After counting the years until I would move out on my own, without the responsibilities of raising a family, I was having another child. Jessie, who had recently decided to abbreviate her name to Jes., was almost fifteen and Justin was eleven. I felt as though I was in the home stretch. Now, I was back to square one. I considered many options including adoption but soon realized that I couldn’t give up this child that I would carry inside of me for nine months, so I resigned myself to the fact that this was a life changer. However, I was not happy about it. I knew that my unhappiness would affect my unborn child, so I tried to accept it.
I have always used divining tools such as the I-Ching, a form of Chinese divination using coins or sticks. I hate to use the word divination because it’s more about guiding your thinking. One day, I decided to toss the coins and see what reading I got. I read the two hexagrams and started to meditate on them. I’ve never been successful at what I believed was meditation but suddenly I envisioned a golden light emanating from inside of me. I followed the light and saw an early fetus floating in this golden glow. I was awed. Then, I thought to myself, I wonder what sex this baby is. Immediately, the glow was gone, and I was back, like a shot, in the real world. I sat there feeling intense love for my child and, in that moment, totally accepted his coming.
During all of my pregnancies, I had amazing, vivid and colorful dreams, but during this one, they came almost every night. This dream is taken directly from my journal. I was walking through the woods with a friend when we saw a dead bird hanging on a door. I thought at first that it was a pheasant because of the coloring and the design of the dots, but the feathers had eyes like peacock feathers. As the feathers fell out, my friend picked up all of the most beautiful ones, except for one, and I felt disappointed. We walked back into the woods, though still in sight of the door. I suddenly saw an enormous bird – the size of a man – hanging upside down in a tree. He started spinning around, faster and faster. After a while he came flying toward us. I was scared and tried to warn my friend, but she didn’t hear me. The bird swooped at me then flew around and around my head. As he slowed down, I could see that he was a man. He was dressed all in feathers and was weaving a fan of feathers. He took my only beautiful feather to finish it. I started to cry. He told me to throw away what I had in my hand and stop looking for beautiful things. I started to walk away when I noticed another bir4d hanging on that same door. This one was more beautiful than the first. I started to walk away when a voice said, “These are for you.” I picked these beautiful feathers and wove a fan. As I wove, the door opened, and I went inside. Inside there were exquisite flowers hanging upside down on the walls. AN old man sitting there told me to take some of them for my fan, so I plucked some of the petals as if they were feathers on a bird. There was another room with people in it playing music. As I turned to enter that room, I woke up. This was only one of so many incredible dreams during that time.
Although, I had accepted this and was looking forward to meeting my newest child, it was not an easy time. Paul was obsessed with another woman and had started calling out her name while sleeping next to me. At that time, I considered her one of my best friends, and she and her husband spent lots of time with us. When we were considering adoption, we had approached them because they were trying to adopt. With this pregnancy, I quit smoking pot because it didn’t feel good. It only made me more tired than I already was. To Paul, this was a deal breaker. I was his smoking companion. He started more and more time with our other friend who was also a big pothead. I also knew that she had been cheating on her husband and assumed she wouldn’t hesitate to sleep with Paul. Our relationship was already on the rocks, so I finally sat him down and told him to go for it. “Go ahead and sleep with her, then decide who you want to be with,” I said. I figured it was better than the sneaking around that he’d done for years. He chose to pull away from her and stay with me. I had originally asked her to be a support person during my labor but uninvited her after this. At that point, I knew that I would not wait until this child was grown before moving out. I needed to settle into new parenthood again and figure out how to support myself, but I knew I would do it within the next few years.
Meanwhile, I still had adolescent and teenaged children to care for. Jes. was very moody and in love with the young man she’d met at the conference in Oregon. They were writing letters and organizing visits back and forth by train. One day she asked me, “Just out of curiosity, does sex always hurt?” She obviously wasn’t giving me much credit for being a smart and aware mother. My answer was, “How long have you been having sex?” I knew that she was strong-willed and, no matter what I said, she would continue doing as she had been doing, so we made a doctor’s appointment. I was pregnant myself after having used reliable birth control and now had a sexually active daughter. My mind was reeling. Justin was entering adolescence and hanging out with a bunch of troubled boys. Now, I was worried about both of them and wondering how I would deal with everything. Neither of them talked much to their dad about anything of import, and he didn’t really want to know what was going on with them, so I shouldered it all.
During this pregnancy, I continued to do gigs. We played at a festival in Lincoln Park where Governor Andrew Cuomo was jogging by and stopped, with his security detail, to enjoy the show. We were onstage at the time singing a Grateful Dead song “Ship of Fools.” Then we went over and chatted with him for a while. He told us he enjoyed our set, especially that song. We had to laugh. At that same concert, a stranger came up to me and started yelling at me for being obscene. He was upset by the fact that I was quite pregnant up on stage. I was immediately surrounded by many male friends who quickly set this guy straight then shadowed me for the rest of the day. We also played at a few clubs and a couple of weddings. It was a good year for gigs, and I was determined that this pregnancy was not going to hold us back. We’d worked long and hard to get where we were, and the other two kids were finally old enough to be on their own in the evenings when necessary.
