricks. He learned how to eat fire, which he told me was not really a trick. You actually burn the inside of your mouth. It wasn’t something he wanted to continue with, and I didn’t blame him. He also started juggling any three things that were handed to him. So, of course, Jessie handed him a dollhouse, a super ball and a cup. If he dropped anything, you got to pie him in the face with shaving cream. He’d started out doing whipped cream, but it got rancid pretty fast all stuck in his beard, so he switched to a non-food item. He always managed to drop something because being pied in the face was an important part of the show. He stood out on our front lawn, right on Highway 101, juggling everything including flaming torches. We were acquiring quite a reputation in town by this time, but luckily, we weren’t the only hippies in this very rural area. The locals were adjusting quickly to this new community.
We settled into our new coastal life easily. The Friday night Open Mic at The Riverhouse was a huge success. We kept meeting more and more like-minded people and were surrounded by music. We had a reliable babysitter who came from a large family and was not flustered by Justin’s adventurous nature. After a couple of incidents where he broke away from her and went running down the highway chasing after our car, he soon grew to love and trust her. It wasn’t until we were able to have a night out every week that we realized how much our relationship was suffering. I had been totally immersed in being a stay-at-home mom, which was a twenty-four-hour seven day a week job that exhausted me and kept me from being the partner that Paul wanted and needed. Now, that could change. I hoped we would fight less and remember how much we loved each other.
Our two children were as different as night and day. Jessie was very talkative and independent but respectful of limits. Justin was an adventurer and had no sense of practical limits. He was always pushing the boundaries. Even as a toddler, Jessie would never venture far and always came back if I said I was leaving without her. Justin, however, would turn and run in the other direction as fast as he could go. This was confusing to me since he usually wanted to be attached at the hip. It was a crazy dichotomy. He was fine if it was his idea to explore but, if I wanted to go somewhere without him, even into another room, it was a different story entirely. Both kids were exhausting in their own ways, and both of them were smart as a whip.
When I was pregnant with Jessie, I had read somewhere that you should read aloud to children from the day they were born. I read everything aloud from that point on including novels or newspapers that I was reading while she played by herself. When she was three years old, she suddenly read a cereal box to me. I thought I must have read it to her at some point, and she was reciting it from memory, but I was wrong. I brought other things to her, and she read them, too. Unbeknownst to me, she had taught herself to read. Now, in kindergarten, she was a voracious reader and far beyond her classmates. When we lived in Portland, the school refused to let her into an advanced reading program, so I was surprised when her new teacher in this tiny rural school suggested that she do reading class with the first grade. She excelled and was happy there.
Although Justin also learned to read early and loved it as much as his sister, his skills were of a different nature. He was a planner and a schemer. I was never sure what was going on his head, unlike Jessie who was an open book and eager to share every thought … endlessly. Justin didn’t say much and would think nothing of suddenly taking off to go wading into the rushing river or jump right into the big waves of the Pacific Ocean. We often visited the beach in Pacific City climbing up the big sand dune at Haystack Rock enjoying the majestic view. But no sooner were we settled at the top, than Justin would go plummeting down the steep hill, tumbling most of the way to the bottom with me running after him. Paul always looked at the child-rearing as my job. He brought in most of the income, though I did what I could while managing both kids and the household, so in his mind, he was off the hook as a parent. Although, he was always ready to yell if they disturbed him.
Meanwhile, my back issue was getting worse. Hauling around a feisty two-year old didn’t help it any either. While in Portland, I had tried many different remedies for the pain including chiropractors, massage therapy, even Nemo Therapy which was electro-shock to the muscles. It tightened the muscle until it released itself. It was a painful procedure but was actually the only thing that helped. The relief usually lasted for a day or two before the pain came back again. Now, we were in the middle of nowhere, and those things were no longer available. I started stretching everyday and doing floor exercises, with Justin climbing all over me. However, mostly, I just got used to the constant discomfort and soldiered through. Some of my new friends noticed and offered to do the heavy lifting when they were around which helped. But the never-ending pain affected my mood more often than not.
I was also starting to be noticed by some of the other musicians. Before I met Paul, I had been working with wedding bands and getting solo gigs with churches for various services. When we first got together, he became jealous and insisted that I give all of that up. I had spent my childhood alone and my high school years bullied and wanted him more than I wanted the gigs, so I agreed. Now, I was getting invited to sing back-up on recordings and offered radio work in a neighboring town. That caused us to start fighting again, so I turned down anything that didn’t include him. I wasn’t ready to go back to the endless yelling and certainly wasn’t ready to be a single mom. I had grown up with parents who, although they loved each other passionately, fought constantly. I thought that was probably normal, but I was willing to do whatever it took to avoid that in my own relationship. Unfortunately, Paul had also come from a highly dysfunctional and violent family and was probably addicted to adrenaline. He was not violent towards us but threw things at the walls and stormed around too often for my comfort.
