As the winter started coming to an end, Mt. St. Helens kept growing a bulge on her northwest side steadily, day by day. We watched all of the TV reports, read the newspapers and listened to the radio, waiting for the big day and hoping it wouldn’t be a disaster. The agency in charge of setting the red and blue zones for safety must have been bought off by the logging companies because the red zone, which prohibited anyone from being there, hugged the base on the northwest side of the mountain, the side with the rapidly growing bulge. The blue zone, allowing residents to remain but no tourists, hunters or other visitors, stretched widely on the south and east sides with almost no blue zone on the north side. It was pretty obvious to the rest of us that the mountain would probably blow out the bulge, but there were logging operations happening on the north side, and it seemed to be business first. Meanwhile, it continued to grow, and evacuations had begun. A few residents were evacuated, tourism was halted, but business went on as usual.
Then finally, the dreaded day came. The mountain erupted on the northwest side with a force 1600 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It created one of the largest landslides ever recorded, killing 57 people, most of whom were in the safety zone. It was a landslide composed of earth, rock, ice and gases surging at 300 miles per hour, devastating an area about six miles wide and 20 miles long. The landscape looked like a scene on the moon. The fallen, scorched timber flowed down into the Columbia River, clogging it up causing flooding and stopping all shipping in the area. Luckily for us, the ash blew east instead of devastating those of us in the city.
If we walked across the street to the neighbor’s yard, we could see the mountain. We would watch it regularly before and after the eruption. We could see the puffs of smoke and steam before the big blow and, after the big eruption, as it continued to have smaller ones, spewing varying amounts of ash, we would watch for the direction the ash was blowing. If it was blowing our way, we would run out to the store, stocking up on necessary supplies to last until the ashfall stopped.
The ash was composed of silica, which is like finely ground glass. It is the substance that causes Black Lung, the coal miner’s disease. If we went outside, we needed to wear protective face masks with special filters to block the ash from getting into our lungs. I even made a baby sized one for my young son, though we just didn’t go out unless absolutely necessary. After an eruption, if the ash had come our way, we would go out and hose it down, shoveling wet ash into garbage bags to be removed by the city. I remember feeling horrified at the numbers of children who were playing out in their yards with ash blowing all around them as they ran through the grass.
On June 12, 1980, we got a babysitter again and went to a Grateful Dead concert at the Portland Coliseum. Justin was doing a little better at being without me, though going out without kids was still a rare occurrence. As The Dead played an amazing version of “Fire on the Mountain” with a killer jam drum solo, the mountain erupted again. Here's a link to some sudio of that show. They finished up, and the bouncers shooed us out, all of us disgruntled at such a short show, because none of us realized what had happened. We swarmed out, many of us going to a neighborhood bar and seeing the notice posted saying, “Go home, the mountain has erupted with ash heading this way!” You couldn’t drive in those gray blizzards. The ash clogged your air filter and scraped your windshield if you tried running your wipers. It was also slicker than snow. Many Deadheads had no place to go, so we invited them home. That night, we had wall to wall Deadheads staying at our house. It was so much fun. We jammed all night long. Jessie was thrilled when she woke up in the morning to a house full of strangers. Justin was not so thrilled but always accepted the odd assortment of people who came through, as long as they left him alone.
Another time, I had arrived in downtown Portland, after having visited Amber on Mt. Adams, the next mountain over. The bus had run late, and I had spent the last of my money entertaining Jessie in the bus station with pinball and snacks. When we arrived in Portland, Paul was nowhere to be seen. He was supposed to pick us up from the bus station but had fallen asleep, and I didn’t even have money for a phone call. I decided to walk around outside with the kids, enjoying the rare sunshine. Suddenly, I noticed the gray ash falling from the sky. I was quite a distance from the bus station and didn’t have our masks with me. I was beginning to worry when a homeless man came up to me offering his spare change so that we could go to a nearby café. I started to decline, when another man came up with his change, then another and another. They reminded me that my children always gave them some of their lunch when we busked at the local street fair on Saturdays. This was their way of repaying us. I graciously accepted with tears in my eyes and a sense of relief and sadness as they settled themselves in a sheltered alley to ride out the storm. I called Paul then ordered some food while we waited.
We had survived the gloomy, rainy winter only to be faced with a gloomy, ashy summer. There were five smaller eruptions that summer, and Saturday Market wasn’t quite as much fun anymore with all of the dooms-dayers walking around the streets carrying signs about the end of the world and encouraging us all to repent. They assured us that the end was coming. It was an amazing experience to have lived through in spite of the inconveniences. We were never in any real danger and, hopefully, it was a once in a lifetime occurrence, but it was surreal, intense and frightening, nonetheless. I’m sorry that I never saved any of the ash and never got any photos of all of us wearing our masks. However, I do have many newspaper clippings from that time and found other photos to share.