Austin was born three weeks late after trying unsuccessfully to induce labor through natural means. Finally, my midwife did an invasive procedure that did get it started. Because of my previous history, I decided to stay at The Family Life Center in Albany rather than risk a home birth forty-five minutes away from town. Jes. and Justin were old enough to stay at the house by themselves for a couple of days, but the days stretched on and on. After two days, I finally went into full out labor. As usual, my labor was horrific. Both of my sons were posterior, which means that they were facing the opposite direction. This often causes back labor and lengthens the time. Although I resisted, eventually, the midwives insisted on taking me to the hospital. Once again, my regular doctor was away, but the doctor who was on call this time was wonderful. My baby was born pretty quickly once I arrived at the hospital. Everything was uneventful until they decided that he was at risk.
He was born with a little bit of meconium in the fluid. Meconium is the discharge from a newborn’s bowels. It was almost insignificant, but the pediatric staff whisked him away to the newborn ICU. He was over nine pounds with a lusty cry, but they didn’t even let me hold him. Paul went with them, holding Austin’s little hands and talking to him while my midwives stayed with me. As soon as I could, I followed after my baby and insisted on holding him. I opened up my gown and held him against my skin where he became calm and his heart rate became normalized. The nurses grabbed him back, and his heart rate climbed. I held him again, right against my skin, and saw that his heart rate was normal again. I pointed this out, and they accused me of jiggling the wires. Then they said they had to do tests. We asked what tests they planned on doing. We refused the chest x-ray and blood tests. We could see that he was fine. My doctor decided to check me into the hospital overnight so I could be with Austin. Paul and I went off to settle me into my room. When we reentered the ICU, we found them trying to take blood for testing. Austin was screaming, and we were furious. Finally, after being up for days, exhausted after another difficult and long labor, we signed a waiver releasing them of any responsibility and left with our baby.
Paul went home to freshen up and get our other two kids to meet their new brother while I settled back into The Family Life Center where I would stay for a few days recovering. My parents came to visit and LoAnne and Ti, her white malamute, came. The Family Life Center was part of The Free School community, so a couple of neighbors also came to check in and bring me meals. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and ready to crash. It was Sunday, and the kids had school the next day, so Paul went home with them. That evening at six o’clock, Austin started to cry. He was inconsolable. I had a lot of experience by now with babies and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He cried non-stop until eight the next morning while I rocked him, sang to him and often cried along with him. I realized later that those were the same hours that the hospital had intervened with him, poking and prodding him, sticking him with needles and keeping him from me. At eight o’clock, he stopped as though someone had turned a switch. After that, he never really cried much. He would fuss a little when hungry but mostly just did that baby bird open mouth signal. He didn’t cry when he needed a diaper change but just squirmed until I figured it out. He was the most easy-going baby I’d ever encountered. I guessed that he just got the trauma out of his system during that one night. He also had bonded strongly with his dad. Paul was the first contact he’d had, and they remained close.
The next morning, when my breakfast was delivered and my friends and midwives realized that I’d been there alone with a crying infant all night, they arranged for someone be there full-time until I recovered. I finally got some much-needed sleep, waking long enough to nurse my son then go back to sleep. After three more days there, I went back home to my family and my routine. The Free School gave me a year off with my full salary, which I greatly appreciated. I did go in once in a while to visit, but it was a relief not to have to feel obligated to go into work every day. When I did go back, I was given a class of three. They were my son and two other babies of similar ages. It was ideal. And our dog Popsicle, who had been so protective of me while I was pregnant, watched over Austin, bringing him toys and often resting his head on his lap.
Soon after we reunited following our seven-month separation, we decided that we should have a dog and found a husky through a shelter that had families host dogs until they could find them a home. Rory a big, muscular dog. He was three years old and wasn’t well trained. We decided to take him on a trial basis. We soon found that we couldn’t let him run wild because he wouldn’t come when called. We tried taking him for walks, but he was pretty unmanageable and actually dragged me down the road one day. So, we set up a long run for him in the yard. This worked for a while until he took off chasing a squirrel one day. One end of the run was attached to the front porch, and he ripped it off the house, dragging it off behind him. We brought him back to the family we had gotten him from and, a week or so later, found Popsicle.
