Living on the Oregon Coast
We settled into our new home quickly. The hippie community was very welcoming. The longtime locals were cautious at best. Paul quickly found work at a restaurant, and I started babysitting for a few children. I had worked doing childcare out of my home in Portland, which was quite an experience at times. Now, I just did it part-time, mostly for trades of freshly caught salmon or homegrown pot. We also had a weekly gig running an open mic at The Riverhouse, a café on the Nestucca River in Pacific City. The place was always packed, and we met some wonderful musicians there. It also taught us a lot about running successful shows. The hardest party about doing these shows once a week was leaving my kids behind. We started out with them coming, but Justin was too little to stay out so late and was a rambunctious trouble-maker, so I had to find a sitter. Luckily, we found a wonderful teenaged girl who lived in a neighboring town and had many younger siblings, so I knew she could handle him. Although he often cried when we left, one evening, Justin decided he’d had enough. He broke away from her as we drove off, running down the middle of the highway screaming, “Mama, come back!” I started yelling at Paul to turn around and go back. My heart was breaking at the sight and sound of my baby crying for me. Paul refused to stop and, when I called home upon our arrival at the café, I found out that Justin had stopped crying as soon as we were out of sight. I could hear him laughing in the background and learned a valuable lesson that night.
Paul was always one for “bad” jokes and puns, so he started telling at least one joke a week. It was a very popular segment of the show. Many of them were real groaners. After a year of hearing these jokes week after week, folks started getting tired of it and came asking me to do something about it. It was around the same time that Aron Kay and other yippies were pieing political figures such as William Buckley, Phyliss Schlafly, G. Gordon Liddy and many others. Paul really admired the yippies for doing that, so I decided to give the “bad joke of the week” segment a big ending. I knew that Paul would never willingly give it up, so I had a plan to pie him in the face after his joke. Later on, a friend suggested that shaving cream is a kinder way to do it, but at the time all I knew was whipped cream. As he told his joke, I filled up a pie pan with whipped cream and waited … and waited … and waited, while he told more and more jokes. The crowd was getting antsy, and the whipped cream was melting. When he finally finished, I hit him with this pie pan full of half liquid cream. Sploosh! The crowd loved it. Paul was a good sport, and that was the end of “bad joke of the week”.
One man we met there was a songwriter named Mitt. He was not a hippie. He was a local and had a connection with a local radio station in Tillamook and hired us to record one of his songs in multiple harmonies. There were six of us on that recording. It was my first experience in a recording studio and my first time hearing myself on the radio. I was hooked. One day, he came to the house to jam and met our kids for the first time. Jessie loved to dress her brother up in her old dresses. She even had a name for him in drag, Rubessa. He enjoyed it too, and we saw no harm in it. He was wearing a frouffy, lacy dress that day, toddling around without anything else on because he was potty training. I always found it easier to teach my kids to use a potty when it was easily accessible, so they had a potty where they could see it, not hidden away in the bathroom, and didn’t wear even training pants. This was well before they started making disposable training pants, which in my opinion are too much like diapers to be very effective. The kids were playing around us as we jammed, dancing and listening to the music when Justin fell, and his dress flew up around his face. The look on Mitt’s face, as he realized that we didn’t have two daughters, was priceless.
We also met a woman flutist, Marla, who lived on a farm with her boyfriend Tom. One Easter, we were invited to an egg hunt at the farm. Most of the eggs were in the barn, so off we went with a whole troupe of friends to find them. Jessie decided that she needed to use the bathroom, so we left the group and started walking back to the house when we were suddenly attacked by their geese. They surrounded us and started trying to bite our legs. Justin was still small, so I scooped him up while holding on to Jessie and kicking at the geese. Finally, another adult came out to help us, and we made it to the house. Jessie’s memory is that I picked her brother up and left her to the strong beaks of those geese. She still reminds me of that. In reality, I was trying to protect both children and could only lift one of them, but we all remember things in our own ways. Another incident at that farm happened when we arrived one time for a visit. They had horses, so there was a metal gate that had to be opened to drive through. Jessie loved being a “big girl” and opening the gate for me. This one day however, there was a curious horse that strolled over as she opened the gate. It startled her, and she screamed, scaring the horse and sending it galloping down the road. Tom came running out chasing the horse almost all the way to the highway before finally catching him.