We tried to go on with our lives as usual, working during the week and going to Saturday Market on weekends for some extra money and tons of fun, but it was always in the back of our minds that we might get stuck in an ashfall. The car that we had was already on its last legs, so we started looking around for something else. Meanwhile, Amber was visiting regularly. On one of those visits, she offered to stay with the kids while Paul and I went to the market for our regular busking gig. There were always people there trying to give away puppies or kittens. This day was no different. Jessie had been asking for a kitten for a long time. We still had Leon, but he was not a kitten. He was a surly Tom and not the cuddliest cat, although he was very tolerant of Justin pulling on him and Jessie carrying him around. This Saturday, there was a homeless man with a box of calico kittens, and I fell in love with one of them. When Amber brought the kids to pick us up, the kitten poked her head up out of my shirt where she was all snuggled up. I still remember the look on Jessie’s face when she saw that little mottled face peeking out. She named her Autumn. Leon accepted her easily, and she became a big part of our family. We also had a little white puppy.
I was enjoying being a stay-at-home mom for the most part, but it was incredibly hard work, especially because I was also working at home giving music lessons, doing childcare and any odd jobs I could find. The puppy, Cola, a small white mixed breed, had been an impulse buy. We saw her at a pet store, felt sorry for her and fell in love … until we started living with her. She was not well-behaved at all. I’ve always been great with pets, training them easily and establishing myself as the dominant one. This puppy was a challenge. She refused to be housetrained and would often wait until she came back indoors to go to the bathroom. She even went in a crate, which is unheard of. She didn’t follow simple commands and was snippy. She was very unpredictable, snarling at things we couldn’t see, going wild, biting furniture for no apparent reason and more. She got plenty of exercise, was fed well and well-cared for, but nothing seemed to help. I even took her to a vet thinking that maybe there was something seriously wrong. The vet didn’t have much to say except that she had an eccentric personality and maybe wasn’t suited for a family with young children. I had to constantly keep an eye on her and was at my wits end.
One day, while both kids were napping, I decided to rearrange the living room. We had a fish tank that had nothing but dozens of snails. It had fish at one time, but they all died, and the snails just kept procreating until the tank was filled with them. Of course, the kids thought that was great, so we kept them. I worked for hours moving furniture and even put up a new shelf that held our National Geographic magazines and the fish tank. As I went to sit down to enjoy my last few minutes of peace and quiet before the kids woke up, I heard Justin start to stir, so I turned to go into his room when the new shelf behind me crashed to the ground sending water, magazines and snails everywhere. At the same time, Cola decided to defecate in multiple places on the floor. I was exhausted, stressed out from dealing with the erupting mountain, this deranged dog and Paul’s escalating anger, and I completely lost it, sinking to the floor in tears. Just then, my friend Debbie walked in. Thankfully, she swept into action, going first to the kids who had both woken up then helping me with the mess. Cola soon went to another home. I just couldn’t deal with so much at once. Our idyllic scene was starting to come apart at the seams. It was time to start thinking about relocating again.
We were feeling quite settled in Portland. Jessie was loving kindergarten, and living right on a main bus route made life pretty easy. I took the kids to the library at least once a week, went to Saturday Market every weekend, had settled into my childcare routine, and we were making new friends. However, I missed Amber. We had left Husum, where she lived with her boyfriend on bad terms and hadn’t spoken since. During that time, we had moved to the city from the mountains, I’d had a second child, and Paul’s father had died. After a little searching, I found her again. She and Michael had split up, so now she was a single parent with no support from him and little contact. Like all of us who survived a rough childhood, she is a survivor and has always bounced back. When you go through trauma in your early years, you have two choices. You can give in to the hopelessness and give up, or you can fight like hell to stay on your feet. When you decide to fight, the fights don’t necessarily get easier, but you get better at facing them.
She was bouncing around to different locations trying to juggle a small child with working, washing vehicles, working potato fields, fruit orchards, whatever she could find to make an income. She did most of that work with her daughter on her back. Luckily, she didn’t need or desire a lot. I don’t remember who contacted who first, but it didn’t take long for us to be back to our old sense of camaraderie. She soon met our neighbors. In addition to the ones on our little enclave, we had befriended the folks who lived across the street, Rick, Renee and Chelsea. Chelsea and Jessie bonded over having eaten a bottle of Flintstones vitamins at Rick and Renee’s one day. Jessie had a taste for exotic foods.