When we first went to meet him, he ran right up to us as if he known us his whole life. We fell in love instantly. His host family was calling him Bowser, but Justin insisted his name was Popsicle. He was a nine-month-old Great Dane/Golden Lab mix. He was the best dog ever. He was smart and lovable. He also loved to swim. I took him swimming as often as I could. His fur had an oily coating on it that made the water bead up on the surface. He would come out of the water and shake, drenching anyone nearby and end up being completely dry himself. We often went to Barberville Falls in Poestenkill, New York. There is no swimming allowed there anymore, but back then it was a popular swimming hole.
Unfortunately, Labs are bird dogs, and our neighbor had chickens. One day Popsicle came home with a dead chicken in his mouth, and we knew we were in trouble. The neighbor was understanding and, since it was only one chicken, he let us pay for it with as long as we agreed to not let it happen again. Things went along fine until one day, the neighbor came back over, shotgun in hand and dragging our dog along behind him. He had found Popsicle in the chicken coop surrounded by six dead chickens with one still in his mouth. Apparently, Pop, always friendly, even wagged his tail when he saw the neighbor. That was the only reason he didn’t shoot him immediately. He wanted to give us the chance to find him another home, but we were not willing to give him up yet.
Another neighbor, an old farmer, told us to tie a dead chicken around his neck and leave him tied outside for a week with the rotting chicken. It sounded too gruesome to me, but we were desperate to keep this member of our family, so we did it. That poor dog sat out there crying and howling. It was hard to go out even to feed him because the smell became so bad, but we managed somehow. He was so sad, and it was heart wrenching. He never went inside his shelter but just sat out in the yard looking miserable. At the end of the week, we buried the chicken carcass and gave him a bath. The neighbor had agreed that, if his chickens wandered into our yard, they were fair game, but I knew if he got the taste for it, it would be all over. Those chickens did come into our yard occasionally. It was as if they were purposely taunting him, and although he occasionally chased them, he never killed another bird. The neighbor also eventually secured his chicken yard better, keeping them out of his reach. He did also kill Jessie’s kitten later on, though. Now to be fair, the kitten was sitting in his food bowl, which I know is no excuse. He grabbed that tiny thing in his massive jaws and shook her, spraying droplets of blood everywhere. I cleaned that up for months afterwards. He didn’t actually kill her but had mangled her so badly that Paul ended up finishing the job. It was very traumatic for everyone that day.
The other bad habit he had was chasing cars. He loved to go for rides in the car, and I think he was looking for a ride. It was always easy to get him to come if he was being stubborn by just opening up the car door. I always made sure to take him for a short ride afterwards so it would continue to work. I never had another dog who loved to travel so much. But chasing cars was dangerous as well as being upsetting for the drivers. We had to come up with a plan, so we went to talk to the same man who had helped us out before. He told us about another unique solution. We got a bunch of people together and armed them with pots and pans, chains, basically anything that made a lot of noise. We all got in the car and drove down the road waiting for Popsicle to chase us. As soon as he did, we stopped the car and all hopped out, making the biggest racket we could. Paul had some heavy chains that he rattled and slammed on the ground. I had a cymbal and mallet. Poor Pop stopped in his tracks and ran back to the house with his tail between his legs. We had to do that a few times to finally break him of the habit, but once again, it worked. He never chased another car.
I grew up with dogs and I absolutely love them. But I also have no tolerance for their misbehavior. I always realized that because dogs are pack animals, I needed to be the leader of the pack. I need to have my dogs listen to and respect me. I’ve always made sure to deepen my voice when giving commands and have always tried to be consistent. I feel as though the pets in the house have a responsibility as members of the family just like everyone else. In addition to being our companions, our cats were responsible for keeping the mice at bay, and our dogs protected us. I figured that if the cats stopped catching mice, they must be overfed, so I cut back or even sometimes withheld their food, if they were being stubborn about it. I was never cruel to any of our animals, but I have occasionally been called hard-hearted. I just have certain expectations that are important to me. For example, I don’t like being harassed by a dog while I’m eating, so I never give them scraps at the table. When I was cooking or we were eating, Popsicle was not allowed in the room. I patiently worked with him until he understood. I would snap my fingers and point saying, “Out,” and he would back up to the edge of the linoleum. He was incredibly smart. After a while, all I had to do was look at him, and he would start doing a belly crawl backwards until his nails were right on the line. He was also sneaky, though. He would wait for me to relax my guard and start slowly inching his way in until I turned around. Then he would do his backwards crawl again and wait for the next opportunity. Once dinner was over, he was always welcome to come in and clean up the scraps on the floor.
At the end of 1989, Paul and I were fighting again pretty constantly, and I had decided not to engage in it anymore. Both kids were getting older. Jessie was in high school already, and I figured I could wait it out until they were out of the house before striking out on my own. I think that Paul was addicted to the adrenaline he got when fighting because once I stopped fighting back, we didn’t engage in much of anything except our music. He didn’t talk to me anymore except for necessary logistics. It didn’t stop him from yelling though. It seemed as though he yelled even more than before, so I often took the kids out of the house early in the morning before he woke up so we could avoid the drama. But, in spite of it all, we had one romantic night and, even with the birth control I used, I became pregnant with our third child.
