I have always loved to drive fast. I don't really like going fast in a car that someone else is driving, but if I'm behind the wheel, sometimes I can't go fast enough. As I've aged, I've worked on this and don't speed anymore, but it's a constant struggle, and I'm very grateful for cruise control. It's been training me to drive the limit instead of pushing it to the limit. My second long-term partner used to tell me that he had nightmares about me dying in a fiery car crash. I'm not sure that's true, but it was enough to get me thinking about it. My third and current partner, drives slowly. At first, it made me crazy, especially if we were caravanning. But, now I've come to appreciate it. I enjoy seeing the sights as I drive by whereas before, the sights whizzed by like a blur.
I now have a long commute to and from work and do a lot of thinking in the car. I realized recently that, not only did I always drive fast, I always felt the urge to be going somewhere else. It was hard for me to stay put for long. I must have been seeking something better and have been doing that for as long as I can remember. I'm also very spontaneous, trusting my instincts to take me along the best route. What this means is that I often get waylaid. I'll be on my way home when I suddenly feel a pull to turn down a new road and find myself meandering, arriving home much later than expected. Luckily, my partner understands and expects that spontaneity knowing that, if I'm going to be terribly late, I'll call him so he doesn't worry.
I've wondered a lot lately about why I've felt that urgent need for speed and travel. I'm pretty sure it started because I wanted to escape from the abuse at home. As a child, when the family was on the road, things were usually much better. There were no beatings on vacations or visits to family. My brother and I weren't screamed at or demeaned in public. So, why wouldn't I want to be out and about as often as possible. I used to wonder why my brother didn't have that same desire to escape, but he was our mom's favorite and wanted to be home all the time. A newspaper reporter, our dad had to travel to political meetings or to cover stories. I was his favorite, so of course I wanted to go with him. With Mom not around, Dad and I always got along very well. He also visited his parents without Mom sometimes. She hated Dad's mother and looked for any excuse not to go. That meant that I had Dad all to myself for a weekend. Much later, when I was working full-time, we rode to work together each day and got very close, getting to know each other in a new way.
As a parent myself, I found that sticking my kids in the car to go for a ride was the best way to have conversations with them, especially if the conversations were potentially uncomfortable. They were captive in the car, unable to escape when things got heated. Luckily, they all liked travel and were eager to have one-on-one time with me. I don't know if they realized that the ride offers were ploys, but they never turned me down.
Because I grew up in an abusive situation, I accepted abuse in my love relationships more readily than I should have. I guess I just didn't know better. I went with what was familiar, and once again, my car was my safe haven. When I was on the road, no one yelled, put me down or threw things across the room. Three times I left those situations then finally decided that I would live alone. I didn't trust myself to choose another partner wisely, but luckily, this time I did. I was very cautious and more than a little skittish, but he eventually won me over.
Although I was loved before, much more than I would ever have imagined given everyone's behaviors, I wasn't shown that love. I only found out how much each of my two partners cared after I left and my parents after they died. These same parents, who never came to a show, never asked about my music (the most important thing in my life, next to my children and grandchildren), never praised me or even acknowledged my musical abilities and often tried to convince me to follow a different path, played old cassette tapes of me singing for their friends, bragging about my talents. I wish I had known while they were still alive but only found out about it at their funerals.
Now, for the first time, I am openly admired and cared for. There is no question about whether or not I am loved. I see it everyday and am treated better than I ever thought was possible. I finally have the freedom and courage to come out of my hiding place. I can stop trying to run away. I no longer feel the pull to constantly go out and be in public. I'm happy to be at home. It's safe and peaceful. I can be myself without worrying about triggering someone's anger or jealousy. I still love travel and sometimes still have to rein in my desire to drive fast, but it's no longer an obsession. Now, I travel for pleasure, not escape, and I usually can't wait to come back home - a change I never thought I'd see.
This will be a short post today. I just finished writing a Family Blog post that could double as a regular blog post. It's my honey's birthday today, and I want to spend the rest of the day with him. But before we go out, we'll finish putting our vegetable garden in. We've already eaten some of our greens and asparagus. I've been also giving into my passion of flower gardens. I've put in a new garden behind the outdoor stage seating and have started a new garden in a new lawn section. My daughter sent me a photo of a great garden idea that I'm implementing now. I'll post a photo when it's grown in. So, today we'll put in the squash, peppers and beans - and of course, more flowers. Every year I say that I'm not going to buy more flowers, then I break my pledge. Eventually, I may run out of room, but I doubt it. I already have three new spots scoped out.