Of course, our friends, Patty and Jim were living there as well. They were the reason we ended up there in the first place. Although they didn’t have a farm, they also raised animals and gardened. They bought a lamb, who they named “Buck Burger” as a way to let the kids know that this would someday be food. They were cautioned not to play with the lamb for that reason. Predictably, they didn’t listen and played, not only with the lamb, but with the baby rabbits, too. We would chase them away, and as soon as our backs were turned, they’d go right back. Nothing could keep them away from these cute little babies. One day there was an unusual heat wave, and all the baby rabbits died. We were invited to a delicious dinner that night. Jessie raved about how good the food was and wanted to know what we were having. When Jim told her that we were eating Buck Burger and rabbit, she cried and never ate meat again. It was a hard lesson but one that farm kids have to learn. She was obviously not destined to live on a farm.
Another man we met was a stand-up bass player named David. He had one of the longest beards I’d seen and braided it in creative ways. He was a gentle giant, and Jessie was fascinated by him. He often joined us in our sets at the café. He was one of the few friends who didn’t have children of his own. There was also a pot farmer and another couple who worked on a dairy farm. We had finally landed in a community where our children had lots of friends, and we were surrounded by like-minded people who were raising their kids in a similar way. I also found out about an alternative school that was there. This was the second time I’d heard about alternative education, the first being in San Francisco in the artist community we were in briefly. As you’ll find out later, the third time was the charm.
Because our house was so large, we started offering the hitchhikers we picked up a place to stay for the night. We had been well taken car of during our travels and wanted to repay those favors. We were on a major intersection, so sometimes we would see people hitching right in front of the house. Before long, people started knocking on our door saying that they’d heard about a place to stay with a hot shower and a pancake breakfast in the morning. We became so popular that these travelers suggested that we should ask for some kind of payment, so we asked for trades. Some folks did yard work, some did house cleaning, some gave us trinkets that they made, some entertained the kids while I did my own chores. Whatever they wanted to trade was always acceptable. Many years later, I found a pancake breakfast sign in the closet of a big rambling old mansion I lived in. I still have it today as a reminder of that time.
We had one man from Israel who was touring the US by thumb tell us that he had heard from someone in Ohio that he could find a place to stay with us. Another man was walking from Vancouver, British Columbia to Nicaragua to protest US involvement there. He carried a large silk banner that he had made. I wish I had taken more photos from that time or kept a journal with all of the details. Jessie was fascinated by this unusual long-haired hippie. He explained his journey to her and told her that his plan was to arrive at his destination around her birthday, at the end of the summer. He also said that, if he arrived safely, he would send her a birthday card. Sadly, we never heard from him again. I couldn’t possibly count the numbers of people who stayed with us during that time, and I heard later that when the landlord moved back and we moved on to another place, he had hitchhikers knocking on his door for a few years more. It was a wonderful education for our kids. They got to know such a variety of people from all different cultures, some of whom didn’t speak much English but figured out how to communicate with us, nonetheless. And, they would sing songs and tell stories in their own languages, entertaining my kids for hours.
Of course, our old friends visited us here, too. One in particular, I will write about next.
Moving to the Coast
Fast forward to spring of 1980. We were pretty settled in our home, loving the neighbors on either side of us and thoroughly enjoying the neighborhood. It was spring, and the flowers start blooming early in Portland, with Camelias coming out as early as February. I was still new to gardening on my own and didn’t recognize certain flowers yet. There was a huge bed of something that I had weeded, and this year the plants had huge round buds. I couldn’t wait to see what they were. I knew they had to be spectacular. One day, Jessie came running in, very excited. “Come outside, Mommy! We’re going to have a tea party.” I finished up what I was doing and strolled outside to join her. She had set up a little table with her tea set, a teapot full of water and a large bowl of those same round buds I had been so eagerly watching. I was devastated but put on a smile and sat down for tea. There were a few buds left that turned out to be gorgeous peonies. I resolved to make sure they were undisturbed the following year.