Although Popsicle was officially Justin’s dog, he was my buddy. I was the one who had trained him and who took him on outings, usually swimming and hiking or car rides. He often curled up with me on the couch in the evenings if he wasn’t with Justin on the floor. He laid with his head on my pregnant belly just like Topaz had done with my first pregnancy. And, like him, I also loved being in the water especially when I’m pregnant. But ever since I almost drowned as a child, I’ve also been a little afraid of the water. As a result, I’m not a strong swimmer. Pop must have instinctively known that. While I was pregnant and tried to take him swimming, he barked at me and tried to herd me back to shore.
We often spent a week in the summer staying on an island in the middle of a large lake in Maine with a bunch of our friends. Because we were in the middle of a lake, we had to bring everything we needed to the island by boat, so the first and last days were usually taken up with multiple trips back and forth transporting everyone and their stuff. There was a small cabin on the land that was used for cooking with a small space for sleeping, so everyone brought their own tents. That first year of the party, we all decided to go into town one day, leaving the dogs behind. We’d had to tie Pop up outside the tent so he wouldn’t follow us across the lake. While we were gone, there was a thunderstorm. We knew Popsicle was afraid of thunder and rushed back as soon as we could. When we got there, we found him sitting inside the tent. He’d gotten scared and jumped through the screened window tearing a huge rip in it. Ugh! This was the borrowed tent. Luckily, my friend was understanding and let me repair it rather than buy a new one. After that we left him inside the cabin when we went to town.
I always looked forward to this week of partying, canoeing and swimming. Pop was in heaven practically living in the water, swimming across the lake with Justin and following along in the water next to the boats when we went out. But the year I was pregnant, he was constantly nervous, following me around and growling if I went near the water. He would swim out ahead of me and keep pushing at me until I finally got up on the shore. One day, my friend and I decided to canoe around the perimeter of the island. We’d done this in years past but this year, we made sure to wait until Pop wasn’t in sight. Then we quickly launched the canoe and started our circuit. Popsicle soon noticed us out on the lake and quickly swam out to the outside of the canoe trying to push it towards shore. He bumped up against it repeatedly as we slapped the paddles on the water trying to shoo him away. He even grabbed the paddles in his teeth.
My friend’s dog, Ti which was short for Titanium, was a white Malamute. She and Pop were best friends. They were always together. But, unlike Popsicle, whose fur repelled the water, Ty’s fur was like a sponge. She kept swimming out into that deep water to be with her friend. Pop was torn. He would take the time to swim her back, trying to leave her on shore, but she would keep following him out. Finally, she started to sink from her weighted down fur. We didn’t know what to do. She was quite a distance from the boat. We watched in horror as her snout started to dip below the surface. We would never get to her in time, but we didn’t need to. Popsicle swam over, grabbed the scruff of her neck, lifted her head out of the water and swam her back to shore. Then he stayed along the shoreline with his buddy, keeping her safe while frantically barking at the canoe until we finally gave in and landed. Everyone was amazed by his heroic deed. I stayed out of the water for the rest of the trip because it upset him so much. I figured he deserved that courtesy. However, he also never left my side, making sure I wouldn’t sneak off without him.
In the late eighties, I was in my mid-thirties, and we were still struggling to survive financially with two kids. We did manage to do it one way or another and even occasionally had a little cushion. But Paul jumped from job to job, never figuring where he belonged, and my work didn’t pay well. Although the salary was low, I was learning how to be a teacher during my time at The Free School. I discovered that I loved teaching which was a total surprise to me. I never went to college, so this was my education as well as my livelihood. I could do this work without having to get a degree. I never imagined I would become a teacher having hated school throughout my entire experience. I think in part it was because I didn’t really learn there and was bored to tears. My dad was a newspaperman and had me reading well before I even started kindergarten. I had free access to his large library. If I were able to read at that level, I could read any book I wanted. I devoured books. I would get lost in them for hours, living in that other time and place. I often carried a book open, reading as I walked from one place to another. When I got to first grade and was given Dick and Jane books to read, I just escaped into my head reliving a book I had previously read or creating my own stories. I remember very few details about school, all the way through high school, but I remember my daydreams. I have also since realized that I never had a teacher who really saw me. I was shy and a little different from the other kids. I faded into the background. As a teacher, I look for those lost kids. I also like the troublemakers.
