Just when I thought that my life was beginning to settle down a bit after my tumultuous years with Paul, things started getting even crazier. Paul was now living with one of our old friends whom he’d had a crush on for years. Unfortunately, she and Justin didn’t get along, and he soon moved in with us. So much for my hopes that he and his dad would finally figure out a sustainable relationship. Understandably, our fourteen-year-old was angry about many things, my new relationship, his dad’s relationship and leftovers from all of the fighting he’d heard over the years. Dick and I were living in The Free School neighborhood. I was still working there at first, and Austin was still a student there. This new apartment was very convenient and, although it was small, it was comfortable and affordable. It was in the South End of Albany, and Justin started running around with the neighborhood kids who were also troubled. He had gotten caught smoking pot with some friends when he should have been in school and was suspended for a while. He hated school and kept getting into trouble, so I agreed to let him homeschool. My kids were smart and my own experience in school had been such a disaster, I hoped he would thrive by being on his own. Unfortunately, all he wanted to do was read about gangsters. I did manage to get him to do more than that, but I was worried about the direction he was going in.
He decided to apprentice at The Free School and loved it. The students liked him, and he was thriving on being in that leadership role. But in the evenings, he was out cruising around in the ghetto. Then, one night, he and a friend decided to break into the school. They stole a bunch of AV equipment, VCRs and the like. They brought them up to the roof of one of the buildings and wrote a note apologizing for the theft, but it was too late. They got arrested and hauled off to jail. It turned out that all of the equipment was broken, and the school decided not to press charges. However, the DA decided to prosecute anyway, probably because Justin’s partner in crime was a black teen. He ended up spending a little time in jail before we could post bail. He was convicted of the crime, put on probation, had to pay a fine and do community service. But he continued to flounder. Soon, Dick noticed that his box of change seemed to be reduced, and the loose change in his locked car was disappearing. He set a few James Bond type traps, like a hair across the crack, on his drawer to prove there was thieving going on. The hair was never disturbed, and the car was always locked, but the money kept disappearing. It was making us crazy. Many years later, I found out that Justin was wise to the hair and just replaced it every time he went into the drawer. He didn’t tell me how he got into the car, and I didn’t ask.
Understandably, after the theft, my relationship with the other teachers and Free School community changed. Although other kids in the community had stolen things from time to time, Justin was made the scapegoat. I suppose it was because I always kept myself a little removed from the cultish nature that I perceived in the community, always being a bit of an outsider. Justin lost his full-time babysitting job because the woman he worked for lived in a Free School apartment. Then, I was told that Justin was not allowed to live in the apartment we were renting from The Free School. I responded with a reminder of the illegality of that decree and started looking for another place. We soon moved to The Mariner’s House on South Pearl Street. Although I understood their feelings, after working at the school for a total of 12 years and all of my children going to school there, I felt betrayed and hurt. That betrayal colored my relationships with these friends for many years.
The Mariner’s House was a mansion built in the early 1800s located two doors south of Second Avenue. I had been visiting there and going to parties for years while various friends rented it. There were five bedrooms upstairs, four bathrooms, one with a shower and tub, one with a shower and two half baths. Downstairs, there was a double living room, an office space, an eat-in kitchen, dining room which became our music room, an unheated sunroom and an extra wing with three rooms and the bathroom with the shower. There was also a large fenced in yard that extended on all four sides of the house and off-street parking for up to three vehicles. The rent was $700 a month. This was more than we could afford and bigger than we needed for the three of us, so we decided to live communally. We moved in with a friend and her young daughter. We had all lived communally before, so we set up rules for the household. There was no arguing in the common areas, everyone had their own set of dishes in their assigned cabinet with a dish pan to put dirty dishes into while waiting to be washed and we had our own shelves in the refrigerator. Chores were scheduled and communal meals were optional and occasional.