I soon started playing the role of protector towards the kids, mostly towards Justin. As I said, he was a rambunctious troublemaker. He would go racing through a room where his dad was sitting on the floor reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a bong. In no time, the coffee and bong would be spilled, and Paul would be standing over our terrified boy, waving his arms, throwing the coffee cup and screaming at him. I would swoop in and scoop him up, facing Paul’s rage myself and propelling Justin towards his sister who would take him to refuge in their room. Once the dust settled, Paul would take up his guitar and we would heal ourselves and our relationship in our music. I’ve often said that being in a band is like being in a marriage because the bond of music is so strong. For us, we had both our love and our music. For a long time, the music was the strongest bond of all and eventually became the only bond. And then there was also pot.
Pot was one of the glues that held us and the music together. We smoked together remembering our love for each other and became inspired to write or share music. For me, music was everything. It was the air I breathed. I had been singing for as long as I could remember. It was the one thing that had always healed my soul. It was what made me feel connected to the world. But it was also a business. I always wanted to be a professional musician and had started on that path early on. I even went to college to study music but soon dropped out, having never been a good student. For Paul, it was a hobby. It was definitely something he loved, but he had no aspirations to make his living with it. It was always my push to get gigs. I always did the promotion and all of the behind the scenes work. I organized practice in addition to jamming. Paul was very social and was able to talk to people easily and book gigs at clubs and private parties. He just needed the push to go do it. In that way, we were a good team. He would make the initial contact, and I would follow up. Everyone loved Paul. In public, he was funny, gregarious and generous to a fault. That was the man I had fallen in love with, and I wanted him back. I was convinced that I could help him heal from his earlier trauma. I wasn’t ready to give up on him yet.
Deciding to move out of the city was hard. We were feeling settled for the first time since we had been together, but Paul was out of work again, and we had unexpectedly come into some money between our tax return and a small inheritance. It was enough to get us resettled in our new location. We gave our notice and packed everything up. Amber agreed to help us move. Even with our car and her VW bus we had to make several trips back and forth from the city to the coast. We were finally down to the last trip. Paul took the kids with him, and I drove Amber’s vehicle with Amber in the passenger seat. We didn’t get far when the rain started. It wasn’t bad at first, but when I went to turn on the windshield wipers, they didn’t work. Now it started to pour. I finally found a place to pull over and wait it out and soon realized that it wasn’t letting up any time soon. With both front windows open, Amber and I manually moved the wipers back and forth often enough to enable me to drive, s–l–o–w–l–y, slowly, slowly. I have to admit, it was a good trick negotiating all of the curvy mountain roads that led to the coast while holding my arm out the window moving the wipers back and forth. But, I had once fearlessly and successfully successfully navigated boulders in the road that I thought were garbage bags a few years back. So, I knew that I had this. Of course, once we arrived on the other side of the mountains, soaked to the bone and shivering, the rain stopped. Thankfully, Paul had arrived without incident and had fed the kids and settled them for the night.
Our new home was located in Hebo, Oregon. It was a large house, much larger than we needed for ourselves. Although the upstairs wasn’t completed, it was fine for our purposes being mostly one huge open space. Jessie loved one of the rooms upstairs which had a half-sized door that adults had to duck to enter through. We named it the “Hobbit Room.” The two kids shared a long downstairs room that could easily have been split into two rooms. The windows in that room looked out onto the enclosed front porch which faced Highway 101, the coastal road. The heating system was a wood furnace which, when stoked properly, stayed lit all night long. There was a large backyard with the Nestucca River running on the side. And, it was an ideal location two doors down from the Hebo Inn, a short walk to the tiny red Elementary School, Post Office and Hebo Market. We felt that we could stay here for a while, and our rental was open-ended. The Hebo Inn was noted for the backwards n’s on its sign.
We were now located where Highway 22 joined with Highway 101, a prime location to meet fellow travelers. And meet them we did. We decided that the house was more than large enough to share with others, so when we picked up hitchhikers, who were plentiful, we offered to let them stay for any trade they cared to make. We had people do laundry and other household chores, gardening and small repairs. Others gave us various items they had made or found along the way. Everyone contributed something and were happy to do it. A few people even stayed for a few days. I always made pancakes in the mornings. Before long, we had people knocking on the door telling us that they’d run into someone on the road who had led them to us. They were told that for whatever they wished to trade, they could get a room, a hot shower and pancake breakfast in the morning. We were suddenly running an underground bed and breakfast for hippies. In all fairness, not everyone was a hippie, but most were.