She also came home one day from a different set of neighbor’s houses, bouncing into the room and off the walls. She was talking so fast; I could barely catch a word of what she said. Then, I realized that she was telling me about something wonderful she had sampled next door. In rushed Baird, the eight-year old neighbor boy with a bag of whatever they had been eating. At the same moment, Jessie pulled something out of her pocket and was ready to pop it into her mouth when I caught her hand, pried it loose and found coffee beans. I immediately emptied all pockets from both of them and returned what was left in the bag and their errant child. I actually loved Baird, though he was very wild. He was, like me, a free spirit with a flexible sense of right and wrong. Patty was his stepmother, younger than his artistic father Jim. Shard was the oldest of the two boys at age ten and was pretty reliable. We got quite close to them during the time we lived there until they moved to the coast. Even after that, we visited and eventually moved there, too.
Amber and I visited back and forth, though usually, she came to us. We had plenty of room, and she usually lived in cramped quarters, big enough for the two of them but three more people didn’t usually work out. One day, I really needed a break from Paul. He was another of those traumatized youths and often got caught up in his anger. Having grown up in an angry household with loud, vicious arguing and corporal punishment for my me and my brother, I could only take so much of Paul’s outbursts, which were getting more and more frequent and intense. So, I decided to take a greyhound bus to Washington to visit Amber. She had moved into a school bus in the same general area she’d been living in on Mount Adams. School buses were all the rage, and there was such variety in the designs and decor. Her bus had a bed for herself in the back and a smaller one for her young daughter over one of the wheel wells. It also had a small table and chairs for eating at, a small propane stove with a tiny oven, another smaller table with a lamp and an adult-sized rocker on one side and a child-sized rocker on the other. There was also a hanging closet, storage underneath Amber’s bed and a porta-potty. She always stayed on someone’s land and was able to plug in a refrigerator outside of their house. Later on, she got a woodstove for this uninsulated bus. She had all of the essentials. Even later, the US Government deemed her school bus a viable residence, in the same category as a house, and insulated it incredibly well. It was part of the Crude Oil Windfall Profits Tax Act that was voted in because of the rising energy prices throughout the 1970s. They even insulated her windows, which were just wooden slats that folded down like venetian blinds, by applying insulating foam. She lost a couple of inches on the windows and along the insides, but the bus was definitely well insulated.
Amber wanted to take me out to the local tavern for some “r & r” and a break from our kids. I was concerned about childcare, explaining that Justin still didn’t relish being away from me, especially with strangers. She told me that she left Harvest in the bus when she went out at night. She always checked with the couple in the house first to make sure they could just keep an eye and ear open for any issues. I didn’t really like the idea. My kids were visiting this place for the first time and didn’t know their way around. Amber assured me that it was a short walk to the house and coached Jessie through it. Jessie, who always wanted to play mom, was excited about the prospect. Justin was about fourteen months old, and Jessie was five and a half. I still didn’t like the idea. Amber kept pushing and finally agreed to not leave the kerosene lamp burning as a safety precaution.
Every parent makes their share of mistakes when raising their children. Often, we don’t realize until later in life what those were, especially when our children insist on telling us about them. However, some mistakes are apparent immediately afterwards. Luckily for me, those mistakes have usually not had dire consequences, although they certainly could have. I have to admit that it was a much-needed break. There were new people to meet, music and dancing. I didn’t drink much. After my early drinking days, I was never much of a drinker. I always preferred smoking and still do. After about an hour or so, I was starting to get that uncomfortable itch again. Something was wrong. Sure enough, the bartender called us over to take a phone call. Justin had woken up, climbed over his sister, without waking her and was found wandering around the perimeter of the forest, crying. The woman holding him when we returned was understandably upset, and so was I. This was not the first time he had a close call, so I should have known better, but this was the only time I was irresponsibly the cause.
The first time, he escaped from our house. He was always trying to go somewhere. Jessie was my talker and thinker. Justin was my adventurer. He didn’t seem to have a good sense of danger. He was constantly experimenting and exploring. He was also like Harry Houdini. He could get out of any restraint and sneak out of sight in a second. There were no covers for doorknobs like there are now, and he could open any door and was working on learning the locks. He learned to climb out of a playpen quickly. Finally, in desperation, I hung bells from all of the doors in the house and put bells on his shoes to try to keep track of him. As long as I could hear the sound of the bells on his shoes when he was on the move, I knew he was safe. The bells on the door were bigger and made a different sound.
