Spring had sprung in the Pacific Northeast. The beautiful red flowers on the camellias start blooming in February. Being a gardener, I loved the fact that there were flowers most of the year. We had the best yard with two apple trees, a pear tree, two cherry trees, a plum tree and grape vines. There was a camellia bush in the front, a couple of rose bushes in the back and in the side yard and lots of other things coming up that I wasn’t sure of yet. One of them had tons of round buds but I had no idea what they were, so I went to the library to find out. They were peonies. I waited patiently as the buds grew bigger and bigger, looking forward to the amazing floral display they would provide. One day, Jessie came running inside excitedly to invite me to a tea party. I grabbed Justin and went with her to the backyard. There was a table set up with a big bowl of peony buds set out as our pretend snack. I almost cried but instead took a deep breath and sat down to tea. Later, I explained to her what those buds were, and she agreed to leave them alone next year.
As summer approached, the rainy weather lessened. It often still rained everyday but usually only for an hour or two with the sun coming out in the late morning. It was time to get back to our busking routine, so every Saturday we packed a lunch, loaded up the kids with all of their accessories and took the bus downtown to “Saturday Market.” What a place that was! It was like a festival. There were all kinds of vendors selling beautiful handcrafted art and crafts, many different foods including a woman who walked around with a large basket on her head selling cookies for adults only and street performers. There were jugglers, magicians, vaudeville acts and musicians everywhere. There was plenty of room for everyone and most of the other performers were very welcoming and helpful. There was a backroom in an abandoned warehouse that was used as our green room. It wasn’t cool to party right out on the street, and everyone was very considerate of the fact that there were kids around and people from all walks of life, so the partying happened in the green room, except for the adult cookies.
Some of our favorite people were “Artis, the Spoonman,” who showed Jessie her first string figure – a fishing spear, and Tom Noddy who did soap bubble art. You can look both of these characters up online. Artis joined us every once in a while, giving our act a boost for the day. Jessie was very intrigued by both of these guys, and they were very sweet to her. Jessie usually wore a flowing skirt and danced around while we played. We all loved being there. We were often given items from the vendors and never knew what would be thrown into our case. One day we were playing Joni Mitchell’s “Morning Morgantown” when a long-haired older hippie stopped to listen. We moved from there into Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” then some Grateful Dead. As we sang “Tennessee Jed,” this guy smiled and dropped a brown pouch in our case. We nodded and smiled at him as he nodded back and walked off. It was getting to be lunch time, and we’d done well so far, so we packed up and headed to the park to eat.
After we got the kids settled, Paul pulled out the pouch, opened it up and found a beautiful pipe made of cherry wood, scrimshawed elk horn with a collar of ebony. We were astounded. Along with the description came directions for how to clean it. “Take a low E string from an acoustic guitar and heat the end red hot. Plunge it into the end to clean. Repeat until it stops sizzling.” We decided it was our “music pipe” and always smoked out of it whenever we played music, at gigs, parties, jams and even practices. When Paul and I split up, he kept the pipe. When he died, one of my sons wanted it, but I explained that it was mine until I was no longer around. I still have it, and it’s still my music pipe.
Jessie always shared her lunch with the homeless people in the park. We always packed more than she wanted to eat so she would give them half a sandwich or some fruit or vegetables. She had a fine-tuned sense of who was approachable and who she should steer clear of. It was interesting to watch her navigate this world. She would sit nearby and listen to their stories, telling plenty of her own. These folks often stopped to hear us play too, until someone eventually shooed them away. When my parents came to visit, we walked downtown with them on a weekday. As we passed by, the homeless men all called out to us by name, waving and wishing us well. My mom, horrified, looked at me and asked, “Are these your friends?” Well yes, they were. Her father had been a homeless alcoholic at the end of his life, “dying in the gutter” as she put it. I know it was hard for her to understand our relationship with these men, which was only friendliness and acceptance. It’s not like they came to our home or stalked us. They weren’t demons or criminals. They were just hurt humans who were grateful for some personal contact.
Then there were the young and old people who had hit the road, just like Paul and I had done. On our own travels, someone was always helping us out, giving us rides, a place to stay, feeding us and more. It was important to us to repay this in kind, so we were always bringing folks home. We met one young man at Saturday Market. Clinton was a Harvard student who had taken a year off to travel the country. He asked if he could join our act and juggled while we played. Later, in the green room, we asked where he was staying. He had just come into town and hadn’t yet found a place. We told him he was welcome to tent in our backyard, and he took us up on it. After about a week, I noticed he was coming in to use the bathroom a lot, so I asked if he was alright. With not much money, he had been eating the fruit from our trees, mostly plums at that time. I started feeding him, and he soon became part of our family. He was wonderful with both kids, and they loved him, too. Once in a while he would take off to travel for a few days then come back. He spent the whole summer with us and came back off and on throughout the year. He hung out with the Flying Karamazov Brothers learning juggling tips and tricks from them and got very good at his art. He was also a musician, so there was plenty of jamming going on. When he finally went back to school, we were all sad.
