A Move, a Cat And a New Baby
After our move to Portland, the first thing I did was find a midwife. Luckily, there was a midwifery school in town that sent me three women to assist with my homebirth. I was looking forward to this new adventure. Everything was falling into place. We had wonderful neighbors on both sides of us with young kids that Jessie could play with, and all three houses were set far off the main road on our own little dirt road in a gully so that I didn’t worry about her safety. Each of the three yards was ¾ of an acre, and Jessie was thrilled to have a huge area to play in with new friends on either side. There were fruit trees and lots of flowers in the back creating a virtual wonderland for the kids.
We moved in November, and I was due to have my second child in the beginning of February. Our friends Debbie and Steve, who had traveled across the country with us, were living in Portland, so we quickly reconnected with them. It was wonderful to have them around. Debbie agreed to come over for the birth to support Jessie during that time. She was also going to help out afterwards but ended up not being able to get the time off from work. Amber and I were still estranged, so Paul and I started trying to make new friends. I also started collecting things I would need for our household and for our new child. Because we were newcomers, there would be no baby shower or hand-me-downs. There also wasn’t much time left, so I had to be creative and move fast.
When we first moved in, the house itself was a mess. It looked as though the previous tenants had pets that they didn’t monitor very well. They also hadn’t cleared out the debris from their move, so we had our hands full. When we made the original deal, they told us they’d like to leave us their cat. They didn’t think he would make the move well. We both loved cats and had them as pets before, so of course we agreed. Leon was the biggest cat I’d seen up to that point. He was slate gray, scarred and feisty but was great with Jessie. He would let her pick him up and carry him around with his hind legs hopping along behind. He never hissed or scratched her, and we grew to love him. However, initially, we weren’t so sure.
Once we got the house all cleaned up, we realized that the major mess was mostly due to Leon, that huge gray tomcat who refused to use a litter box. I’ve always been very good at training cats, but this cat was stubborn. Finally, I insisted that he live outdoors for a while until he could learn his manners. He was not happy about that and always tried to sneak in. One middle of the night, we heard the sound of repeated banging in the bathroom. We ran in just in time to see a final head bump by Leon as the bathroom window broke and he jumped through sitting there meowing at us. We called the previous tenants, who we thought were his owners to come take him back and found out that he had originally come with the house, and they were never able to break him of the habit of shitting in the house. Funny that they forgot to mention that little detail. We replaced the window, kept him outside during the day and in a box at night. We learned to ignore the howling, and he eventually learned to go outside when he needed to. He would meow at the side of the bed, usually in the middle of the night, to be let out – most of the time. I have to confess that there was one night, when our power went out due to a transformer, when Paul lost it. We’d heard a huge pop, and Paul went around with a flashlight to investigate. Much to his astonishment, he stepped in a fresh pile of cat shit and slid across the floor, landing in it on his back. I got up just in time to see him drop kick the cat out the front door. That was the last cat mess we had to deal with. Leon finally learned.
Leon was not always home, though. He would frequently disappear for days and days at a time. One day, Jessie and I were taking a walk when we saw him at another house. He came running over, purring and rubbing against our legs. We wondered what he was doing so far away. An older woman came out and started calling to him … by a different name. He looked up at us, gave a short meow and ran to her, purring and rubbing against her legs. I went over and asked her about our cat. She insisted that he was her cat. We soon discovered that Leon had three other homes that he visited regularly. Each of us had wondered where he disappeared to so often, and now the mystery was solved. He’d figured out how to game the system. I often wondered why he put up with my insistence that he obey the rules of the house, but apparently the house was his because when we eventually moved, he disappeared and stayed behind. Our neighbors told us that he came back soon afterwards and moved in with the new tenants.
