I have always been fascinated by the sky. I was raised Catholic, and when I was a child, I believed that God and heaven were up there beyond the clouds, beyond the stars. I grew out of that belief eventually, but there was still that overwhelming fascination. When I was very young, I was sure I could see my grandmother that had passed on waving to me from the clouds. This would often bring tears to my mother’s eyes. One time, as an adult newly relocated to Albany, NY, I was having dinner with my husband and two children at the Gateway Diner on Central Avenue and had to run out to the car for something. As always, I looked up at the sky. I was amazed at what I saw! The clouds had spelled out, in cursive writing, “Frank L.” I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t a sky writer. They were big puffy clouds in that shape. It was unbelievable. Of course, I ran inside to show my family. When I did, others came outside, too. We all looked up with amazement. I remember thinking, “Wow, I’m so glad that’s not my name!”
As an adolescent, I became enthralled with Greek and Roman mythology, especially the stories about the constellations. This was the era of NASA’s space program which excited me even more. I no longer believed that heaven was up there, but really wanted to know what was. I knew that we would someday inhabit the stars along with who or whatever else lived up there. I grew up watching Bob Hope entertain the troops overseas while with the USO and decided that I would join the first USO traveling into space. Of course, things didn’t progress as we all thought they would, and my dreams to be in an interstellar USO were dashed but I never lost the fascination with the sky and outer space.
Because of my love of the sky, of course I watched the lunar eclipse the other night, long after my partner had gone to bed. I tried to get photos but couldn’t hold my camera still enough and didn’t have a tripod for it, so I took other beautiful photos anyway. One of them was a photo of Orion, who I've always had a special relationship with. It’s not my favorite story, but he always seems to be leading my way when I travel. I guess one reason is that I’m often traveling in the late fall, winter and early spring months. Orion has become my beacon, always leading me home and has shown up in a lot of my songs over the years. Every songwriter has recurring themes, and I am no exception.
Going back to his story though, it is pretty gruesome. According to many sources, Orion was the son of a mortal woman and Poseidon (God of the Sea). He was reported to be the most handsome of humanoids. Unfortunately, that beauty and noble birth must have gone to his head. He fell in love with Merope, daughter of King Oenopion who refused to give Orion his daughter’s hand in marriage. Orion then raped her and was blinded by Oenopion. He was then led by a servant to Hades where Helios (the sun) healed him. He went on to be the greatest hunter in the world, often hunting with Artemis, but upon threatening to kill all of the animals on earth, Mother Earth sent a giant scorpion to kill him. Upon his death, the goddesses all asked Zeus to put him up into the heavens where he remains. Two of the most well-known stars are in the constellation, Rigel (the base of his left leg and brightest star in the constellation) and Betelgeuse (his right shoulder).
He doesn’t sound like a very pleasant character, but although I don’t like his story, the constellation is very easy to find and was always the first one I taught my children and grandchildren to recognize. Once you recognize Orion, it’s easy to find Taurus and others. His belt is very recognizable and is noted in other cultures as well. Most European cultures also see him as a hunter. However, in Spain, the three stars that comprise his belt are known as "Las Tres Marías" (Spanish for "The Three Marys"), and in Puerto Rico, the three stars are known as the "Los Tres Reyes Magos" (Spanish for The Three Wise Men).
According to Wikipedia, the Ojibwa (Chippewa) Native Americans call this constellation Kabibona'kan, the Winter Maker, as its presence in the night sky heralds winter. To the Lakota Native Americans, Tayamnicankhu (Orion's Belt) is the spine of a bison. The great rectangle of Orion are the bison's ribs; the Pleiades star cluster in nearby Taurus is the bison's head; and Sirius in Canis Major, known as Tayamnisinte, is its tail.
Another Lakota myth mentions that the bottom half of Orion, the Constellation of the Hand, represented the arm of a chief that was ripped off by the Thunder People as a punishment from the gods for his selfishness. His daughter offered to marry the person who can retrieve his arm from the sky, so the young warrior Fallen Star (whose father was a star and whose mother was human) returned his arm and married his daughter, symbolizing harmony between the gods and humanity with the help of the younger generation. The index finger is represented by Rigel; the Orion Nebula is the thumb; the Belt of Orion is the wrist; and the star Beta Eridani is the pinky finger.