Once we settled into our new place, I started hosting weekly music jams. Every Friday, we had a room full of people playing a variety of instruments. Some of them were long time players, others were beginners, and they were all ages. I insisted that we go around the circle with each person responsible for choosing a song. They could either lead a song or just play one for us. I had been in many situations before where the musicians were either shy or hogged the show. As one of the shy musicians, I was determined that, at my jams, everyone would have an equal opportunity. The newcomers were allowed one pass, but the next time it came around, they were required to pick a song. That was really the only rule. They could even choose something for someone else to lead, but they had to choose something. I also frequently counseled folks about playing at a reasonable volume so that everyone could be heard. That was probably the hardest part. Everyone was welcome and encouraged. The beginners often placed themselves outside of the circle so that they could stumble without distracting the other players, eventually making their way into the center as they improved. Eventually, word got around, and I was meeting new people who heard about it via word-of-mouth. It was wildly popular.
One Friday night, there was a knock on the door. It was someone new with a guitar in hand. We invited him in, and he stood in the kitchen looking around before finally saying, “I think I know this house. I think it’s the house my mother ran.” He was Mike Milks, who has since passed on. His mother, Eunice Milks ran The Mariners House for many years. It was a place for foreign sailors to stay while their ship was docked at the port. She would help them with any paperwork they had such as visas or help them make phone calls home to their families. This project came about because she had found out that the sailors staying on their ship would take their pay and go to the local tavern for a night on the town. The longshoremen had a deal with the taxis to drop the sailors off at the entrance to the port at the end of the night rather than taking them all the way to the ships. When the sailors stumbled their way back, they would be rolled, losing all of their money, and sometimes even their passports and visas. Eunice decided to take this project on as a missionary work and began bringing them to her home in Guilderland until her husband put his foot down. She finally found the house on South Pearl Street and housed them there. Mike brought her to one of our summer parties and, when she died, he brought me photos from her time there. We all loved hearing the history of our home.
Many people came and went during our time there. We even had my former son-in-law and grandson living with us for a while. I found hidden overgrown gardens and put in my own gardens as I do everywhere I live. We had a big tire swing in the climbing tree just outside the back door and a rope swing in the side yard. Dick even built a tree house in one corner with electricity running to it. We had multiple parties, including an annual New Year’s Eve party, which also grew through word-of-mouth. When we finally decided we’d had enough strangers coming to that party, we shut it down and had people come knock on the door on New Year’s Eve for two years afterwards. Sitting here thinking about it now, I count at least nine people who rented from us. We lived there for nine years until the deterioration of the neighborhood and the refusal of the landlord to fix the deterioration of the house finally drove us out. I loved that house and have a lot of great memories from that time. But like with all good things, there always seem to be other factors that get in the way. Little did we know when moving in that Dick would run into health issues and some old legal trouble with his child support payments. And now, we were living right in the gut of the ghetto with all of its bad influences on my already criminal-leaning son.
Once I decided to do it, I learned how to accompany myself on guitar pretty quickly, probably because I had been making music my entire life. I seemed to have taken in Paul’s style of playing more than I realized, though I was nowhere near his skill level. At first, I saw the guitar as a means to back up my voice and had no ambitions beyond that. I learned a few chords and did my best, but it never felt second nature to me the way singing is. I was constantly struggling between being impatient and not interested in putting a lot of time into learning to play well. I regret that now that so much time has gone by. I felt a little lost. I was starting a whole new life with both my relationship and my music.
I did a few solo shows and kept up with my writing. At one point, I bought the book “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron and started keeping what she calls “morning pages.” It’s a process that involves writing three full pages first thing every morning with no editing or even re-reading them. It’s a way of jump starting your creativity, and it worked for me. Not long after that, I started writing more songs and soon decided that I no longer wanted to teach at The Free School but wanted to live my life as a musician, even if that meant also teaching music. I just wanted to be immersed in the thing I love the most, so I gave my notice. Friends asked me if I had a plan. I didn’t. I knew that if I trusted enough, the universe to provide the answer. Sure enough, a few weeks before my job was ending, I applied for a job teaching music at a preschool and got it. Then a few more music lessons came through and another preschool job. A variety of opportunities came my way once I was open to them. I transcribed music and transposed songs on a software program for a music publisher for about eight years, and in doing so learned to transcribe and print my own music as well.