We were anxiously watching news reports during that time about Mt. St. Helens. This active volcano had been rumbling since March 15th, signaling that an eruption might be eminent. It was certainly due for another. A bulge started showing on the north slope of the mountain, growing larger over the next two months. The big eruption was on May 18th, 1980. The ash from that first eruption blew east, but subsequent eruptions also spewed ash that often came our way. This was a huge inconvenience for everyone. We finally had a car but couldn’t drive in the ash because it would clog the air filter in our car and scrape our windshield if we tried to use our wipers while it was falling. We had to wear masks to avoid breathing the ash. It was a very fine silica, like ground glass, that could give you coal miner’s disease if taken into the lungs. We couldn’t use painter’s masks because they weren’t enough to filter the ash. We had to have the next grade with the foam filters in them. I took the filter out of one and fashioned a tiny mask for Justin, who was just over a year old. We also had to go out a hose it down to create a thick mud then shovel it into large trash bags for the city to pick up.
The other inconvenience was in going to Saturday Market. We never knew when the next eruption would be, and there were doomsday prophets everywhere downtown holding up signs proclaiming the end of the world had come and we should all repent before it was too late. Being downtown was no longer much fun. A lot of the stalls were closed, and a lot of the buskers had moved on to greener, and less ashy, pastures. Our neighborhood was changing, too. The folks on one side of us, Patty and Jim, were thinking about moving to the coast. They had a community of friends in Tillamook County and were going to join them. We were no longer feeling as settled and getting itchy for another move ourselves, but Jessie would soon be starting school.
She started Kindergarten that fall, already reading. The school wouldn’t let her read in Kindergarten and had a policy of not having younger children go into older classrooms for advanced learning. I hadn’t taught her to read. She had learned it on her own. Her dad and I constantly read to both kids from the time they were born, and one day, Jessie read a cereal box to me. I couldn’t believe it and thought it was a fluke at first. We went to the library and got out some books I had never read to her before, and sure enough, she could read. I kept up with her learning at home, encouraging her advanced reading while the school continued to discourage it. Needless to say, I was not happy with the school system.
The other change for Jessie was meeting new friends. Paul and I were pot smokers and had cautioned her not to say anything to others about it. We explained that it was illegal, and that we could get into trouble. The first week she was in school, she came home and informed me whose parents smoked and whose didn’t. She had polled all of her new friends so that she could make an informed decision about who was safe to talk to about it. Ugh! The other issue we had happened the first time she had an afterschool playdate. At our house, we only ate whole foods, no sugar and mostly vegetarian. Her friend’s mother had offered them cookies and Kool-Aid for an afterschool snack. Jessie refused, knowing that I wouldn’t approve then came home in tears because she didn’t have a snack. I quickly explained that the rules in our house around food were just for our house, and when she was away, she could use her own discretion.
Coincidentally, Patty and Jim had another friend who had a house in Hebo, Oregon, not far from where they would be living, that he wanted to rent out while he went off traveling. Before we knew it, we were moving again. The house was right at the corner of Rt. 22 and 101, a major intersection. We lived next door to the Hebo Inn, known for the two n’s being backwards. It was a nice house, a little too big for us, but it was nice to spread out after living in such small places before. And, there was a little hobbit room upstairs that Jessie thought was very magical. It was a full-sized ceiling, but the door was half-sized, so you had to duck way down to enter. We also had another great yard with a river running on the side. The elementary school, where Jessie would continue Kindergarten, was less than a block away. It had a wood furnace that we didn’t have to use much at all and was a short drive from the ocean.