One day, I left the two kids sitting quietly in the living room reading books while I folded laundry in my bedroom while Paul napped on the couch. Justin was not yet a year old and was not walking steadily, yet. After a little while, Jessie came in and started to help sort socks. Justin hadn’t followed her in as he usually did, and I noticed that I didn’t hear the sound of bells. Quickly, I went to investigate and found his belled shoes on the floor. I wasn’t too worried because I would have heard the sound of the doors opening if he’d gone outside. I woke Paul to help look for him. As we all searched the house, we heard the screech of brakes from the main road, car horns and then the sound of my child screaming. Paul dashed outside and up the hill to find Justin in the arms of a stranger who had parked her car sideways across the street blocking traffic. She’d seen him wobbling in the middle of the road and, thankfully swung into action. She saved his life! Upon investigation, we discovered that he had removed his shoes, pushed a kitchen chair against the side wall, climbed out of the window, dropping down into a big bush (we could see the indentation), crawled to the front yard, across the dirt road and up the steep hill covered with berry bushes (yes, he was covered in little scratches) and into the main four-lane road.
I learned a lot from my earlier mistakes but sadly didn’t stop making them. Meanwhile, there were rumblings on Mount St. Helens as it started to grow a bulge on one side. Amber and I had picked wild blueberries on the mountainside, watching out for bears, of course. We talked about hiking through the old lava tubes but never actually did it. We knew it was an active volcano, but it was a popular place to go, and many of the mountains were, and still are, active in that range. Mount Adams was the next Cascade Mountain over, right along the Columbia River. There were massive logging operations on Mount Saint Helens, on the same side as the bulge. We had met some loggers when visiting Amber and played music at parties in the area. We could see the mountain and its ice cream cone shaped snowcap from many locations around the city including Rick and Renee’s front yard, across the street from us. We’d never had any experience with volcanos before so we had no idea what, if any, repercussions an eruption would have, but we started watching the news carefully.
At that time in my life, my life was once again filled with music. We continued to play at Saturday Market every weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. One day we were doing our usual thing when a TV crew came by. They were from Sapporo, Japan which is a sister city of Portland. They were filming a segment on the arts scene and wanted to know if they could film a couple of songs. Of course, we agreed and continued on with our planned set. We did some Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, and even threw in some jazz and blues. Now, it was time for some Grateful Dead, Mr. Charlie, Tennessee Jed, Cumberland Blues… We went right into “Trucking,” one of our theme songs at the time, by the Grateful Dead. The camera crew started smiling and zoomed in on the line “living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine.” We later met a fellow traveler while living along the coast who recognized us from a television segment he’d seen in Japan. He told us that was why he remembered us so vividly. It was because they’d included that closeup scene in the final product.
We met lots of musicians both at the market and through Paul’s job as a cook. I’ve discovered early in my adult life that lots of musicians work in food service, which is a little strange considering the fact that many of them are pretty spaced out, and the work usually involves sharp knives. But many of them came over to jam when they weren’t dealing with injuries. One of them was Tim, who played the flute. I’ve always loved the sound of a flute and would love to learn to play it well. My meeting with him for the first time was another of my most embarrassing moments. Paul had told me that Tim would probably arrive a little before Paul got home and that I should be on the lookout for him.
In the late afternoon, I saw a long-haired fellow carrying a small instrument case coming down the road and decided to walk out to meet him. I went to the door carrying my baby, who had fallen asleep on me. I had him in front of me against my chest, trying not to wake him until I could set him in his crib. I couldn’t really see where I was walking and headed straight out the front door toward the porch stairs. As I took that first step and started falling forward, I suddenly realized that the stairs didn’t line up with the door but were slightly to the side, an obvious engineering flaw. I managed to save my child, landing on my elbows, and quickly roll over, just a little dazed. Justin was still fast asleep. Looking up into the concerned eyes of our new friend, I asked if he could give me a hand. I assured him I was fine. It was just another day for me. I’ve always been clumsy and figured that if my friends remained my friends after witnessing my many mishaps, they must be true friends. Many of them were also as freewheeling as we were and didn’t stay in one place for too long. Tim was no different. He turned out to be a good friend and a fun musician who fit in with our music well, but in a few months, he was off to his next adventure.
“Bongo Bob” was another work contact. He was a percussionist who was married to a very jealous woman named Judy. Judy hated him spending time away from her and insisted on coming with him whenever he came over to jam, which was usually two times a week or more. She sat glaring at us most of the time, rarely spoke, although I tried hard to engage her. After a while, Bob started coming only once a week. Finally, after a few songs, Judy would start pestering him to leave. Eventually, he would sign and say, “Okay, one more song.” That was the point at which Paul and I became expert at throwing in segues. That “one more song” would turn into three, four, five or more as we kept going from one right into the next, much to Judy’s chagrin. She soon caught on though, and pretty soon, “Bongo Bob” was not allowed to play with us anymore. I guess we were a bad influence.