The good thing about troublemakers is that they don’t hide who they are. Everything is right out there for you to see. You may not like what you see, but you can’t turn away. They demand your attention, so I give it to them. I give them important tasks to do turning them into leaders. They generally behave pretty well when made to feel important. But there are different kinds of troublemakers. There are also malicious ones who behave in a mean and hurtful way. They inevitably have been hurt at home from an early age and need a lot of acceptance and love. That love and acceptance with a healthy helping of sternness when needed usually turns them around. Then, there are the lovable ones who blunder their way into trouble.
Justin was one of those lovable troublemakers. He always that twinkle in his eye. He was an adventurer, much like I am, and curious about everything. He liked to dash into situations in his life. Remember, he was the one who escaped the house in Portland, Oregon, before he was even two, by climbing out of the window and making his way up through the brambles to the main road, stopping traffic in both directions. That was just the beginning. But I had to acknowledge the similarity to my own escapade at age two of climbing over the baby gate at the back door, climbing up on the railing of the porch and diving down into the rosebushes below.
When we moved to Stephentown, New York, we lived on a dead-end dirt road. We had lived in various places and always had to figure out the new scene, but this was a different scene altogether. That didn’t stop us. Although, we knew we could live anywhere and get along with just about anyone, we soon realized that many of the families at our end of the road were alcoholics, druggies, wife-beaters and more. It was intense. Pretty soon, Justin met the boys on the road. All but one of them came from rough backgrounds. The kids were a definite product of that lifestyle, but they were also good kids and smarter than they realized. The first time I met them was when they threw Justin’s new bike into the little stream that ran along the side of the property. Of course, I became the angry lion mama and ran out there to confront them. I didn’t want to hear any of their excuses but insisted they retrieve the bike and clean it up. Some of the kids were his age but most were older. Because of my work as a teacher working with some pretty tough kids, I commanded an air of respect that kids responded well to. After they finished cleaning it up, I heard them out and found out that Justin had thrown one of their bikes in first. It went back and forth with more to the story than that but, on that day, we all earned a mutual respect.
Justin liked many of the same things that I did. We both loved being outside exploring the woods. Jessie had always been an inside girl. I often had to hand her a pile of books and make stay outside for fresh air. I occasionally locked the door to keep her out. But Justin liked the outdoors. We often wandered our way through the woods, making trails as we went along and naming landmarks. There were different distinct areas. For example, there glacial floe which had left a field of stones and a large outcropping of boulders, a wet area with a running stream and a hemlock grove, among others. It was rumored that there was a waterfall somewhere beyond our property. I was curious and wanted to find it. Every once in a while, I would head out on my own but never managed to go far enough before turning back. I hadn’t seen a map, so I was just wandering aimlessly while trying not to get lost. But Justin was hanging out with these other kids, and they were out exploring their surroundings.
One day, while a friend was visiting, we decided to go hiking in the woods. Justin was always happy to come along, so off we went. We soon decided to go look for the waterfall. Justin said that he knew where it was. I knew he spent a lot of time in the woods and had a good sense of direction, so we followed along. We walked and walked until finally I decided that it was getting a bit late. I knew it was time to head back. We could always look for it another time. I turned to take us back when Justin insisted that was the wrong way. I was sure we had come that way, so I started leading the way. We hadn’t brought a compass and were depending on the sun to give us our direction. I was sure that the road was to the south. We walked and walked some more. It was starting to be dusk. My friend kept wanting to take us in a different direction, but she didn’t live on the road, so I wasn’t about to listen to her. Finally, it was getting dark, and I turned to Justin saying, “Okay, if you know the way, lead us out of here.” Within five or ten minutes, we were back out on the road. I thought he’d been a good sport knowing all along that I was going the wrong way but willing to stick with me anyway. I certainly learned a few valuable lessons that day. One of them was to follow the directions of my ten-year-old son when in his woods.
My two children were as different as night and day. Their birthday months are about six months apart, so it made sense to me that they would be. Jessie is practical and detail oriented. She has a quick mind and learns easily. I have vivid memories of her and her dad watching the stock report on television with Paul cheering when the stocks were down and Jessie cheering when they were down. Paul and I figured that she needed to rebel in some way and her disdain for the hippie culture we were raising her in was her rebellion. I think Paul actually enjoyed it. But Jessie is also very much like me in many ways, which was good sometimes, but at other times we were like oil and water.
As she got older, we fought more often. We’re both judgmental and critical, though we’ve both tempered that a lot. Back then, it made things difficult. When she became an adolescent, she was incorrigible. She hated the move to Stephentown, had no friends close by and was struggling making new friends at school. She spent a lot of time in her room unless we were going on an adventure. Even then, she often declined the older she got, and our relationship was deteriorating. She had gone to the public middle school in Averill Park for sixth grade but hated it and returned to The Free School for seventh and eighth grade.