It didn’t take long for me to start booking shows with Dick Kavanaugh. He and I played together every day anyway. We tried to think of a clever name for our first show and finally settled on Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. We thought at first that it would be a temporary name, but everyone loved it and commented on it frequently. Telling everyone that we were romantic and musical partners who just happened to have the same name became part of our intro. It makes me laugh to think that there we were trying to be clever and didn’t see the obvious cleverness right in front of us. We played Irish and Old-Time tunes, traditional folk songs, some blues and more recent folk. But, once again, I had to fight for my own music. He thought it was too complex and thoughtful. He wanted things that were definitely in the folk tradition, and I was coming out of rock & roll. I didn’t give up, though. I insisted that I do some of my own songs whether he joined in or not, so he sometimes sat out part of a set.
Dick was an electrician who was great at his job but hated doing it. He was always angry on the job, usually taking it out on himself. After I made my big job change, he started looking at alternatives for himself and got a job delivering blood from Albany to Syracuse for the Red Cross. He worked evenings so, when Austin was with his dad, I often went along for the ride. One night, Dick brought along his mandolin, handed it to me and asked me to serenade him. I told him that I had never even held a mandolin and had no idea how to play it. He insisted that I was talented enough, with music in my blood, to figure it out. I tentatively tried guitar chords and realized that wasn’t working, so I played one string at a time finding a note that worked until I had a full chord. I just made it up as I went along. It was so much fun. Once I had three chords, I started playing songs. After that, I played the mandolin whenever I was a passenger and soon started writing tunes. Once again, I didn’t take it seriously enough to really learn the basics but just taught myself and stumbled along.
I have written many times before about how brutally shy I was. People who aren’t shy don’t really understand. The term “painfully shy” is not an exaggeration. I have experienced severe physical pain when having to confront someone, even in a friendly way. All of my music career, I had been a singer but never a front person. As long as I was singing, I was always fine. If I had to speak, it was a whole other story. I just couldn’t do it. I was even quite awkward at parties or other social events with people I didn’t yet know. Dick spent a lot of time trying to coach me. He even gave me scripts for what to say at a party to engage someone in conversation, but I always fell flat. Maybe it was because I tried too hard, or maybe something else, but it was discouraging and just made matters worse. I thought I was happy to sit in a corner and watch the world go by. I was definitely happy to let Dick do all of the talking during our shows and we had a lot of shows. We played everywhere, coffee houses and cafes, bars, small festivals, farmers markets, parties, galleries, churches, libraries, schools, you name it, we did it.
Then one night, Dick was introducing one of the songs and asked me a question. I was stunned. He wasn’t supposed to engage me. I was there to make music and nothing else. I started to sweat and shake. He just reached over and took my hand, gazing at me lovingly, and I answered him while looking at him instead of the audience. I don’t remember what else I said, but I’ve been told that I can be funny, and everyone laughed at what I said. I felt like a light suddenly turned on. Maybe I could decide to be engaging or even funny on purpose. It wasn’t easy, but I kept at it until it became part of the performance. Now, I was not just a singer and songwriter, I was becoming a performer. Dick taught me to include some of my stories in the shows. He taught me the importance of connecting with the audience personally by sharing my life but also by meeting them during the intermissions, thanking them for coming to the shows. Eventually, I was able to translate this to social situations, too. I was still shy but not terrified any more.