In the past, I haven't had a chance to run out of room because I moved so often. I'm hoping this has been my final move. It's my dream home. It's the perfect house and has woods and gardens, peace and quiet. We have wonderful neighbors and a great community around us. It's a getaway and a sanctuary that asks to be shared with friends and family. I don't think I've ever felt happier with my life than I do now. I've been saying that I feel lucky, but people have been helping me realize that it isn't luck. It's been hard work and lots of hardships that brought me to this wonderful place.
My parents often told me that I sang before I spoke. Apparently, I sang all of my words for quite a while. This is not surprising at all, if you know my upbringing. My dad came from a musical family. One of his uncles played in vaudeville, and I am lucky enough to own his tenor banjo. Another of his uncles played piano and organ in silent movie houses. My grandmother had a baby grand piano in her house and played mostly classical music on it. My brother, cousins and I loved playing underneath that piano. I especially loved it when someone was playing. Then, I was surrounded by its beautiful sound. There was always singing happening at my grandparents' house and also in ours. I don't remember ever not hearing music around the house. My dad was always singing, songs from his childhood, family favorites and more contemporary songs. By the time I was three, I was singing rounds and harmonies and soon moved to singing descants, which are counter melodies. Even my mother sang to me, out of key and making up her own melodies and lyrics, but I didn't mind. I loved it when she sang me lullabies at night.
In addition to my own family, my mother's best friend's family were also musical. They were from Scotland and sang Scottish ballads, classical and church music. They often babysat for me when I was young. "Aunt Meg" would stand me on their dining room table and have me sing to her. And, they taught me their favorite songs, which I sang with a Scottish brogue. It seemed as though everywhere I went I was surrounded by song. It was so much a part of my early life, it quickly became an integral part of my essence.
Singing got me through my hellish high school and early adulthood experiences. It was my shelter from all storms. It got me through the abuse in my family. When I sat at the piano and sang, everyone left me alone. My mom used to say that she could tell what kind of a day I'd had at school by listening to the music I played when I got home. And she could tell when it was okay to engage me by the way the music changed as I played. Music has always saved me.
I got my first paying gig when I was 16. I had been studying classical voice and was soon getting paid to do weddings and church gigs. When I met my husband in 1974, after having been gigging for quite a few years, he asked me not to sing with him because "it threw him off." I hadn't yet learned how to turn off the classical tone. His sister soon set him straight, and we became a duo. He was a great guitar player and knew a lot of songs. He also had a great stage presence, which I was lacking at that time. We had a variety of band members over the years on both the east and west coasts. We wrote songs together and sang beautiful harmonies together. But, the relationship was difficult and we eventually split up, after 20 years of marriage.
When I knew I was moving out, I stood out on my back porch and said out loud, to no one in particular, "I need a guitar. I'm getting $200 on Monday and need it to come with a case. Oh, a tuner would be nice, too." This was a Friday afternoon. I knew that if I was going to continue to perform, I would need to learn to play an instrument. I had toyed around on guitar in high school and played classical piano, but now I needed to be able to back up my main instrument - my voice. That Monday evening, our neighbor came over carrying his cousin's guitar that was for sale. He thought that since we were musicians, we might know someone who was interested. It was $200 and came with a case and a tuner. As soon as I moved out, I booked a gig and called on my friends to help out. I played some songs alone and some with friends and got through the whole night.
I've never considered myself an instrumentalist, though now I play guitar, mandolin, banjo, piano and mountain dulcimer. I'm a singer who plays a few other instruments. I've always been a singer and can't imagine not singing. I have songs for every subject and used to drive my kids crazy by singing at the mention of something completely random that reminded me of a song. I'm sure I will do that until the end of my life. When my mother had a massive stroke, and my brother and I were directed to keep her as calm and still as possible while they administered a certain medicine for over an hour, my first instinct was to start singing to her, and it worked. When she had no way to communicate because of aphasia and could no longer recognize letters or even know what they were, leaving out the possibility of pointing to letters as a means of communication, I sang all of my conversations to her. It was like being in an opera. I'd learned about this form of music therapy that rewires the brain to access language from the music side, and to a small degree, it worked. Unfortunately, the damage to her brain was so extensive, there was not a lot that could be done.