The move itself was very stressful. We had accumulated furniture, household goods, clothes and toys and had a Plymouth to move with. We couldn’t afford to rent a truck. Luckily, Amber came to help with her VW bus. She was still learning to drive a stick shift, so she asked me to drive. I was so thankful that Paul had taken both kids with him because we encountered a severe rain storm while crossing over the coastal mountain range, and Amber’s bus had broken windshield wipers. It’s amazing we made it in one piece. It was yet another example of trusting the universe to keep us safe. And we did make it safely. We settled in, got Jessie enrolled in school and soon started hosting a weekly Open Mic at a local café in Pacific City, right on the coast.
Life in Portland continued
Saturday Market was an amazing place full of local color. We played there every weekend, often both Saturday and Sunday. Because we were busking, we often received some unusual and very cool gifts, like our music pipe. One day, we were playing our usual varied selection going from jazz and blues to country to Zappa, the Dead and Joni Mitchell. A long-hair stopped and listened for quite a long time. After we finished “Friend of the Devil,” he came over and slipped a non-descript brown zippered pouch in our case. It looked well-made, and pouches are always useful. We smiled and thanked him. At our lunch break, we went to the nearby park, as usual, and picnicked with the kids. Paul reached over and opened up the pouch then looked up at me with wide eyes. Inside was a beautiful handmade pipe. It had a cherry bowl and a small ebony piece separating it from the elk antler stem with scrimshaw etched on it. Also inside the pouch was a paper describing the materials used with directions for cleaning it. “Take a bass E string, heat it until it is glowing red, then push it through the stem. Listen for the sizzling sound.” We dubbed it our “music pipe,” and I still have it today. That same day, we were filmed for a TV special to be aired in Japan. Paul and I chuckled to ourselves when they came in for a closeup as we sang the line, ”Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine …”
We always packed a lunch and ate in the park. The homeless people also hung out in the park, and my kids would share their leftovers with them. Then they would hang out and visit. We knew them all, and they knew us by name. To my kids, they were just friendly people, though once in while Jessie would remark that some of them smelled bad. One time, my parents were visiting, and we took them downtown for a tour. In every doorway, some homeless man would sit up and greet us. My mom, whose dad was homeless I was to find out much later on, turned to me, a little horrified, and said, “Are these your friends?” “Well, yes. Kind of,” I replied. Those same men did me a great service a year later when Mount St. Helens erupted.
We met people who would turn out to be wonderful friends forever, including Clinton. Clinton was a Yale student who decided to take a year off to travel the country. He was learning to juggle and decided busking was not only a good way to hone his skill but maybe he’d also make a little money. He had met the Karamazov Brothers and learned a little from them. Now he was in Portland and had no place to stay. During our travels, Paul and I had stayed with many different people and were always willing to put people up. Clinton asked if he could pitch a tent in our yard. Of course, we said yes. After a little while, I noticed that he was coming in to use the bathroom more than seemed usual. I finally asked him about it. It seems that, although he was making a little money here and there, he wasn’t making much and had been living on the fruit growing on the trees in our yard – mostly plums. I insisted that he start having his meals with us, which he did. There are lots of wonderful stories that include Clinton as he became one of our best friends.
Amber and I reconnected, and Paul never stopped bringing random people to the house. We now had a wide assortment of friends, including musicians who we jammed with regularly. It felt like maybe we were settling down for a change. One day, Paul brought home a couple of German young men visiting the US. They spoke very little English but were able to communicate enough for us to find out that they were studying construction and were looking forward to touring the cement factory in Portland. They thought that Portland cement was made in Oregon and asked us to set up a tour for them. The man I spoke to at the factory told me that they were not the famous Portland cement place, but Lars and Mike didn’t care. They came to tour a cement factory and were determined to do it. They had already gone to Portland, Maine with the same result. The fellow at the factory was thrilled to be giving his first tour ever, and they were satisfied. They stayed with us for a week during which they spoke to my kids in German, telling them stories and singing German children’s songs. In the book, I will relay another very funny story about their visit. All in all, it was a great experience for all of us even with the language barrier.