We had moved in together into a two-bedroom apartment in the Mansion neighborhood of Albany. It was just behind The Free School. Now, I was finally able to have my much-loved piano. This was the instrument I’d learned to play on. I have had a long and arduous history with this instrument. When I was nine-years old, I was offered music lessons in school. I chose violin. My parents got me the loan of a full-sized violin from a family friend. It was way too big for me, but I was determined to learn. I played “Hot Cross Buns” and “This Old Man” for weeks, squealing and squeaking my way through them, pleased that I could scratch out a tune. My teacher was encouraging, telling me that I was making good progress, but it drove my parents crazy. After a week, they banished me to the dirty, dingy basement/garage. My dad and brother constantly teased me until I finally quit my lessons, giving up violin completely.
One day, I overheard my mom and dad talking about a piano they’d been offered. It was free if they came and got it. I ran into the room, literally got down on my knees and begged them to take it. I wanted to learn to play an instrument. They kept reminding me that I had given up on the violin while I kept on crying and pleading with them. I wanted this more than anything. I finally agreed that I would not give it up and would practice every day for one hour. It is an upright grand piano built in 1888. It is a beautiful instrument that has a gorgeous tone and always stays in tune with itself. I have had many tuners and other musicians eager to buy it from me. With help from a few friends and a friend’s truck, my dad brought home what would soon become my best friend. I took lessons through high school and beyond, learning classical music and playing blues and modern music on my own. During high school, when I was relentlessly bullied, it was my salvation. I played for hours at a time, losing myself in another world and forgetting how horrible my life was turning out to be. When I moved out, it got stored in that dingy dirty basement without even a cover, but my family did move it from Connecticut to Upstate New York with them. When I moved to Albany, my mom told me that unless I took the piano, she was going to sell it. She was no longer willing to store it. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this important piece of me, so I found a friend who wanted piano lessons for her children in exchange for housing my piano. Now it was time for me to take it back. She was sad to let it go.
I hired professional piano movers because I knew it would be tricky to get it inside our apartment. I watched how they managed it carefully, so that when it came time to move it again, I would know how to do it. And, thanks to many friends over the years, it has been moved without harm too many times to count. It was fascinating watching them tip it on the side with the keys going vertically instead of horizontal. They were able to round the sharp corners with ease. Now I was able to give piano lessons in my own home instead of traveling to other people’s homes. I also played classical music again and wrote songs on the piano. I still use keyboard as a tool for writing or learning difficult things but rarely play just for pleasure. Word of mouth took over, and soon I was giving more piano lessons than ever, and now I had added voice training, too. I signed up for a series of classes on being an artist educator, started creating programs for schools and libraries while continuing book to shows regionally for Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. My new music career was well on its way.
Once I settled into the apartment I was subletting, I started inviting friends over to jam. I was no longer living with a musician and was missing that sharing of music. I had also booked a gig for a month and a half away, knowing that although I was just learning to play the guitar, I needed to get out there and keep gigging. I enlisted the help of various friends and figured I would depend on my voice to get me through. General Eclectic had ended, but we were trying to start up a new band, One Psy Fits All. Paul was a master of puns and loved the potential plays on words that this new name offered. Bob continued to play with us, and we added new personnel. Paul was not encouraging me to learn an instrument and had refused to teach me anything. He also refused to write the chords for our originals. I’d always known he was jealous, but I never realized the extent of it. I decided to keep writing new songs and plugged away at guitar. Unfortunately, I never took it seriously enough. I always looked at guitar as just a means to an end. I just needed accompaniment for my voice.
Shortly after I moved to Albany, my grandson was born. Jes had a tough labor and delivery and ended up with a C-section. She didn’t want me there for the birth, so I drove out with Austin a few days later. They were staying at a lake house owned by Jack’s family. I was glad that she was in a better environment with enough room for me to stay with them. I fell in love with Taran immediately. He was a fussy baby though and demanded a lot of attention. Also, I was embarking on a new life as a single parent of a three-year-old. I now understood fully what my mom had gone through when becoming a grandmother. Having followed in my mother’s footsteps, there was more than a decade between my first round of children and the next. I couldn’t stay in Michigan for long. I had to get back to work and my new life. Also, as I’ve said before, Jes and I struggled with our relationship. She thought I was being bossy and interfering in their life while I felt as though I was only trying to help. I went back home feeling sad and a little lonely. It was hard to believe that I was a grandmother at forty years old with a three-year old of my own.