There must have been something about that house because not long afterwards, we got a cute little white puppy that we named Cola. We weren’t going to make the same mistake as we had with Topaz and checked her feet. This was going to be a small dog. She was small alright but was nippy and barked a lot. She was also very difficult to house train. Paul insisted that we get fish, too. And of course, a fish tank had to have snails to clean the sides. Before long, we had a tank full of snails and no fish, but the sides were free of algae. Now, here I was 8-months pregnant with a 3-year old, a street-wise tomcat, an obnoxious little puppy that liked to nip at our heels and a stinky fish tank so full of snails you could hardly see anything else. Paul was working long hours, so I was mostly on my own. This was no longer my dream home, and I spent a lot of time outside in the yard or going on adventures with Jessie.
Finally, on February 4th, I went into labor. Everything was arranged. I had support for Jessie while I was in labor, three midwives, and Paul and Debbie both had arranged for time off from work. With their help, what could possibly go wrong? Plenty! I had carried higher than I had with Jessie, and my ribs were very bruised from all the kicking during my last month of pregnancy. My legs were also swollen, and I could barely walk. At the last minute, Debbie’s boss decided not to give her any time off, so she was only around in the evenings. Paul’s boss also decided that he could get time off for my labor and delivery but no time after the birth. On February 5th, when I was still in labor, his boss accused him of scamming him and sent a co-worker over to check up on him. In the wee hours of February 6th, after 10-hours of transitional labor and the midwives threatening to take me to the hospital, I finally birthed my son. Justin had been facing in the wrong direction and eventually turned around while in the birth canal. I was exhausted and was facing being alone with my two children and my still badly bruised ribs while my support team went back to their jobs.
One fascinating part of my labor was when Jessie would not go to bed the night Justin was born. She was crying that she wanted to see her brother be born, but it had been many late nights, and she was exhausted. Debbie couldn’t console her, so I went in to see what I could do. Although I was in full-blown labor at this point, my labor stopped completely while I comforted and sang to her. It started back up again as soon as she was fully asleep. We had promised that we would wake her when it was time, which we did. I’ll never forget the look on her face as she stroked my brow and told me, “I know it’s hard work, Mama, but you can do it.” She was awed by her brother’s birth and insisted that she had helped. She certainly did.
Now, it was my turn to be exhausted. I was facing caring for a toddler and a newborn on my own. There was no meal train, no friends stopping by, no rest for me, just business as usual. That next morning, Paul set out a breakfast for Jessie that she could get herself and bring into the bedroom so I could try to rest. She finished up and brought her dishes back to the kitchen, grabbing books and puzzles that we could enjoy together. Just then, Justin woke up and started to cry. “I’ll get him,” she said. “No, please don’t. He’s still too little,” I replied, struggling to get up as quickly as I could as she raced for the cradle whisking him up and out and dropping him onto the floor. Uh-oh, I knew I was going to have my hands full.
We finally arrived in Husum, Washington where my best friend, Amber, had just had her first child named Harvest. Amber had been with me for the birth of my first child, and now I wanted to be there for her. She was living in an old farmhouse on the side of Mount Adams with a beautiful view of the mountains. Her daughter was beautiful, of course. Her relationship with Harvest’s dad was not so beautiful, and he was mostly absent, leaving Amber to take care of everything by herself. Unfortunately, at that time, Paul and I were not the best house guests. There was no indoor plumbing, and Paul really didn’t know how to deal with that, so he made quite a few mistakes that added to the tension already in the house.
In addition, we needed to settle somewhere, so he went looking for work. He finally found a job at Timberline Lodge, a ski resort on Mount Hood that had been built by the WPA during the Great Depression. FDR wanted to give artists and artisans employment, so he put them to work building this spectacular lodge. There are murals, wood carvings, tile work, stone work and much more. It is a beautiful work of art. There is snow on the mountain all year round, so it’s a popular place for skiing, even the Olympic teams have trained there. In order to get to work every day, he had to live there in the employee housing. However, he couldn’t bring his family, so Jessie and I stayed behind seeing him only on weekends.