There was also a couple we spent quite a bit of time with, Pam and Bill. Pam loved hanging out with our kids. Justin was always very wary, radically and loudly preferring me over anyone else, except sometimes his sister. I was getting burnt out fast and Pam could see that. They offered to babysit so that we could go to an outdoor all-day concert. I wasn’t so sure about it. It would be a long time for a 5-month old who had was already very clingy. Pam had experience with children, and Bill was onboard. Jessie was excited to have a whole day with these fun friends, so I reluctantly agreed. I left plenty of milk, and he already drank water and herbal tea from a bottle. They would be fine, or so I thought. It was June 30th, 1979. On the bill were The Grateful Dead, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman and David Bromberg. Doors opened at 10 am.
The Dead’s set list was: Jack Straw, Candyman, Me and My Uncle, Big River, Tennessee Jed, Looks Like Rain, Deal, I Need a Miracle, Bertha, Good Lovin’, Friend of the Devil, Estimated Prophet, He’s Gone, and by then we were pretty gone, Drums and Space, The Other One, Wharf Rat, Sugar Magnolia and One More Saturday Night. I didn’t remember all of these, only a few. I looked the rest up online. I was never much of an archivist. I remember a little of Bromberg’s set, too. He played I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning, Bojangles and Main Street Moan, and plenty more. I danced and partied all day long. I didn’t realize until I arrived how much I needed this day.
We had a great time. The music was awesome, the crowd was friendly as always, and it was a beautiful day. But, all day long, I had a nagging feeling. This was before the days of cell phones, so there was no reliable way to reach us short of a serious emergency. Even then, it wouldn’t be easy. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and found security. I explained the situation, admitting that I didn’t actually know that there was something wrong, it was just a strong feeling, maybe mother’s instinct. I asked if there was any way I could use a phone. How could they say no? When I finally got through to our house phone, I could hear Justin screaming in the background. Bill insisted that all was well. Justin was a little fussy, but they could handle it. Pam was getting his bottle now. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to the show, but I never lost that uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong.
At the end of the day, refreshed, recharged and floating on air from not only the incredible music but also the break from parenting, we returned to a screaming baby, a crying caregiver and her frazzled boyfriend. Apparently, Justin started crying as soon as we walked out the door and, other than falling asleep briefly from pure exhaustion, had cried all day. He didn’t drink any of the milk I had left but immediately stopped crying as soon as he was back in my arms. When I asked Bill why he hadn’t told me when I called, he said that they could see how stressed out we both were trying to parent in addition to work and music without any support from family and friends. They wanted to give us a much-needed break. I appreciated it, and it did help me cope, but Justin became even more attached to me after that, even as he got older. That day was just a taste of what was to come. Jessie was also upset because she'd basically spent the day entertaining herself in a very loud environment. Pam and Bill offered to spend a day just with her, so it worked out even better. And, of course they took her out of the house on her own adventure.
Spring had sprung in the Pacific Northeast. The beautiful red flowers on the camellias start blooming in February. Being a gardener, I loved the fact that there were flowers most of the year. We had the best yard with two apple trees, a pear tree, two cherry trees, a plum tree and grape vines. There was a camellia bush in the front, a couple of rose bushes in the back and in the side yard and lots of other things coming up that I wasn’t sure of yet. One of them had tons of round buds but I had no idea what they were, so I went to the library to find out. They were peonies. I waited patiently as the buds grew bigger and bigger, looking forward to the amazing floral display they would provide. One day, Jessie came running inside excitedly to invite me to a tea party. I grabbed Justin and went with her to the backyard. There was a table set up with a big bowl of peony buds set out as our pretend snack. I almost cried but instead took a deep breath and sat down to tea. Later, I explained to her what those buds were, and she agreed to leave them alone next year.
As summer approached, the rainy weather lessened. It often still rained everyday but usually only for an hour or two with the sun coming out in the late morning. It was time to get back to our busking routine, so every Saturday we packed a lunch, loaded up the kids with all of their accessories and took the bus downtown to “Saturday Market.” What a place that was! It was like a festival. There were all kinds of vendors selling beautiful handcrafted art and crafts, many different foods including a woman who walked around with a large basket on her head selling cookies for adults only and street performers. There were jugglers, magicians, vaudeville acts and musicians everywhere. There was plenty of room for everyone and most of the other performers were very welcoming and helpful. There was a backroom in an abandoned warehouse that was used as our green room. It wasn’t cool to party right out on the street, and everyone was very considerate of the fact that there were kids around and people from all walks of life, so the partying happened in the green room, except for the adult cookies.