A couple of notable temporary residents were a man from Israel who had met someone in Ohio that told him to look us up. We were floored. Word had certainly gotten around. Another one was a man who was doing a peace walk from the Peace Arch in Vancouver to Nicaragua carrying a large silk banner promoting peace and supporting the Sandinista rebels. Jessie connected strongly with this quiet but strong man. They talked often during the week he stayed with us. He promised to send her a postcard for her birthday if he actually made it to his destination but was honest with her about his doubts that he would make it alive. He shared with all of us that yes, he felt scared sometimes and had already encountered some uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations, but he was committed to his cause and that kept him going. When Jessie’s birthday came and went without a postcard, I expected my now 6-year old daughter to be devastated. She took it all in stride reminding me that he thought he might be risking his life for the cause he believed in. She told me that she wasn’t sure that she would ever do the same but thought that he was an exceptional person and brave for doing it.
It was easier than usual to make new friends here because we already knew our old neighbors and friends who had moved from Portland. Jim had lived in the area before and had lots of friends and connections. Paul got a job right away, and I met other parents who occasionally needed childcare. Once again, I managed to do some wonderful trades which included trading for fresh caught salmon and another one that I’ll write about in another chapter. We finally had lots of other kids around that were our kids ages. Up to that time, we rarely had friends who had children. This was wonderful! There were parties and potlucks and music. Before long, we started hosting a weekly Open Mic at The Riverhouse in Pacific City. It was located minutes from the beach and right along the Nestucca River. We settled quickly and were happy.
We also started writing songs together again. We had written one or two in Portland, including one about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, but were so busy trying to get by, there was little time for composing. Now, we wrote “875” together, about getting busted in Disneyland and “No Free Lunch” about the Reagan presidency. We also wrote “Lord, Help This Boy” a funny song about different walks of life. I started writing on my own as well and wrote a song about living in Tillamook County and another one about Mt. Hebo.
Mt. Hebo was on the coastal range. It overlooked five snowcapped mountains in two directions (Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Ranier, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson) and the Pacific Ocean in another direction. The view was breathtaking. At the summit was an air force station that was off-limits to the public. We weren’t supposed to be anywhere near it, but it was unmanned, and we often broke some of the rules that we thought were irrelevant. Life was good, the kids were happier than ever, we were making wonderful friends and focusing on being good parents, partners and musicians. This was the life we’d been searching for … finally.
Meanwhile, Jessie had taught herself to read and was already reading well but it was time for her to start Kindergarten in the fall. She looked forward to meeting other kids her age and making new friends. I was also looking forward to this new phase. It didn’t take long for her teacher to start sending her to the first-grade classroom for reading. It also didn’t take long for her to figure out whose parents smoked pot and whose didn’t. I had cautioned her not to talk about it at school, explaining that it was illegal, and we could get in trouble. After her first or second day, she came home with a list of which families were okay with it. Ugh! It felt as though the country was becoming more conservative, and I started to worry about her lackadaisical attitude. She just didn’t seem to understand the kind of trouble we could get into. This was the same child who once asked me, “If I don’t talk to strangers, how will I ever make new friends?” She definitely had a point.
Paul had no trouble talking to strangers and making friends. He continued to bring random people home, mostly fellow travelers. One day, he walked in the door with two young men from Germany, Mike and Lars. They were studying to be architects and had come to the United States on vacation. When they found themselves in Portland, Oregon, they got excited about the prospect of visiting the Portland Cement plant. They had approached Paul asking where they could find the plant. He didn’t know, so he brought them home to ask me. They had very little English but kept saying “Portland is the city of cement.” We had never heard of Portland Cement and had no idea where the location was. I replied that Portland was the city of roses, not cement. They kept insisting, so we started making a few phone calls to try to find the answer. They appreciated the help and were happy to have found a place to stay for a few days. Eventually, we discovered that Portland Cement originated in Portland, England, an ocean away but easy enough for them to visit when they got back home to Germany. They decided to take a tour of a cement factory anyway, so we set that up for them. The man we spoke to on the phone was confused as to why anyone would want a tour but also thrilled since it was his first, and maybe only, tour ever requested.
Mike and Lars went off the next day to do a whole day of being tourists. They came back just before dinner and showed me a button Mike had bought downtown that read “LXIX” and wanted to know what it meant. Apparently, it had caused quite a stir in the shop when they asked the young woman behind the counter what it meant. She blushed, laughed a lot and refused to answer. They asked other customers and got the same reactions. Because of the reactions, he decided it must be a good button to have and a great souvenir of Portland. I translated the Roman numerals for them, but they still didn’t understand what it was, and I wasn’t willing to go any further with my explanation. I assured them that Paul would be home soon and could give them an answer then. When Paul did come home and was faced with the question, he almost fell over laughing. Then, he tried to explain what it was, but their English was so spotty, nothing got through. He finally drew a stick figure drawing. I watched the light dawn on them as they both got huge smiles, nodded and said to Paul, “Das ist gut, jah?” Paul agreed, and Mike wore that button proudly as they left the next day.