This made my life easier having both kids in the same school where I worked, and I hoped that the long car rides to and from school would ease our tensions. I often have hard conversations with my kids while driving. That way they can’t escape. One of my favorite things to do with Justin was to take off in the car with no set destination. I let him give directions as we drove. One day I asked him where he would like to go someday. He replied, “Florida.” Minutes later we passed a sign for Florida, Massachusetts. He was thrilled.
One of the great things about The Free School was that they took the kids on travels. In 1989, Justin’s class went to Puerto Rico with one of the teachers and a school parent who organized school trips to volunteer repairing hurricane damage. The class had to raise the money themselves. It was a year-long class project. Near the end, Justin didn’t want to go. His dad always a special affinity for arrangements of numbers and had planned a special “Perfect Time” party. It was to be on June 7th. He planned to have a big celebration at 01:23:45. It would be 01:23:45 on 6-7-89. Justin didn’t want to miss the party.
Our friend who was leading the trip agreed to celebrate at that exact time in Puerto Rico, and Paul promised to host another one the following year at 12:34:56 on 7-8-90. So, he agreed to go. Justin called from the island, and the whole crew whooped and hollered on the island of Vieques at the same time on the same day. Justin didn’t end up having the experience everyone had expected him to have. He had his own experience, and that’s all that ever matters. When he was young, he was never very motivated to do hard work, though that’s changed over the years. While in Vieques, the locals he worked with gave him a Spanish nickname that meant “off the wall” because whenever it was time to lift one of the walls in place, he was sitting on it. Apparently, he also slept on the concrete floor with his feet up on the cot he was given. This didn’t surprise me since I often found him like that at home.
Around that same time, Jessie went by train with her class, a teacher and a friend of ours from Rok Against Reaganomix to attend a national alternative education conference in Oregon. When she came back, she was in love. There was a school from Michigan that also traveled by train to the conference. Jessie hit it off with those kids immediately and spent a lot of time with them in Oregon. Then, they all traveled back on the same train. When she got home, she told me all about Jack. Her whole demeanor changed. Suddenly, she and I were getting along a little better. She was talking to me again. She and Jack started writing each other letters. I though it was sweet that she had a pen pal. Then one day she asked if I thought she should tell him in her next letter that she loved him. We had a long talk that night. She did end up writing that letter, and he wrote back saying that he felt the same way. This was after writing back and forth for months and just before the next conference.
This conference was in Tennessee, and I was going along. That’s when I met Jack. I also became aware that they often couldn’t be found. I started hearing whispers about friends seeing them in the woods. I suppose I should have seen it coming, but I was taken by surprise. They were still quite young, but I knew I was in for it now. My daughter was headstrong, and rather than dash, Jessie closed her eyes and jumped into her adventures. Next thing I knew, they were saving money for train trips alternating visits to New York and Michigan. We had raised her to travel, and she could easily find her way.
I had the best models for parenthood in some ways. My parents were fully involved, often too involved while Paul’s parents were completely absent, leaving their children to their own devices. I think Paul referred to it once as being raised by wolves. As a result, he didn’t know how to be a father. He tried hard, but he never experienced it and didn’t understand how to do it. Both of my parents played games with us, took us to cool places giving us a life of fun and adventure. But there was a dark side, too. They struggled financially and maybe because of the stress involved, they also fought constantly. I think both of their parents probably did that, too. They fought with each other and yelled at me and my brother a lot. They believed in frequent and harsh corporal punishment to quell our spirits, though it never seemed to work.
Now I was a mom married to Paul who also came from a harsh background. I was able to resist the training in corporal punishment, but I have to admit that I did lose it and yell at my children more than I would have liked. I didn’t know any other way. My parents also never really talked to us as kids. They talked about current events and taught us things about history and science. They were more like teachers, cultivating us scholastically and socially but never looking to see who we were or how we thought. We were just supposed to fit into the box they created without question.
I was going to do things differently. I encouraged them to live their own lives and make their own decisions while staying connected and honest. I taught them to be independent. I often joked when they were arguing with me or did something impulsive asking, “Who taught you to be so damned independent anyway?” I talked with my kids about everything, and they shared their lives and experiences with me. We never had “the big talk.” Talking about sex was normal between me and the kids. Paul wasn’t comfortable talking about anything and certainly not sex. Flustered by the topics, he often walked out of the room in a hurry. But at some point, I noticed that I rarely looked into the eyes of my kids when I spoke to them. I had been so abused as a child, I never looked people in the eye. It was dangerous growing up. Once I noticed that, I tried to look at them more. It was hard for me to look into their eyes when talking about uncomfortable things, but I tried hard. I realized that they were growing up fast and didn’t want to waste any time.