There is always a lot of brutality in these stories because it was a brutal time, and the plight of women was as chattel to be bought and sold or just taken to serve men. I almost wish there was a different constellation to be so attached to, but this is the one. I’ve followed it from coast to coast, written many songs and poems in which he figures prominently, welcome his arrival every fall and miss him in the summer. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite his story. Maybe he’s not even male at all. Maybe his sword and club are something else entirely. This might be an opportunity to write an empowering new story for women. Meanwhile, I’ll keep getting my inspiration from the stars.
I had to get a new phone last week and encountered, once again, a young person who assumed that because of my age, I was ignorant about technology. I am not. I have always found the best deals on things like recorders, mp3 players, stereos, wireless speakers, etc. Often people have questioned my purchases then, after researching them, bought the same device themselves. I love technology, am very competent and aware of what I don’t know, asking for help when needed. I am constantly learning and love progress. I learned this from my dad.
Dad was the editor in chief of our local newspaper, which had won awards for journalism since his tenure as editor. He also loved technology and was responsible for the newspaper buying computers and getting rid of the printing presses. Because he was also pro-labor (though anti-union) he had all of the men who ran the presses trained for jobs in this new technology, keeping them on as employees. He was a proponent of solar energy back in the 70s before it was popular. Dad also bought every new device that came out almost as soon as they were released to the public. He believed in the future and just had a 6th sense about what was a good product. It seems that he has passed that on to me.
In 1984, I purchased an Apple IIe. Back then, we were using big floppy discs, and you had to do a lot of the programming yourself. I used it mostly for word processing but insisted that my children learn that early and simple programming. I could see it was the wave of the future and didn’t want to be left behind. I have always owned a computer since then and have come to depend on them. I have a desktop, smart phone, digital recorders, I-Pad, Kindle and more. I know how to use them and can often troubleshoot, solving my own issues when possible. I often have friends, who are not as tech savvy, ask for my help. When I do need tech support, I can follow their directions easily and can talk to them intelligently. However, when I go into a store dealing with technology, I am often discounted. It could be partially because I’m a woman, though that is thankfully changing some, but it is mostly because of my age.
So, back to my new phone. I love my service and loved the phone that I accidentally dropped into the bathtub. The phone had been getting glitchy anyway, so I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get a new one. The new one is fine, though a new device always takes a little getting used to. I went to the phone store to see what my options were knowing that I had saved up enough “rewards” points to save $55 on a new device. The first thing that occurred was the young woman who was working, started out being a little condescending, so I decided to set things straight right off telling her that I was quite tech savvy and knew what we were talking about. She proceeded to get into my account by using my passwords and made a comment about being surprised at how great my passwords are. Strike one. Why wouldn’t they be when I told you I’m tech savvy? Then she started showing me the demo phones but didn’t offer to let me try them out, which I did anyway. Strike two. Next, she told me that my rewards weren’t accepted in the store. I found out later from customer service why that was, but she didn’t explain it to me at the time. If she had, I would have gone a different route. But I let that one slide. It wasn’t like I had spent money for those rewards but accumulated them by paying my bill. Eventually, I asked to buy a case. The old case I had was like a wallet with a flap that had slots that held my license, credit cards, cash, whatever I wanted and folded over the screen secured with elastic. Even when I dropped my phone, it was protected by the case and I never had a cracked screen. Because I was sick and tired of all the bullshit by now and had been in the store for over an hour, she managed to convince me that the newer screens were less durable and sold me a screen protector with no case for more than twice what the case would have cost me. She also talked me into a device that hooked into my car and would cost me no extra money because since I was getting that, she could discount something else evening it all out.
When I got home and invariably dropped my phone because it has no case and is thin and slippery, the screen protector cracked. So much for it being more durable than the phone screen. Then, I noticed that my data was very slow, much slower than usual even for a cloudy day. While in the store, I had explained to her that I lived in a solar house off the grid and couldn’t always use the power necessary to turn on my desktop. I told her that my data is very important as is the “hotspot” that gives me WiFi. When I spoke to the customer service rep on the phone about removing my activation fee as a courtesy, she explained that when I got the car device, my data was bumped down to satellite service and my hotspot was reduced. STRIKE 3!!!
The next day I went raging into the phone store and spoke to the manager. Fortunately for me, the story has a happy ending. Unfortunately for the young girl behind the counter, I suspect it does not have such a happy ending. It is very frustrating that after having dealt with sexism for many years, now that things are finally changing for women, I am now 65-years old and dealing with ageism. It’s hard enough to have new aches and pains and medical issues that require constant monitoring. But now, I am ignored or talked down to pretty regularly. Do you wonder why some old people are so grumpy? Try living in their shoes. We’ve been around for a long time, learning as we go. We’re smart and experienced. Why do younger people assume we’re not? We can be very engaging conversationalists. I had a wonderful chat with an 85-year old woman in line at the grocery store the other day. She was fascinating and fun. Everyone else ignored her. They had no idea what they were missing out on. It was the high point of my day. Please talk to elderly folks. Many of them are lonely and, hopefully you’ll be there one day. You can be the change you wish to see.