We had a wonderful leave taking the night before he left for the lodge. At one point, I warned him that there might end up being another baby on the way. We both decided that would be fine and not much later, I was absolutely sure. In all of my pregnancies, I never got morning sickness. I always felt healthier than ever before. This one was no different. I would occasionally feel a tiny upset, but it was never very uncomfortable and didn't last long. However, my emotions were raw. Here I was living in a very stressful environment with a 3-year old and expecting another baby. We didn’t have our own home yet, and my husband was living on another mountain. Sometimes I would drive to visit him on a weekend and very rarely, he would come to Husum. Neither of us wanted to be there any longer, and we weren’t really welcome anymore either.
Eventually, we moved into a motel at the base of Mount Hood. We had two rooms and a bathroom for a weekly rate. There were other people living there, too. Finally, Paul found us a tiny cabin in the village of Zig Zag. This cabin also had two rooms and a bath but was even smaller than the motel rooms. But at least here, Jessie and I could walk to the Post Office and the little health food store for some socialization.
Hippies that we were, we loved knowing that our address was Zig Zag, Oregon. But that was the extent of the perks. I was very lonely and becoming more depressed every day. There were no neighbors, and I had no friends here. After a short while, Paul lost the job at the lodge and had to go looking for work in Portland. On one hand, I was relieved. I was going to be having a baby and had decided to have a home birth after the fiasco of my first hospital birth, and the clock was ticking. I needed to find a midwife. We hoped that we could move to the city soon.
Our car had broken down, and we had no money to fix it, so Paul spent the next few months hitchhiking to and from Portland for his job. He would leave at 4 am and get home late at night. Once again, the time we had together, which was very little, was spent fighting. And I wasn’t the best mother to Jessie at that time. I became so depressed, it was difficult to get out of bed. I had to force myself to read to her and play games, but I made sure that we went for our walk every day to and from the Post Office and up and down the little road we lived on. I forced myself to put on a good face, but she could tell that things were not the same.
We finally met a couple who lived on our road, only two cabins away. They invited us for dinner one night where I ate tofu for the first time. They cooked it in spaghetti sauce. They had friends visiting who were living in Portland and looking for a place on the mountain near their friends. How synchronistic! We were looking for a place in Portland. We were each paying $350/month rent and decided to just trade houses. Each of the landlords were pleased, so we moved to 10605 East Burnside Avenue when I was almost seven months pregnant. In addition to all of the other stressors, Amber and I were not speaking, and I missed my friend. Luckily, enough time had gone by from when we had dropped off Debbie and Steve after our nightmare of a trip, that we reconnected with them and started a new life in the city.
The new house was wonderful. We didn’t have access to the back rooms with the washer and dryer, but we now had two good sized bedrooms, a large living room and eat-in kitchen and a huge backyard. The house was set back off the main road on a little dirt cut away with another house on either side of us. Our neighbors were great with kids of their own, so we ended up taking down the fences between our yards giving all of the kids free rein of a lot of land. We were right on a main bus line making it easy to get anywhere we wanted. We were ecstatic! We were ready for this next phase in our nomadic life.
On the Road Again
One of the friends I had while living in Connecticut was a woman with the same name. That wasn’t unusual. In fact, Debbie was such a common name, I had multiple friends named Deborah or Debbie for short. This particular friend was looking for a change. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend who had fallen in love with someone else and moved away to be with her instead. When I told Debbie that we were planning to move back to the west coast, she asked if she could join us. She was one of the few people around whom we felt comfortable having our child, and we realized that it would be good to have another driver with their contribution to the fuel expense, so we said okay. A few days before we were due to leave, her ex-boyfriend decided that he had made a mistake and wanted her back. She begged us to let him join us. After much back and forth, we finally agreed. I was worried about the fact that he had broken her heart which was still feeling raw, and we were going to be trapped in a car with them. Then there was the fact that there were now four adults and a small child, with all of the belongings we could manage to fit, in a Plymouth Valiant. Paul, always the optimist, assured me that all would be well. Boy, was he wrong.