Some of our favorite people were “Artis, the Spoonman,” who showed Jessie her first string figure – a fishing spear, and Tom Noddy who did soap bubble art. You can look both of these characters up online. Artis joined us every once in a while, giving our act a boost for the day. Jessie was very intrigued by both of these guys, and they were very sweet to her. Jessie usually wore a flowing skirt and danced around while we played. We all loved being there. We were often given items from the vendors and never knew what would be thrown into our case. One day we were playing Joni Mitchell’s “Morning Morgantown” when a long-haired older hippie stopped to listen. We moved from there into Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” then some Grateful Dead. As we sang “Tennessee Jed,” this guy smiled and dropped a brown pouch in our case. We nodded and smiled at him as he nodded back and walked off. It was getting to be lunch time, and we’d done well so far, so we packed up and headed to the park to eat.
After we got the kids settled, Paul pulled out the pouch, opened it up and found a beautiful pipe made of cherry wood, scrimshawed elk horn with a collar of ebony. We were astounded. Along with the description came directions for how to clean it. “Take a low E string from an acoustic guitar and heat the end red hot. Plunge it into the end to clean. Repeat until it stops sizzling.” We decided it was our “music pipe” and always smoked out of it whenever we played music, at gigs, parties, jams and even practices. When Paul and I split up, he kept the pipe. When he died, one of my sons wanted it, but I explained that it was mine until I was no longer around. I still have it, and it’s still my music pipe.
Jessie always shared her lunch with the homeless people in the park. We always packed more than she wanted to eat so she would give them half a sandwich or some fruit or vegetables. She had a fine-tuned sense of who was approachable and who she should steer clear of. It was interesting to watch her navigate this world. She would sit nearby and listen to their stories, telling plenty of her own. These folks often stopped to hear us play too, until someone eventually shooed them away. When my parents came to visit, we walked downtown with them on a weekday. As we passed by, the homeless men all called out to us by name, waving and wishing us well. My mom, horrified, looked at me and asked, “Are these your friends?” Well yes, they were. Her father had been a homeless alcoholic at the end of his life, “dying in the gutter” as she put it. I know it was hard for her to understand our relationship with these men, which was only friendliness and acceptance. It’s not like they came to our home or stalked us. They weren’t demons or criminals. They were just hurt humans who were grateful for some personal contact.
Then there were the young and old people who had hit the road, just like Paul and I had done. On our own travels, someone was always helping us out, giving us rides, a place to stay, feeding us and more. It was important to us to repay this in kind, so we were always bringing folks home. We met one young man at Saturday Market. Clinton was a Harvard student who had taken a year off to travel the country. He asked if he could join our act and juggled while we played. Later, in the green room, we asked where he was staying. He had just come into town and hadn’t yet found a place. We told him he was welcome to tent in our backyard, and he took us up on it. After about a week, I noticed he was coming in to use the bathroom a lot, so I asked if he was alright. With not much money, he had been eating the fruit from our trees, mostly plums at that time. I started feeding him, and he soon became part of our family. He was wonderful with both kids, and they loved him, too. Once in a while he would take off to travel for a few days then come back. He spent the whole summer with us and came back off and on throughout the year. He hung out with the Flying Karamazov Brothers learning juggling tips and tricks from them and got very good at his art. He was also a musician, so there was plenty of jamming going on. When he finally went back to school, we were all sad.
Then there was Ray… Paul met Ray downtown and fell for his sad story of love lost and fortunes reversed. Ray was living out of his van trying to find a job so he could return home to North Carolina. Paul invited him to park his van at our house. I didn’t like this guy the minute I saw him. There was something sketchy about him that I couldn’t put my finger on, but Paul seemed to like him, so I decided to give him a chance. Before long, Ray found a job and had moved into our living room, abandoning his bed in the van. He found a job and continued to eat all of our food, take showers daily and lounge around without helping out at all. He never lifted a finger to clean up after himself or offer any assistance, monetary or otherwise. I didn’t mind feeding people and helping them out, but Ray was a leech. Everyone else we’d had stay helped out with vegetable gardening, chores, yard work or something … anything. Not Ray. What Ray did do was bring a bible into the house and start trying to convert Jessie to Born Again Christianity. I had nothing against his Christianity, but I wanted to choose for my own child. Once I laid down the law and made him stop, things got ugly. He stopped speaking to me, muttered and glared whenever he was around. I finally gave Paul an ultimatum. It was either Ray or me. I was ready to move out and bring the kids with me. I didn’t know where I’d go, but I was a survivor and would surely be able to figure it out. Paul knew that, and we gave Ray a deadline of one month to save enough of his earnings to go back home. When the month was up, he invited Paul out for one last night on the town to thank him for his generosity. I resented the fact that I was the one who’d had to deal with this loser most of the time and didn’t even get a nod, but I was mostly relieved that he would be leaving early in the morning.