Another couple that we knew were Pam and Mark. They knew that Paul and I never got out without my kids, and they had gotten to know them. They told us they eventually wanted kids themselves. There was an all-day concert coming up with The Grateful Dead, David Bromberg, Allman Brothers and more. They offered to babysit, so that we could go to the show together. I was reluctant because Justin was so clingy, but I also desperately needed to go out as a free adult. I pumped plenty of milk, and I knew Jessie would be there, too. Justin adored his sister. He cried when I left, and I did, too. Paul assured me all would be well. After about an hour into the show, my milk started flowing. I assumed it was because I was thinking of him. But it didn’t really stop. This was before the days of cell phones, and there was no access to a phone in the middle of this big field. After a while, I started to feel panicky and insisted that we go home. Thankfully, Paul was reasonable about it. We’d been there for a few hours already and had seen the bands we were really attached to seeing. We got home and walked in the house to find Mark walking up and down with a screaming baby while Pam was reduced to a puddle of tears on the floor. Justin had been screaming the entire time I was gone. So much for getting a break.
Then, one day Paul brought home Ray. Ray was also traveling around the country after a tragic breakup with his long-term girlfriend. He was broken-hearted and broke. He asked if he could stay while he found a job and saved enough money to make it back home in the Southeast. Of course, we said yes … again. However, this time we regretted it. Ray was a closet Christian but didn’t live as a Christian. He was pushy and selfish, the polar opposite of Clinton. He would think nothing of eating all the food in the refrigerator and try to make us feel guilty when we called him out on it. One day, I caught him proselytizing to Jessie, giving her a child’s Bible and scaring her about the fires of hell. I lost it at that point and, after screaming at him, told Paul he had to go. He’d been working and never gave us anything, so I knew he must have plenty of money for his drive home.
A week later, he asked Paul to go out for a farewell drink. Hooray! He was leaving early the next day. He packed his van with all of his things and off they went. When Paul walked in the door without him hours later, I suspected that something had gone terribly wrong. Apparently, the van wouldn’t start so Ray decided to pour some gasoline into the carburetor, which was in the cab in this Chevy van, and accidentally set the van on fire. An hour later, the burned-out shell of his van was towed to our driveway. He lost everything, including all of the money he had saved. Normally, I am a very generous and understanding person, but I insisted he find another place to stay. He’d already been with us for a miserable month, and I knew I couldn’t put up with him for even one more day. He moved on, and life resumed with way less stress.
Next up ... Mt. St. Helens and another move.
Single Parenting and Busking
Shortly after this difficult birth, Paul found out that his dad was dying of cancer. He’d always had a stormy relationship with his dad and wanted to try to have a better ending, so he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a month and a half to be with him in his final days. Justin was only a month old and already very attached to me. The absence of his dad solidified that attachment, as I quickly became more of a supermom than I already was. We still had no car and very little money, so taxis were out of the question, and everything was just too cumbersome for a bus. Because of the cloth diapers I was using, it was impossible for me to lug both children and huge loads of laundry to the laundromat more than a mile away, so I washed our clothes in the bathtub, boiled the diapers on the stove and, because it was winter in the rainy Northwest, hung everything to dry in the living room. I had a Tupperware device that looked like a plunger with multiple cups that had holes in them for hand washing clothes. That helped, but it was an endless job. I felt like a pioneer woman. After three or four weeks of this, my parents, who rarely helped out, finally took pity on me and sent money for disposable diapers which helped a lot. Now I only had to worry about the muddy clothes from playing outside in mud instead of the snow I’d been used to.
Meanwhile, I was still recovering from the bruised ribs that occurred during my pregnancy and now had massive back pain. I found out years later that the back pain was due to that same pregnancy. Not only did it bruise my ribs, but my scoliosis, which had been managed earlier in my life had started progressing again. But for now, I was a single mom with two kids to care for, and I had to just push through the pain, though there were days when I struggled to even get out of bed and had to depend on Jessie to mostly care for herself. Justin was a clingy baby, so it was easiest to wear him all the time in spite of the discomfort. I wore him while I did my house cleaning and cooking and while I spent much needed time with his sister. I would shower as quickly as I could while he lay in his crib screaming and refusing to be entertained by his sister. When Paul finally returned, Justin didn’t even remember him and was very shy, refusing to be held by his own dad.