Meanwhile, Amber purchased herself another VW bus and came to Portland to retrieve it from the seller. The vehicle had been too good a deal to pass up, so she bought it before remembering that she didn’t drive a stick shift. She hadn’t even taken a test drive. She asked me to go with her to get it, which I did. I drove it back to our house and started trying to teach her to drive it. I learned to drive on a stick shift that was three on the column and had taught many people how to manage the gears. Amber, however, was not a great student. She finally left the bus with us for a little while, coming back for lessons. One day, I took the bus out to go shopping with my kids. There still were no car seats or seatbelt regulations, and the older cars had no seatbelts at all. So, the kids were in the back, cozied up in blankets on the bed while we drove along. I stopped on the side of the road to get out and mail a letter, but when I got back in, the bus wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. We were pretty far from home, too far to walk with two kids and all of my groceries. I sat there for a few minutes trying to come up with a plan when I saw a group of husky young men coming down the street. They looked like they might be college students, maybe even football players. After instructing Jessie to stay put, Justin was already asleep in the back, I jumped out, explained the situation and asked if they would push so that I could jump start the bus. They agreed.
I got back in and, as we got rolling along, I popped the clutch. Nothing happened. I popped it again, and again, and again. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working until I finally realized that I had forgotten to turn the key. Those poor guys pushed for blocks before I finally got it going. I was embarrassed at having made that mistake and didn’t want to stop, so I waved out the window and shouted my thanks. They waved back; a bit more than I had expected. They were still waving when I turned the corner heading for home. Once they were out of sight, I started laughing and telling Jessie what had just happened. When she didn’t respond, I figured she had fallen asleep in the big pile of blankets with her brother. I pulled up to our house, unloaded the groceries then went out to retrieve my kids. Uh-oh, there was only one child there. Somehow, I had left Jessie behind.
Luckily, the bus started right back up and, sure enough, when I got back to the spot where the bus had originally stopped, there was Jessie hanging out with these guys and having a great time. They were very sweet and assured me that they not only understood it was just a simple mistake, but they had really enjoyed my daughter. Apparently, Jessie had climbed out when I was talking to them and followed them down the street, block after block. They knew I would be back, and she wasn’t worried at all. To Jessie, it was another grand adventure. To me, it was horrifying. After that, I always checked for both kids before driving away. Paul used to tease me about my paranoia, but he didn’t have the same experiences that I did. I had taught my kids to be independent and now had to suffer the consequences.
It was fun having the bus to drive for a while, but Amber needed her vehicle. It was time for her to figure out how to manage this car. One day, I left the kids with Paul and took her out for what was to be her last lesson. She was so timid about using the clutch, I wasn’t sure she would ever learn. I tried to get her to hold the car with the clutch on a slight slope before taking her on a bigger hill. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t get it. I even tried having her listen to the sound of the gears as a way of knowing when to shift. Finally, out of desperation and frustration, I stopped the bus at a stop sign on a steep hill and got out. Amber looked at me in horror. I hadn’t pulled over but stopped in the driving lane. As she rolled down the window, I told her that I was finished teaching her. It was time to sink or swim. At the rate she was going, she would never get her car home. I knew she could do it. Amber is one of the most capable people I’ve ever known, so I didn’t understand what the problem was. I started walking away. She called to me, but I didn’t even look back. A couple of cars honked their horns then went around her. She finally got into the driver’s seat and successfully pulled away without even a single buck. Luckily for me, she let me back in and took me home.
Then, on December 8th, 1980, I was listening to the radio and heard that John Lennon had been shot. I just sat down and cried. The year 1980 had been a rough one. There were still good things happening, especially on the musical front with the music changing and growing. Although we were still into The Grateful Dead, now I was listening to David Bowie, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Devo, and so many more. But it still felt as though my whole world was falling apart. Our neighbors on one side had moved away, and I missed them terribly. The neighbors on the other side were planning a move, too. The mountain was still spewing ash now and then, and we were entering our rainy season, which meant dismal depressing days where my kids went out to play in the mud day after day, unlike other places where they play in the snow during the winter. Paul was hating his job again and was probably going to walk out any day, as he so often did, leaving us even poorer than we already were. Politically and socially, things were taking a conservative turn for the worse. Ronald Reagan had won the presidential election in November. There was an Iran/Iraq war going on and Iranians were still holding fifty-two Americans hostage. Serial killings seemed commonplace, and now John Lennon was dead. It was time for a change. When the going got tough, Paul and I always got going … somewhere new. Our old neighbors had moved to the coast and had a friend nearby who was looking for someone to rent his house indefinitely for the same rent we were currently paying. although I would be sad to leave the house that my son was born in, it seemed like a no-brainer to us, and we started making our plans.
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