Around eleven that night, I heard a truck in our driveway. When I went out to look, there was Ray’s van that had been all packed up with everything he owned, including most of his saved money, on the back of a tow truck. Upon leaving one of the bars they visited that night, the van wouldn’t start so he decided to prime the carburetor which was located inside the cab of the Chevy van. He must have spilled gas or something because the whole van caught fire and was now an empty burned out shell. Everything he owned was gone. I stood on the porch looking at it and cried. Maybe I was heartless, but I couldn’t pout up with him another day. He just had to go. Miraculously, he was able to wire his family for enough money to make the trip, something that he could have done all along. It turned out that they had plenty of money and wanted their son back. Although, I couldn’t figure out why. After he left, Paul admitted that he hadn’t liked him either and was relieved that I was able to stand up to everyone and get rid of him. Thanks, Paul. Once again, I had to deal with the bad guys. Luckily, there were way more good guys that I was happy to deal with as well with even more to come.
Now that Paul was back home and I was back on my feet again, the sunnier weather started coming. Because Paul’s father had passed, he inherited a little money, not a ton but enough to catch back up, get a vehicle, have a little cushion and start moving forward. Paul also wanted to get his own guitar. He’s been playing mine which was a nylon string classical guitar and was pretty beat up from being on the road so much. He decided to go shopping and the first place he went was the big local music store that did a lot of advertising. Paul didn’t really care about appearances much. He often had rips in his clothes, and his beard was long and scraggly, though he was always clean. When he walked in, all of the salespeople ignored him while still keeping a close eye on him. When he pulled out his wad of cash and fanned himself with it, they almost tripped over each other to help him. He smiled that wily smile that he had, nodded to each of them and walked out. He wandered around aimlessly until he saw a small shop tucked into a basement, “Captain Whizeagle’s.” The guy who ran the shop, Fred Cole, was very cool. He was another long-haired musician, well-known in the Pacific Northwest, though we didn’t know it at the time. He welcomed Paul in immediately and gave him an amazing deal on the guitar which now lives with our grandson, a 1969 Gibson Hollowbody Archtop electric guitar.
Now to find a vehicle. We decided on a VW bus. It was red and white. We bought “How to keep your Volkswagon Alive.” It might have been the first “for dummies” book ever written. And it certainly did help us keep that bus alive. Now that we had a large vehicle, it was time to drive to Bay Area of California and retrieve the things we’d left in storage three years ago. Yes, we’d actually kept up the payment on that unit for all of those years, knowing that we’d go back out west. The timing was perfect. Jessie had been about 9 months old when we left, leaving toys and clothing in storage. Now Justin was a few months old and those things would come in handy. Paul’s sister still lived in San Francisco, running a house painting business. We could stay and visit with her for a day or two before heading back home. This was still well before the days of car seats and even seatbelts, so we set up the back with enough room for stacked boxes and the two kids.
When we arrived at the storage unit, there were many more things than we remembered. It was going to be a tight squeeze, but we managed to pack it all in. We drove slowly with such a heavy load but finally made it to San Francisco where we lighted our load a bit. There were things that we just didn’t need anymore. That afternoon, Sage had a job, so we walked to the mission where we donated our leftover items. As we were walking around, we saw a poster on a pole. Van Morrison was playing at an elementary school that afternoon. Admission was $5 per adult. The school wasn’t far away, so off we went. The show was amazing. The auditorium was small, even the seats were small. I was shocked that the room wasn’t packed. There weren’t very many people at all. The band had a horn section and there were three female back-up singers who were amazing, as was Van Morrison himself. Everyone had such great energy. They did two sets with a break in between. During the break, Jessie told me she needed to use the potty. When we walked in the girl’s room, there were the three back-up singers. It was also their dressing room. Jessie was quite gregarious at the time and started a conversation right away. She told them that she thought they were great and that we were singing along. “Did you know that my mom and me are singers,” she asked. Before I knew what was happening, we were all singing together in the bathroom, harmonizing and having a great time. The second set was just as good as the first, and the whole experience was unforgettable.
We had a nice evening visiting with Sage. The next day we headed out, getting a later start than planned. Paul, who had to work the next day, had heard about a shortcut through the hills that saved quite a bit of time, so we decided to go that route. Paul drove for a few hours when it started to rain. It really rained, too. It was coming down in sheets. He soon tired out, and it was my turn to drive. We just had to make it through the pass and would hit highway again and smoother going. The rain was slowing us down a lot, and we really needed to get back tonight. I started to pick up some speed, hydroplaning a little bit here and there, but not a lot. There was no one else on the road, so I had the whole two lanes to myself. I started seeing garbage bags littering the road in front of me and just careened around them like running a slalom. I wondered why there were so many of them. “Oops, that one was a little close.” Paul woke up with a start and began yelling at me to slow down and pull over. “What is your problem, Paul?” He stuttered as he spit out, “You’re driving through boulders! Didn’t you see the falling rock signs?” No, I hadn’t noticed any signs, and those were just garbage bags, right? I looked again and realized what they actually were. Up to that point, I was driving with confidence and doing great. Now, I started freaking out. I managed to pull over and let him take it from there and never heard the end of it until the day he died. We made it home safely, he got to work on time, and I unpacked our past.