One day, I invited my old friend Leslie over to jam. She explained that she had invited a friend over that evening but would be happy to bring him along, if he agreed. After dinner, I settled Austin into bed and pulled out my guitar. Leslie arrived a little later with Dick. We had a great time singing and playing together, but I also felt a little uncomfortable. The friend she had brought with her looked vaguely familiar, and he stared at me constantly. I could feel his gaze following me everywhere. It wasn’t uncomfortable, it just made me feel awkward and shy. I felt drawn to him. When Leslie was ready to leave, Dick obviously wasn’t and kept putting her off. Finally, they did leave, but I was left thinking about him. I later found out that when she asked him if he wanted to go with her to jam with Deb Cavanaugh, he told her he didn’t want to make the long drive to Stephentown. She informed him that Paul and I had split up. I had moved out and was now living alone in Albany. He then confessed to her that he’d had a crush on me for years. He was now eager to come. I didn’t remember at the time that this was the same Dick Kavanaugh I had met on the Dutch Apple Cruise and had felt such a strong attraction for then. The attraction was still there, but the memory had faded with time. Leslie called me a few days later saying that Dick had asked for my phone number and asking if it was okay to give it to him. I figured there was no harm in that. I saw him a week later at another friend’s house and felt that same pull. Like I said earlier, I was naïve in matters of attraction and didn’t understand what was going on.
My time at LoAnne’s was coming to an end. I didn’t know where I was going and was starting to worry. Then, another good friend asked if I would like to rent a room in his new apartment. Phil had originally taken on this place planning to have another friend move in, but she had changed her mind. He offered me a deal that I couldn’t refuse. Phil had a daughter living with him half of the time and had promised her that she could have her own room. Austin and I moved into a large room with enough space to put our two dressers in the middle separating it into two separate sleeping areas for us. It was perfect. It was located in a residential neighborhood with not much traffic close to a park. I was only there a week or so when Dick asked me out on our first date.
He took me to The Eighth Step Coffee House on Willett Street in Albany, right by Washington Park. Afterwards we walked for hours and finally went back to my place. As we sat in the kitchen talking all night long, he reminded me of the first time we met. Wow! It all came back to me now. We had talked that evening about our attraction but also about my commitment to making my marriage work. He said that he had been attracted to me for a long time, going to our shows and sitting in the back watching me. He admitted that he didn’t really like our music, but he loved hearing me sing. After spending that evening together on the boat ride, he moved away to Massachusetts because we traveled in the same circles, and he couldn’t stand seeing me around. I wasn’t sure how much of this I believed, but I couldn’t deny the mutual attraction. As the sun rose that morning, I told him that I really needed to go to sleep, would really love to have him stay, but I was exhausted and wanted our first time together to be perfect. He lay down next to me and snuck out after I fell asleep, leaving his card behind with his phone number and a note on the back. My head was reeling the next day. I had determined to stay single, and now here was this wonderful man who had come into my life twice now. It felt like serendipity.
When Paul returned Austin to me later that day, I told him that I had met someone. He wanted to know who it was, but I wasn’t ready to reveal that, yet. I could see that he was jealous, but I’d felt it only fair to let him know. Although he wasn’t happy about it, like so many other times, he shrugged it off. Dick and I started seeing each other regularly, and I tried to keep it fairly casual. I have to admit that I was enjoying our time together. He was encouraging me musically. He played the fiddle and was teaching me to play back up guitar for the Old Time and Irish tunes he loved to play. I learned so quickly with that approach. The Irish tunes in particular had fast chord changes and unusual rhythms. I had grown up with Big Band, blues and jazz, had studied classical music, had been playing rock and roll in a band and was now learning all about folk music. I loved growing as a musician and dove right into this new world. Dick had been immersed in it for most of his life. He’d been going to folk festivals and had been a regular at Caffe Lena. He was even a companion of Lena Spenser’s for a while and was president of the first board of directors for the café after she died. He was introducing me to new songs and new people, and I was ready for a change.