When Paul had moved back in after our separation, I told him that I would probably move out when both kids were on their own. We could remain married if that’s what he wanted. I still deeply loved him, but I needed to have my own place to live where I could find peace and quiet. I knew that our time with the whole family together was going by fast, and I would have to start thinking soon about what I would do then.
General Eclectic played a lot of incredible gigs including clubs, colleges, outdoor venues, private parties, live radio and television. A bunch of people put together band trading cards that even came with a stick of gum. They included General Eclectic card and were included on another.. We even played as a duo at a campfire at the Petrified Sea Gardens in Saratoga Springs, New York. We were also scheduled to play at a warehouse in Troy that was located by the river, but it got raided before we went on. We played as a full band and in different configurations with as few as two and as many as six members. Most of these were wonderful, and some of them were nightmares. There are often memes on social media about the different crazy places or gigs that musicians play. We were forever having to fit into a small space or reconfigure something. People who don’t do gigs often don’t understand what you need. They sometimes have ridiculous expectations also. Most of the gigs are great, some better than others, but mostly they’re fun and hopefully rewarding. But as a musician, I rarely if ever say no to an offer. Just like getting through life, I’ve always figured it out. I’ve only felt ripped off a few times. I know I’ve been lucky in that regard, but I’ve played some really bizarre gigs.
We played as often as a duo with lots of fun gigs and unusual ones. We wanted to be able to play for all ages, so we learned a bunch of children’s music. It wasn’t hard since we had our own kids and sang to them all the time. We heard that Chuck E. Cheese was hiring live music. This was one of the most unique gigs I’ve done. We’d heard that they didn’t pay much and didn’t even give the musicians pizza and drinks. Radicals that we were, we decided to stage a protest with our music. They had us set up near the life-sized animated Chuck E. Cheese Elvis. Every once in a while, someone would put in a coin. Then we’d have to stop and wait for it to finish singing and gyrating, and the management refused to let us unplug it. Even without this, the whole place reverberated with the sounds of video games and screaming kids. Even the adults had to yell just to be heard. The sensory overload was intense. We sang a bunch of folk and rock songs that were appropriate for kids then did a couple of protest songs including some originals like “No Free Lunch” which was directed at the Reagan administration. The crowd was mostly into it, but a few folks didn’t like our politics and complained. Needless to say, we weren’t invited back. Very soon afterwards, they stopped hiring musicians altogether. A friend and fellow musician who specialized in kids complained to us. When we described our event and admitted that it may have influenced the decision, he laughed and thanked us. He hated that gig but didn’t really want to have to turn it down. Now he didn’t have to worry about it.
Sometimes we were invited to play at biker parties because we did a lot of Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones and covered other rock favorites. At every one of them, as soon as we arrived, I would be assigned a bodyguard. I’m a small person and was very shy back then. These parties were wild, and I was usually glad to have a security detail, though I only felt like I needed them once or twice. Bikers always liked our music and treated us well. One place we played with the band was at a biker bar with the best pizza in the area. However, the stage was full of holes and tilted backwards, making you feel totally off balance. It was about four feet off the ground in the front and maybe a foot in the back. We were constantly worried that someone would fall through. Another time, we played in a barn where the stage we played was barely wide enough for the drum kit. We ended up in a straight line across the front and were unable to really see each other.
We even tried working with a booking agent for a little while, but he was a disaster. He booked us into a lounge in Colonie that was looking for sixties’ music. They weren’t looking for our brand of the sixties, that’s for sure. They wanted lounge music like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. We knew a few songs that worked, but the owner finally just paid us for the night and asked us to stop after one set. Another place had us in their narrow bar crammed in next to the juke box. I had to sit on one of the PA speakers. Another place put our four-piece band in the back corner of a small room opposite the juke box that folks kept wanting to put money into. One drunk guy constantly screamed at us to play Willie Nelson. We played a couple of popular Willie songs, and he didn’t recognize any of them. We finally had to agree to alternate with the juke box fifteen minutes on then fifteen minutes off. We couldn’t wait to get out of there. And there were plenty more nightmares. One of the most disappointing was at El Loco in Albany, New York, when they briefly had live music.
They were hiring well known musicians like Hot Tuna and David Bromberg. We were asked to open for Country Joe MacDonald. Paul was in awe of Country Joe. He was more excited than I’d ever seen him before about this opportunity to meet him. The day of the gig, Paul decided to roll up a big fat joint of the best stuff he could find to share with his idol. We got there early and, by start time, Country Joe still hadn’t arrived. We did our set filled with mostly our own songs and walked in the back. We didn’t realize that Country Joe had arrived just as we went on. He told us how much he liked our set, cited a couple of specific songs then offered to share the good news with us. Uh-oh, I was wary. I’d heard about this good news before from the Good News Club in Oregon. But Paul didn’t realize where this was going. He pulled out the joint and offered to smoke it with Country Joe who refused and instead handed Paul a pamphlet about the teachings of Jesus. Paul was speechless. Country Joe went on about the pitfalls of drugs and the downfall of his former band members who hadn’t yet found God. Then he did his set of all heavy-duty Christian music, pausing between songs to try to convert the crowd. Poor Paul was crestfallen. We packed up and went back home, riding in silence.