We had expended a lot of energy moving into a new city, having a baby and losing Paul’s father. Paul and his dad hadn’t been close. His mother and father had a tumultuous marriage, to say the least. One day, Paul and his siblings went for what they thought was a visit to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from their home with their mom in Greenwich, Connecticut. They never came back, their parents divorced and all communications from their mother was circumvented by their grandmother. Paul left home for good a few years later at the age of 14. What often happens in families where the adults are fighting with each other is that the kids also fight with each other. It’s a learned behavior. My brother and I did the same. It can be hard to lose that habit and often takes years away from it to succeed.
With so much stress, Paul and I, though we’d always bickered, started to argue in earnest. The one thing that kept us together was sharing our music. But even that was difficult with two kids and day jobs. Paul worked in restaurants, staying at one place for a few months and eventually moving on to the next one. I took whatever work I could find while juggling two small children. I made macramé plant hangers for a wholesale business until the fibers started affecting my lungs. I watched other kids and eventually started an underground daycare in our home. One of the most interesting kids I watched was “Spike.” Spike was three years old and the son of a hardcore biker, Rocky, and his beaten and much maligned woman. She was not his partner in any sense of the word. She was a very tough woman and accepted her lot. Their son was emulating his dad, but his behavior was too much even for Dad. They were related to one of our neighbors and had heard that I was unorthodox and watched kids. They wanted me to watch Spike three days a week. They’d tried many different centers and private daycares but had gotten thrown out quickly. Spike was violent and rude. He was totally out of control. They needed someone who could break a wild animal. I refused. I had other children to think about. He got gruff. I should explain that I’ve had other experiences with bikers in various places around the country. They’ve always liked our music, and Paul and I were often like pets or mascots. I was always provided with my own personal security guard when I went to their parties. I wasn’t intimidated by this guy and refused again. Anyway, hurting me wasn’t going to get him what he wanted. And, his brother lived next door.
They came back again, begged and offered to pay me a lot of money. I agreed under one condition. I would have total control. They were not to question anything I did or said, and they had to back me completely, no matter what their son said. They agreed. Spike’s first day, I searched him and took one knife away. He still had his fists, though. I wrestled him to the ground and, out of desperation, shoved him in the closet and leaned against the door. I took a breath and finally sat with my back against the door and started playing a game with the other kids. It got quiet in the closet. There was no more screaming and banging. Uh-oh, what if something happened? I slowly opened the door, and Spike bit my hand and tried to worm his way. I quickly shut the door again and locked it. What had I gotten myself into? I set the other kids up with an activity and started making lunch. I spoke to Spike through the closed door before opening it up again. I explained what the rules were again and told him that he could come out and be with the rest of us if he behaved. If not, I would give him a flashlight, his lunch, a snack for later and some things to keep him occupied until his parents came to pick him up. I couldn’t believe the words that came out of that child’s mouth. I returned with the promised items and waited for the end of the day.
I have to admit that I was a little nervous having to tell Rocky that his son had been locked up in a closet all day, but I was determined not to let it show. Rocky just laughed and mused that he’d wanted unorthodox, and that was what he’d gotten. He told him he figured it was better to have him in a closet than in a jail somewhere. He’d be back the next day. Spike spent all three days in and out of the closet, coming out for longer stretches of time out with the rest of us as the days went by. The second week went much better, and I was noticing a change in his whole demeanor. He would come sit close when I read to them and eventually climbed into my lap. He was still wild when they moved away, but he was not full of rage, lashing out at everyone around him. He learned how to make real human contact and let a very few trusted people in. I always hoped that he made it, but I never heard from them again. They just kind of disappeared, even from Rocky’s brother. They wanted to make a new life for themselves. I certainly understood that, having done it myself many times over.
Right now, though, I felt like I could stay in this place forever. Our house was in a little cul-de-sac with three other houses nestled together. The yards were long and narrow with three quarters of an acre each. There were fruit trees, flowers and vegetable garden plots in all three yards. They were fenced off from each other, but we soon took care of that, removing sections of fence so that the kids could have free rein. We all got along, and we all had children of similar ages. It was my first paradise, and I was happy.
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.
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.