The trip was stressful even before we started on the road. We had a couple of meetings during which Debbie and Steve argued. We finally told them that one of the conditions of continuing on with us was that they agree not to argue in the car. So, they often took it outside. The car was packed so full that even the floor in the back was packed right up to the seat, so whoever was in the back had to sit cross-legged. Jessie was in the back with two adults, and I hoped that whoever was back there would help keep her occupied. That didn’t work out the way I’d hoped. Steve decided to bring along his comic book collection. They were all encased in plastic sleeves and worth a lot of money, so he didn’t want anyone but himself touching them. Tell that to a two-year old. Not only was there constant tension between him and Debbie, who didn't actually fight inside the car, as per our agreement, now he fought with our two-year old in the car over his comics during the entire trip. He also ate sardines on the road, stinking up the car, making everyone nauseous, and there was no reasoning with him. I wanted to drop them off somewhere and let them find their own way, but Paul was insistent that we needed their monetary contributions and their driving abilities.
When we got to Ohio, they wanted to stay for a few days and visit with a friend of theirs. We wanted to keep moving and had a friend in Kansas City, Kansas that we wanted to visit. We dropped them off in Ohio and drove to Kansas. The plan was for them to hitchhike and meet us in Kansas City by a certain date or we would go on without them. I hoped that they would decide not to come or would come too late and we’d be freed from this burden. Just as I started to breathe a sight of relief, because the rides had been in their favor, they showed up right at the last minute, so we had a full compliment once again.
Paul and I wanted to get to Washington State, where Amber was waiting for us, as quickly as possible, but Debbie and Steve really wanted to see the Grand Tetons. We were traveling in May, and I knew from past experience that there was often still snow in May, but there was no deterring them, so off we went to Wyoming. We hit a snowstorm and ended up spending the night in a motel, 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. By the time we reached our destination, I had a constant headache and was running on fumes from lack of sleep.
We had a lot of grand adventures during that trip including a trip to Wind River Canyon where Jessie was picked up by the wind and carried off, causing her dad and I to chase after her, finally grabbing her foot as she went sailing through the air. We connected with old friends along the way and finally made it to Husum, Washington where Amber had just had her first child. That was the most stressful trip we made, including one to come a few years later that, although it was stressful, there were lots of fun elements that kept us going. This one didn’t have a lot of fun. Even Paul, who was very easy going with friends, had enough by that time, and was starting to fight with Steve. Once during the trip, I thought they would actually physically fight but thankfully, we were able to avoid that. We did manage to stay friends with Debbie and Steve, after a little time went by, and grew to really treasure that friendship. They were both a big part of my first two children's lives. I'm so glad to know them.
I’ve been taking these blog posts, expanding upon them, adding details and more stories and turning them into chapters for a book. I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time and just felt overwhelmed by it. Where do I start? What do I write about? Now I figure I’ll write different themed books. One will be about my travels, maybe about my childhood, teaching, who knows. This first one will be “Recollections of a Hippie Mama.” I only have a few photos from that time, but I will include some of those as well.
A Year in Connecticut
When we arrived in Connecticut, after finishing up my parents’ vacation with them in New Hampshire, we immediately hit up the local bar for a gig. It was a huge success with all of our friends showing up to support us. Of course, we were convinced that this was our big start, so we set up housekeeping in Connecticut. My parents were thrilled. They would have their only grandchild close by. Now, you have to understand that my parents hated my husband. He was not who they had envisioned for me. He was a long-haired hippie who had been on the road since he was 14 and had whisked me away hitchhiking across the country. But at least he had married me when I got pregnant and provided for us, so they began talking to him on our return.