Grocery shopping was easier because there was a little Chinese grocery store just a couple of blocks away that was an easy walk. They had great produce, and I could buy tofu, which I had recently discovered, in bulk from the back room. I would go knock on the window and hold up one finger or two. The worker would bring it out to me with a big grin, obviously thrilled that a Caucasian was buying tofu. Once, in very broken English, a woman asked me how I cooked it. She was stunned when I told her I used it in spaghetti sauce and said she would try it. One day, I stuck Justin in the front pack and put on my framed backpack to go buy some food. As usual, I bought more than anticipated and had a full heavy pack on my back. As we were walking along, Jessie saw a flower and insisted that I lean down to smell it. As she reached for me to push me further down, I lost my balance and fell onto my back. I quickly realized that I couldn’t get up from this position. The pack was so heavy that I also couldn’t roll over. I was stuck like a turtle on its back. Jessie tried to push and pull me to no avail. I had no idea what to do and felt like a complete fool, plus it was very uncomfortable. We were on a shortcut that was a dead-end road with very little foot traffic. After what seemed like an eternity but was just under an hour, someone came walking by, and Jessie ran up to him asking if he could please help her mama, which he did. Thankfully, I never saw him again.
Once the weather turned nicer, we got to know our neighbors and really enjoyed their company. Before that, I felt very isolated and had started plunging into depression again. The constant gray skies and rain didn't help either. Now, I saw the neighbors every day. I also could go out walking in a more pleasant environment without the cold rain and sometimes icy conditions. There were children on either side of us that were similar in age to my kids, and they got to be great friends. There were Jerry and Stephen on one side and Shard, Baird and Lucy on the other. Stephen and Lucy were both babies, and Jerry was Jessie’s age. Shard and Baird were older, but Baird and Jessie enjoyed playing together. One day, the two of them came racing into the house. Jessie was always a big talker. She even talked in her sleep so much that it often kept me awake until I got used to it. This day, she rambled on frenetically, jumping up and down and waving her arms. I couldn’t understand a word she said and kept trying to get her to slow down. Every once in a while, she would run back and forth until she was out of breath then start up again. Eventually, I found out that she was telling me about this great snack they just had … coffee beans!!! They had gotten into the jar of whole beans when no one was looking and had a feast. Their pockets were even full of them. She did this once more with a neighbor across the street, only this time they ate a bottle of children’s vitamins.
The other thing that changed, once the weather got nicer, is that we went back to busking. We had done it in California and occasionally on our way across the country. In Portland, there was a weekly market, “Saturday Market.” We soon became fixtures there along with many other buskers. We brought the kids along and made it a family outing. Justin was sitting up now and would sit in the guitar case playing with the money. He never ate it but often threw it back out at people. This was a great hook, and folks often put even more in. Jessie was also getting older and wore her flowing long hippie skirts, dancing around while we played and sang, drawing a crowd with her cuteness. We met the most amazing characters there. There was Tom Noddy the Bubble Man and Artis the Spoon Man. They spent summers in the Northwest and winters in Florida, making a good living performing on the streets. They’ve both been on television numerous times, and you can find them online. Artis taught Jessie her very first string figure, even before she learned Cat's Cradle. There were jugglers and magicians, there and was always a hammered dulcimer player who drew the biggest crowds playing the same four or five tunes over and over again. There was also a hippie woman walking around with a basket on her head that held pot cookies. Most of the kids didn’t realize what they were and often followed her around begging for a cookie, but she had her standards and only sold to those she knew were cool. All of the performers knew each other, and we were quickly invited into the “inner sanctum” – the smoking room in the back of an open warehouse.