Here's another older memoir piece originally written in October of 2014, with an extra story added today.
I love being in cars. Cars have always been, for me, a symbol of freedom. As a teen, I didn't really have a life away from my family, no friends and no parties. I wasn't allowed to work or get my driver's license until I was 18. I was pretty much a captive in my parent's house. Then, on that magic 18th birthday, my life changed. I got my first job bringing in my own money and started learning to drive. I learned to drive in my dad's 1965 Plymouth Valiant. The transmission was three on the column. I loved that car. It was the same car, from another memoir, that ended up nose down in someone's creek, through no fault of my own. Though, I did manage to do a lot of damage to that poor car in my earlier driving years, it always pulled through.
The day I got my license and was going on my first drive on my own, my dad insisted on guiding me down the curvy driveway. I knew I had better go along with it, if I wanted to take the car out that day. He waved me back, back, back, then … “Whoa, stop! Stop!” as I hit the neighbors’ drywall sending it into their yard like a line of dominos, that same domino effect from the “Traveling On” memoir.
Another time, I was driving around with a friend, partying in the car. There were no places to go hang out when I was a teen other than our cars or the local ice cream parlors. Obviously, we couldn’t party in the ice cream shops, so we drove around. Traveling down Frog Town Road, a particularly windy road, my friend instructed me to hold the wheel straight and lean her way for a minute. My attention was diverted for a few crucial moments as I did as I was told, taking a good strong hit. When I sat back up, I noticed that the car seemed to be kind of bumpy, and I was having a hard time controlling it, so I pulled into a side street and got out. I almost fell over when I saw that the whole driver’s side front fender and hood were destroyed. The reason it was bumpy was because the fender was cutting into the tire. I quickly took the crow bar out of the back and bent the bumper out enough to safely drive it back to the scene of the accident, where I discovered I had taken down a telephone pole. It was lying across the road, blocking both sides. We quickly went on to the Dairy Queen where a few friends worked and where we often hung out in the parking lot. The whole gang was there, and we came up with a plan. We washed the creosote off, pulled the wooden splinters out of the frame and bent the fender more so it looked like a vehicle had hit me. I concocted a story about being at Friendly’s when we heard a crash, ran out and saw a truck racing away. It was a hit and run. It was moving too fast to see the license plate, but my dad took me down to the police station anyway to file a hit and run claim. As we were getting ready to leave for the station, he bent down and picked out a stray piece of wood that we had missed. I explained that the truck had a homemade wooden bumper, and off we went to file the report. That car was eventually turned over to me years later and almost made a cross-country trip. I have so many fond memories of it from two very different times in my life.
The first car I ever owned was a 1960 black VW Bug. I had it during the first big gas crisis in 1973. During that time, you could only buy fuel on odd or even days depending on the last number of your license plate. There were ridiculously long lines at the pumps with tempers flaring occasionally, but many places offered free coffee to make the long wait less painful. This car didn’t have a gas gauge, but it did have a little lever on the floor that gave you access to another 1-gallon tank. Being a girl raised at a time when math didn’t really matter to the female persuasion unless used for domestic chores, I didn’t know then that I should figure out my mileage and usage mathematically and ran out of gas all the time. Sometimes my extra gallon was enough fuel to get me back home, but often I ended up calling my dad, late at night, to come rescue me. He came every time with his gas can, grumpy and put out, but he never did teach me that simple calculation to avoid having it happen again.
I knew absolutely nothing about cars then except that if I put gas in it and turned the key, it would go. And, by that time, I was a pretty good driver. I was driving that Bug to Avon, CT on the Merritt Parkway with my future husband Paul in 1974 for a concert when my car slowed to a stop. Eventually, some State Troopers came by. One of them was an older German who had collected VWs for years, having worked on them in Germany. He looked it over then drove us to his house where he grabbed some tools, a fan belt and some other items, then back to our car where he fixed it right there on the shoulder of the road. After checking the engine and asking me a few questions, obviously very irritated at the condition of the car, he finally asked if I ever checked the water in the battery. I looked at him blankly. “This car runs on gas, not batteries,” was my honest reply. I thought he was going to arrest us or have a heart attack on the spot. Finally, after sputtering half in German and half in English, he told me that my car wasn’t even fit to drive on the sidewalk and instructed us to move along, warning me that if he ever saw me or my car again, he was taking us both in.