In addition to different venues, we played at a lot of parties. Paul and I hosted at least one huge party a year, often two. There were usually over a hundred people that came. I liked to count heads the next day with the help of everyone who camped. Now, I try to remember to put out a guest book. In Stephentown, we had a slightly raised stage in the back yard facing, but set back from, the firepit. Everyone was welcome as long as they followed the rules which were few and for safety reasons only. I love that I always meet at least one new person at every party I throw. Some of them end up being close friends, and some of our friends met each other at those parties and became fast friends or even lovers. They were always potluck with an amazing assortment of food. One woman from Tanzania brought a small carrot salad to a party and labeled it “HOT.” She wasn’t kidding either. I like spicy foods and could only take a tiny taste. It was delicious, though. She was the person who gave me a San Pedro cactus to grow. It is said to be the South American cousin to peyote, which I loved. I still have it but have never tried it yet. Another friend always brought and still does bring pizza. He arrives late after most of the other food is gone, sometimes even the next day, and is always a welcome sight.
Because there were so many people from so many walks of life, there was usually some kind of drama. There was always at least one fight between neighbors and, even though the electric music was turned off by eleven pm, usually the police were called. One time, I had to physically restrain one young man who was so drunk, it was a miracle he could even stand up. He kept walking over to the blazing bonfire, swaying and stumbling. One of our neighbors had recently had a party where someone fell into the fire and was severely burned, and I was determined that wouldn’t happen at mine. After warning him too many times, I finally put a chair behind him, pushed him into it and threatened to tie him to it, if he didn’t stay put. Then, I assigned someone to watch. I’ve often said, “I may be little and quiet, but you don’t want to mess with me.”
Justin and his friends loved to torment the drunks. It was even more fun for them if someone was tripping. Unfortunately, some of the men egged them on. I guess they were reliving their childhoods, but for me it was stressful. At one party, he and his friend Bruce were playing a game of jumping out of the dark bushes brandishing water guns and freaking people out. I was singing on stage at the time when someone ran up and told me that the cops wanted to talk to me right away. When I went out front, they had these two scared looking boys. The other boy was my friend Caroline’s son. These two were constantly making trouble together. Apparently, they had jumped out at the cops with the water guns thinking it would be funny. The cops, having drawn their guns, didn’t find it funny at all, neither did we. They threatened to shut down the party, but once again I was able to talk my way out of it. It wasn’t the first or last time that both Caroline and I screamed at these two. I guess the police saw that the issue was being dealt with appropriately.
I’ve always loved the day after the parties. Often, we’d have campers who woke up early, or never went to bed at all, and stoked up the fire outside. Then, I’d make pancakes and coffee, and we’d sit outside playing more music as everyone eventually wandered off home. I saw many sunrises in those days. It’s always been hard for me to leave a party, especially if there’s jamming going on. I think that jamming is the best way to keep growing musically. I understand the difference between practicing and jamming and know that both are equally important. Nowadays, I make myself visit at parties before launching into the music. I realized that I never socialized, and once I start playing music, that’s usually where I’ll stay.
In the 1980s, there were always Halloween parties with a band jammed into someone’s living room. The costumes at these parties were so creative. One guy came with blown up rubber gloves attached all over his body. He was a “hand job.” Paul and I worked hard on our costumes every year. One year, he decided to be a punk and had me gel his long hair up into a spike. I had to use a cardboard cone to hold it up. It was so tall, he had to lay down in the back of the station wagon to get to the party. Another year, he went as a Pancho Villa character with an ammunition belt across his chest filled with joints. Then, he hit on a theme of being a businessman every year. He dressed as a nun in a business suit and was a “nun of your business.” He even shaved for that costume. That year, I was the night sky. One time, he had me sew a tennis ball encased in layers of nylon stocking onto the outside of his suit pants and went as “E.T. the Extra Testicle (the businessman with more balls). He had a briefcase with an enormous screw inside and threatened to “screw” everyone over. His costumes often involved a pun. Mine were elaborate but a little more sedate, though not always. I was a nuclear family with extra arms and legs and a hideous face attached to my head. I was also a Japanese Beatle. I wore a kimono and put my long hair up in a bun with chopsticks sticking through. I wore an old wire cage without the bottom that rested on my shoulders. Pictures of each of the Beatles were on the four sides. I miss those days of endless parties. It seems as though many of my friends have gotten old before their time while I refuse to let myself be old in that way.