That doesn’t mean that things weren’t still tense. My parents were very conservative Republican, and my dad was quite influential in town. They knew that we smoked pot, which was a very big deal at that time. They also knew that we were very radical politically, and that was an even bigger deal. As a result, my daughter (Jessie) spent a lot of time with them by herself. Unfortunately, my sister was 16 years younger than me and became jealous of this interloper. She had been close to me before I left. Now I came back with a baby. How could I abandon her like that? At that time, they were both young enough that it was manageable, though that changed years later. Also, my mom still had a young child at home and wasn't available as often as I had hoped she would be.
Meanwhile, I took Jessie on walks around the neighborhood every day. We visited the firehouse which was only a block away and walked to the library. There was the park where I had gone to school with swings and slides. We also walked to the nearby vacant lot every morning. She called it the meadow. We would run and play, picking wildflowers and watching the butterflies. After a few rainy days, when we were unable to visit the meadow, we noticed that our apartment was vibrating - a lot! The dishes were rattling, and things were falling off the shelves. We finally got a sunny day and walked over to the meadow only to find that it had been transformed into a rock crushing operation. I looked at Jessie, worried at what her reaction would be. She looked up at me with awe and said, “Look Mommy! Now we can go to the mountains!” And we did, every morning. Luckily for us, they only worked in the afternoons and evenings.
None of our friends had children yet, so it was difficult for us to acclimate into our old group of friends. Many of them were wonderful, but we just couldn’t go out on the town every night as we had in the past. We did have a babysitter that lived in our building and hired her until we discovered that she was stealing our pot and getting way too high while watching our child. Jessie was not in school, and we didn’t go to a church, so it felt impossible to meet other young parents. We also struggled with finding other musicians to play with. In California, we'd had a full exciting life where we'd grown up a lot and changed our views on many things. Now, we were back in a conservative environment where many of our friends had not changed at all, still living the high life with no responsibilities. We were quickly becoming dissatisfied with our current environment.
In addition to those struggles, making a living in Connecticut was just as hard as it had been when we left. The cost of living was high, and we were unskilled workers. Our friends, who had come out en masse to support our music soon tired of it and went their own way. Paul worked two jobs while I tried my hand at different jobs … a school crossing guard and a school bus driver. Ugh! Although I could bring Jessie with me to both of these jobs, they both turned out to be horrible.
As a crossing guard, I was often the target of curses and had to jump out of the way of cars trying to run me down, sometimes while the kids were still crossing. Even with my little sign and vest, there was just no respect for that during rush hours. The school bus job was just as bad. I drove a short bus, bringing Jessie along for the ride. There were still no seat belts back then, and I was refused an aide. I had one girl who removed every item of clothing one at a time, throwing them out the bus window as I drove. Jessie soon learned to do that, too. By the time I reached my destination, I would have two naked girls. I had another girl who tried to run out of the bus every time I stopped to let someone on or off. I would open the door and lunge for her, holding her while she kicked and flailed at me and whoever was getting on or off. Once she got away and I had to flag down a passerby to chase her down and bring her back because I couldn’t leave the bus unattended. It was a zoo! Time and time again I requested back-up, but no help came. For a short while, the mom of a boy on crutches rode with me in the mornings. But that was short lived as he only needed the ride until he was off crutches.
I finally gave up the bus driving job because they got tired of me complaining about the lack of an aide and decided to put me into the bus that drove to the projects. The woman who had driven that route before me had been attacked by the students and ended up in the hospital, so there was a vacancy. They assured me that I shouldn’t worry because they had now installed a radio, so I could call for help if needed. Although I enjoyed driving the buses, and mostly enjoyed the kids, that was the end of my bus driving career.
Meanwhile, Paul was working nights at a high-rise private club as a chef and daytimes as a school cafeteria cook and manager. He had Sundays off and slept most of the day. Life had gotten very stressful there. We fought for much of the time he was awake, and my mother was once again starting to try to run my life, which was one of the reasons I had left originally. We realized that we needed to get out of there … again … so we started to plan the next move.