We got back in the car and waited for them to pull off. They waited for us. Then the same cop came up to the window wondering why we weren’t leaving. I had to explain that in order to go, we would have to jump start the car and asked if he and his partner would give us a push. This time he ranted and raged only in German but did help push the car. We decided to change our plans and just head for home. We got off the next exit and reentered the parkway going back the way we came when the car broke down again, directly across the road from the first breakdown site. At that point, we didn’t wait around for certain arrest and who knew what else. We took our things and hitchhiked home, leaving the car, hoping it would find a home with the State Trooper. A year later, when my parents got a bill from the towing company for towing a storage, we found out that it did indeed go home with him after spending a few months at that garage.
So, back to the Plymouth Valiant. I now owned the car, and Paul and I were preparing to make another cross-country trip. It was 1978 and, after living back in my hometown of Stamford, Connecticut for a year and a half, we were ready to go back out west. Our friend Debbie wanted to go with us, and we were heading out in two days with three adults and our 2 1/2-year old daughter. I decided to drive out to North Stamford to visit my best friend’s mother one last time and say goodbye to her. On the way home, my beloved car broke down. It made a hellacious noise, then a big clunk and stopped dead. I was able to roll onto the shoulder then hitched a ride home for me and my daughter. Ugh! What would we do now? After calling a garage, who agreed to go get my car right away, I called my mother, who had fingers in every pie and was well-loved by many. She found us a car that afternoon, another newer Plymouth Valiant. It looked like we were all set to go.
However, the next morning, as we were packing the last of our belongings, we got a call from our friend and traveling companion. She was getting back together with her ex-boyfriend and wanted him to come along. Now the car would carry 4 adults and a child plus all of the belongings we could manage to cram in. We finally agreed to take him along, knowing it would be tense but also welcoming the extra financial help. I hung up the phone when the doorbell rang. At the door were two local policemen. They wanted to arrest me for leaving the scene of an accident. It takes a lot to make me break down, but this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I collapsed into a puddle of tears, leaving Paul to step outside and talk to the cops.
Apparently, the tow truck never came and overnight the car was pushed into the ravine probably by some mischievous teenagers. It crashed through the residents’ stone wall and came to a stop nose down in their river. Now the police were here to take me away. We managed to get the garage to admit their failure and, probably in no small part sue to my dad’s notoriety in town and my mom’s persuasive ways, they let me go. We successfully made the, not uneventful, trip to Washington State with the truck full and the floor of the back seat packed level with the seats. But that’s a story for another time. As we were packing the last few items, I removed the spare tire to make more room. This horrified my mother, who was already horrified at the prospect of us embarking on this latest adventure, taking her only grandchild with us. I assured her that it would be fine. “Don’t worry, Mom. We won’t need it.” And, we didn’t.
I’ve owned many cars since then and have learned how to maintain them. I know where the batteries are, though I no longer have to check the water level. I check my tire pressure and my oil and other fluid levels. I understand how they run and have even done minor repairs such as changing various lights, windshield wipers and even the fuel filter. I’m so glad that girls are no longer expected to be dumb and can now learn about these things in school. Having more knowledge would have saved me a lot of hassles, but then I wouldn’t have had some of these stories to tell.
Here’s a video of one of my songs about driving preceded by a story. This was recorded live at The Eden Cafe in Loudonville, NY.
New Year’s Day is a special day for me, filled with memories. On New Years Day 1974, I met Paul Cavanaugh, the man who shared his last name with me, the father of my three children and the one with whom I had such grand adventures. We met through a friend of mine I had known since 7th grade. She and I smoked our first cigarettes together, walking to and from school every day in 7th and 8th grade. I took my first acid trip with her, and she set me on the road to unbelievable adventures when she brought me along to play music with an man she had just met in a laundromat. You can find that spoken word memoir, and the song I wrote just after he died, on my home page.
The following New Year’s Day (1975), Paul and I took off from Stamford, Connecticut hitchhiking across the country with a very loosely set goal of reaching New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. We had gotten rid of most of our possessions, including our amazing record collection, and packed everything else into an old navy duffel bag, that had belonged to my dad, and an aluminum framed backpack. New Year’s Eve, we threw a huge party in the apartment we were leaving, staying up all night with friends, playing music, drugging and drinking. The next morning, we took our packed bags and my nylon string guitar and took our first ride from our friends to just outside of New York City. After standing by an island with our thumbs out for an hour, we started to get paranoid that we might get questioned by law enforcement, so we hid our “on the road” stash in some bushes. After quite a few hours of standing in the cold, we hopped into the car that finally stopped, forgetting all about our stash. We were about to clean up for the first time in a few years.