Once again, many of the friends that Paul and I had together decided to take sides. Not many of them had seen Paul’s dark side, and I was always seen as being a snob due to my extreme social anxiety. Band practices were getting more tense since our breakup as well. I was focusing more and more on my songwriting and learning to play guitar. I had no patience for pettiness and jealousies. Paul and I had decided to try to remain friends. We still loved each other very much but just couldn’t live together anymore. Once we got over the initial adjustment, we became better friends than we had been spouses. But the music between us started to die. Although, most of our interactions at the end were in the form of arguing, I often wonder if it was that passion that kept the music alive. Regardless, making music together had stopped being fun. Even at jams that we both attended, he was often critical or just stopped playing and walked away.
Every once in a while, Paul would ask me again about the man I was seeing. He was even quizzing Austin about him. At that point, I didn’t see him when Justin was there. I thought it might be too hard on my fourteen-year-old son to be around my new boyfriend. Then, one day we were all at a party together. I told Dick that I didn’t want Paul to know I was seeing him, so we separated at the door, but somehow, Paul figured it out. He came up to me laughing and shaking his head. “Seriously? Another Kavanaugh,” he said. I explained that I hadn’t planned it that way but, after all, he had introduced us originally. We left the party shortly afterwards because the vibes started getting weird. People had a lot of opinions about this relationship. Some people tried to warn me not to jump into another relationship while I was rebounding. There were even some friends who wanted to warn me that Dick was a bit of a womanizer. Others made remarks about our similar names saying that it seemed a little incestuous. The name thing was a bigger deal to others than it was to us. We saw it as a funny coincidence and nothing more, though it was a little awkward at times.
One time, Dick took me to a party that his friends were hosting. I had Austin that weekend and brought him along. The hosts greeted us at the door. Austin walked in boldly saying, “Hi, I’m Austin Cavanaugh.” The whole place got silent as everyone turned to look at Dick. He had only recently come back on the scene after being away for a few years. He hastily explained that this was not his son, and everyone had a good laugh about it, except Dick. He had been clear from the beginning that he wasn’t interested in a committed relationship. We had even agreed to an open relationship. But things were moving fast. Dick, who was living with his brother in Saratoga Springs at that time, started staying at my apartment nearly every night. This enraged Paul for a variety of reasons. One day, we had a huge fight outside of The Free School just as school was letting out. He was standing in the middle of the street screaming at me, oblivious even to the fact that he was blocking traffic until someone started leaning on their horn. That was the last straw. Except for transferring Austin from one of us to the other, we stopped having contact with each other. It was still too raw for both of us. This also meant the end of the band.
I’ve often said that being in a band is like being in a family. When you share music with the same people for so long, you create a unique bond. Good music comes from the soul. Just like in a love relationship, you have to reach inside and share your most intimate self with your fellow musicians, and an audience feels that when they listen. I know that playing music with others is the best high I’ve ever had. But now Paul and I were not only ending our twenty-year relationship, but also ending our twenty-year music relationship. Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out how to untangle the two. The music had woven itself into everything, all of our shared adventures, the births of our children and all of the relationships along the way. We were incredible music partners, working well together and balancing each other as both songwriters and performers. We did manage to maintain a friendship eventually, and I was grateful for that. But the music didn’t recover. I’ve always regretted that loss the most.
Although I have often wished that Paul and I could have salvaged our shared music, my own music only grew from there as I started taking myself more seriously. I had spent four decades being criticized and stifled. Now I was being encouraged and appreciated. When I was frustrated about not learning the guitar quickly enough, Dick pointed out the steps I’d made. He pushed me to book solo gigs and taught me traditional folk music. I was also starting to focus more on songwriting. I’d always had to fight for the songs I wrote by myself. With Dick Kavanaugh’s help, I started growing as an individual rather than one half of a whole.
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