When I am sad or stressed, angry or worried, I turn to singing. Listening to music or playing an instrument doesn't have the same effect on me that singing does. Singing is in me, it is part of my core, and I don't know what I would do without it. I sang at my children's births, and I hope, when the time comes I will be singing myself into my own death. At the very least, I hope someone will sing to me or with me at the end.
I am riveted by the major volcanic event happening right now on the island of Hawaii and am amazed by how little we are hearing about it. It's particularly poignant to me since I was living in Portland, Oregon in 1980 when Mt. St. Helens erupted. It seems that many people don't realize just how unpredictable and devasting a volcanic eruption can be. I remember watching the news and reading the papers as the north side of the mountain developed a bulge that grew larger each day. Unfortunately, there were major logging operations happening on that side, and the red zone was made much smaller than it should have been with business interests telling everyone that the mountain was sure to erupt on the other side.
In the last week of April, a 1.5-mile-diameter (2.4 km) section of St. Helens' north face was bulging outward. The false theory given by the logging companies was that the bulge would collapse in on itself causing the other side to blow out. Meanwhile, the geologists and those of us with no scientific knowledge about eruptions were sure that the bulge was the weakest point and the impending landslide would cause the mountain to blow out that way. It turned out, the geologists were right. There was a massive landslide, the largest in recorded history, that caused the mountain to finally erupt, killing 57 people with only 3 of them in the red zone.
I understand that no one could have predicted the force with which the mountain blew, but there is no excuse for marking the danger zone so carelessly. If the eruption had happened on a weekday, hundreds of loggers would have perished. The mountain had shown signs of the impending explosion starting in March with smallish earthquakes throughout March and April, building in intensity. Several small craters opened up near the top, and it finally erupted on May 18th. That was plenty of time to take the proper precautions. The governor of Washington had papers on her desk that would have extended the red zone, had she signed them in time, saving most of those lost lives, but she was occupied elsewhere. The mountain’s eruption released 24 megatons of thermal energy, 7 by the blast and the rest through the release of heat. The wave of hot mud and debris surpassed 90 miles per hour with some people barely outrunning it in their cars and others never making it out at all.
That first cloud of ash traveled east, coating mid-western states in a blanket of ash. Later smaller eruptions came our way, as the mountain worked to rebuild her dome. When the news alerted us to an eruption, we would go across the street where we had a view of the mountain and look to see which way the wind was blowing the ash. If it was coming our way, we’d rush out to the store for supplies. The ash was made up of silica, a fine sand-like substance that was similar to ground glass, and we didn’t want to be out in that. After it was all on the ground, we were instructed to wet it down with a hose and shovel it into plastic bags for removal. Breathing it could cause black lung disease. When we did have to go out, we all had filters that we wore over our noses and mouths. There were no sizes small enough to fit my son, who was only a year at the time, so I made one using an insert from a child sized mask and making my own container for it. I was often horrified to see young children outside playing in their yards wearing no protection with ash billowing up around them despite the warnings.
You also couldn’t drive when the ash was falling. It was a thick mud falling out of the sky like rain or snow. If you turned on your windshield wipers, the fine glass would scrape your windshield, but if you did nothing, you couldn’t see. It also clogged your air filter in minutes causing your car to stall. Meanwhile, on the downtown streets, there were people carrying signs warning us all to repent because it was the end of the world. I’m sorry that I never thought to take photos of our bizarre costumes and the doomsdayers or thought to save any of the ash. Now, I only have my memories. As a mother, it was very stressful trying to ensure my children’s safety and health. I have lots of volcano stories: a story about the homeless men giving me all of their spare change when I was stranded downtown as the ash started falling so that I could take shelter with my children in a café until it was over; and one about the Grateful Dead concert that ended abruptly because the mountain had erupted at the moment The Dead played “Fire On the Mountain” and, with the ash heading our way, they needed to get out of town fast. We sheltered wall to wall Deadheads in our home that night, playing music and partying until dawn.
So now I watch the news about the Hawaiian volcano with interest and trepidation. Their magma is flowing in the streets and spewing columns of molten lava up in the air. Yesterday, I read that a new crack had opened up with lava very near the shelter set up for displaced families, and I wonder why they are still that close by. I saw a video of one man holding his hand over a crack commenting on how much heat he could feel coming out of it. And I thought to myself, “Why is he standing there putting his hand where there could be a column of lava coming out at any time?” Then I realize that I may never understand people.