That ride took us all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We had one harrowing moment in the Pennsylvania mountains when we stopped for gas and got chased down the road by large men with tire irons. Paul and I ran really fast to make it into the car before our ride left us behind, fearful for their own lives. Other than that incident and one other, the rest of trip was nothing but pleasant, though not uneventful. We stayed in Pittsburgh for a couple of days, visiting Paul’s friends and family then headed out west. Unfortunately, the rides never took us south and, it being winter and us being low on funds, we followed the rides, wherever they led. It was an adventure after all. We also knew that Paul’s sister was living in San Francisco in a hippie commune, and we could always land there temporarily. We met lots of very interesting people along the way, stayed in a few homes and stayed in an old historic hotel in Nebraska where many of the beat poets and eccentric characters from the 50s and 60s had stayed. Then, in Big Springs, Nebraska, where I-80 branches off to take you through Wyoming or continues on through Colorado, we got stuck in a blizzard for 42 hours.
All the way through Nebraska, we had been blown over by large semi trailers speeding up and pulling into the far right suddenly to create a huge gust of wind that sent us and our belongs scattered along the shoulder. We finally got a ride that dropped us off at the truck stop in Big Springs. We were trying to hitch a ride to Wyoming since we knew that hitchhiking was illegal in Colorado, and the cops were known to brutally enforce the law. Lots of people stopped and offered us a ride as far as Denver, but we turned them all down, determined to go the northern, and we thought safer, route. After a couple of hours, the staff at the truck stop informed us that we were no longer allowed inside to get warm unless we bought a meal. We had been buying coffee all along and even bought a meal once, but our money supply was dwindling, and we were reluctant to spend it on more food. Luckily, one of our going away gifts was a “space blanket” that probably saved our lives. We took turns huddling under that blanket, making quick trips inside for more coffee and still trying to get rides. Finally, a woman explained to us that all the roads to Wyoming were closed due to the weather and offered us a ride to Denver. Once we had that information, it was an easy decision to take her up on her offer. She took us to the bus station in Denver, where we sang and played while the older people danced to our music inside the terminal. We made a few tips and Paul, after trying in vain to convince one woman that he wasn't who she thought he was, even signed an autograph for a woman who insisted he must be John Denver. Somewhere in Colorado is a John Denver autograph that was actually signed by Paul Cavanaugh.
We took a bus from Denver to Salt Lake City and decided to air hitchhike at the local airport. We were mostly walking with our thumbs out as an afterthought, feeling pretty exhausted after our harrowing blizzard experience. At this point, we wanted to get to San Francisco as soon as possible where we could rest and recuperate. Miraculously, a car stopped very quickly and offered us a ride all the way to Sacramento. He had one requirement. He would pay all of our expenses, put us up in a motel overnight, pay for all of our meals and even give us money for gambling in Nevada. All we needed to do was listen to his stories, and wow! He had amazing stories from his time in the navy, welding underwater in every ocean and every sea, and from his work on the Alaskan Pipeline. It was an awesome ride! I told a young hitchhiker, that I picked up a few years ago, about him. That memoir piece is here.
Although we did get stuck in Sacramento for about 12-hours, we finally made it to San Francisco and found Paul’s sister at Project One. That place changed my perceptions about too many things to name here. I was a young and naïve 21-year old arriving in this mind-blowing place filled with radical activists, musicians, artists and other forward-thinking people. I had my first introduction to healthy foods, holistic healing, real radical politics, public nakedness, and so much more, I could never even list them here. Though I was already leaning in those directions, and had never felt comfortable in my parent’s world, I feel as though, in that short time in Project One, I grew up overnight. Here is a previous memoir that touches on that. And here is an article with photos, including the photo above of the public bathtub on the third floor where I was living at the time and another one with a photo of Fred, who was building an airplane out of found parts.
I soon found out that I was pregnant and, as much as we loved living there, we knew it was not the best place to raise a child, so off we went again. This time our friends, Chipps and Jodi, the same ones who gave us the ride from our old apartment to that place outside New York City at the start of our adventure, randomly found us busking on the streets of San Francisco and took us with them to Big Sur and along the coast. We ended up settling in Santa Cruz long enough to have our daughter and prepare for our next journey. Over the years, we lost touch with them, but I think of them often and at least at every New Year.