Then there was Ray… Paul met Ray downtown and fell for his sad story of love lost and fortunes reversed. Ray was living out of his van trying to find a job so he could return home to North Carolina. Paul invited him to park his van at our house. I didn’t like this guy the minute I saw him. There was something sketchy about him that I couldn’t put my finger on, but Paul seemed to like him, so I decided to give him a chance. Before long, Ray found a job and had moved into our living room, abandoning his bed in the van. He found a job and continued to eat all of our food, take showers daily and lounge around without helping out at all. He never lifted a finger to clean up after himself or offer any assistance, monetary or otherwise. I didn’t mind feeding people and helping them out, but Ray was a leech. Everyone else we’d had stay helped out with vegetable gardening, chores, yard work or something … anything. Not Ray. What Ray did do was bring a bible into the house and start trying to convert Jessie to Born Again Christianity. I had nothing against his Christianity, but I wanted to choose for my own child. Once I laid down the law and made him stop, things got ugly. He stopped speaking to me, muttered and glared whenever he was around. I finally gave Paul an ultimatum. It was either Ray or me. I was ready to move out and bring the kids with me. I didn’t know where I’d go, but I was a survivor and would surely be able to figure it out. Paul knew that, and we gave Ray a deadline of one month to save enough of his earnings to go back home. When the month was up, he invited Paul out for one last night on the town to thank him for his generosity. I resented the fact that I was the one who’d had to deal with this loser most of the time and didn’t even get a nod, but I was mostly relieved that he would be leaving early in the morning.
Around eleven that night, I heard a truck in our driveway. When I went out to look, there was Ray’s van that had been all packed up with everything he owned, including most of his saved money, on the back of a tow truck. Upon leaving one of the bars they visited that night, the van wouldn’t start so he decided to prime the carburetor which was located inside the cab of the Chevy van. He must have spilled gas or something because the whole van caught fire and was now an empty burned out shell. Everything he owned was gone. I stood on the porch looking at it and cried. Maybe I was heartless, but I couldn’t pout up with him another day. He just had to go. Miraculously, he was able to wire his family for enough money to make the trip, something that he could have done all along. It turned out that they had plenty of money and wanted their son back. Although, I couldn’t figure out why. After he left, Paul admitted that he hadn’t liked him either and was relieved that I was able to stand up to everyone and get rid of him. Thanks, Paul. Once again, I had to deal with the bad guys. Luckily, there were way more good guys that I was happy to deal with as well with even more to come.
Now that Paul was back home and I was back on my feet again, the sunnier weather started coming. Because Paul’s father had passed, he inherited a little money, not a ton but enough to catch back up, get a vehicle, have a little cushion and start moving forward. Paul also wanted to get his own guitar. He’s been playing mine which was a nylon string classical guitar and was pretty beat up from being on the road so much. He decided to go shopping and the first place he went was the big local music store that did a lot of advertising. Paul didn’t really care about appearances much. He often had rips in his clothes, and his beard was long and scraggly, though he was always clean. When he walked in, all of the salespeople ignored him while still keeping a close eye on him. When he pulled out his wad of cash and fanned himself with it, they almost tripped over each other to help him. He smiled that wily smile that he had, nodded to each of them and walked out. He wandered around aimlessly until he saw a small shop tucked into a basement, “Captain Whizeagle’s.” The guy who ran the shop, Fred Cole, was very cool. He was another long-haired musician, well-known in the Pacific Northwest, though we didn’t know it at the time. He welcomed Paul in immediately and gave him an amazing deal on the guitar which now lives with our grandson, a 1969 Gibson Hollowbody Archtop electric guitar.
Now to find a vehicle. We decided on a VW bus. It was red and white. We bought “How to keep your Volkswagon Alive.” It might have been the first “for dummies” book ever written. And it certainly did help us keep that bus alive. Now that we had a large vehicle, it was time to drive to Bay Area of California and retrieve the things we’d left in storage three years ago. Yes, we’d actually kept up the payment on that unit for all of those years, knowing that we’d go back out west. The timing was perfect. Jessie had been about 9 months old when we left, leaving toys and clothing in storage. Now Justin was a few months old and those things would come in handy. Paul’s sister still lived in San Francisco, running a house painting business. We could stay and visit with her for a day or two before heading back home. This was still well before the days of car seats and even seatbelts, so we set up the back with enough room for stacked boxes and the two kids.
When we arrived at the storage unit, there were many more things than we remembered. It was going to be a tight squeeze, but we managed to pack it all in. We drove slowly with such a heavy load but finally made it to San Francisco where we lighted our load a bit. There were things that we just didn’t need anymore. That afternoon, Sage had a job, so we walked to the mission where we donated our leftover items. As we were walking around, we saw a poster on a pole. Van Morrison was playing at an elementary school that afternoon. Admission was $5 per adult. The school wasn’t far away, so off we went. The show was amazing. The auditorium was small, even the seats were small. I was shocked that the room wasn’t packed. There weren’t very many people at all. The band had a horn section and there were three female back-up singers who were amazing, as was Van Morrison himself. Everyone had such great energy. They did two sets with a break in between. During the break, Jessie told me she needed to use the potty. When we walked in the girl’s room, there were the three back-up singers. It was also their dressing room. Jessie was quite gregarious at the time and started a conversation right away. She told them that she thought they were great and that we were singing along. “Did you know that my mom and me are singers,” she asked. Before I knew what was happening, we were all singing together in the bathroom, harmonizing and having a great time. The second set was just as good as the first, and the whole experience was unforgettable.
We had a nice evening visiting with Sage. The next day we headed out, getting a later start than planned. Paul, who had to work the next day, had heard about a shortcut through the hills that saved quite a bit of time, so we decided to go that route. Paul drove for a few hours when it started to rain. It really rained, too. It was coming down in sheets. He soon tired out, and it was my turn to drive. We just had to make it through the pass and would hit highway again and smoother going. The rain was slowing us down a lot, and we really needed to get back tonight. I started to pick up some speed, hydroplaning a little bit here and there, but not a lot. There was no one else on the road, so I had the whole two lanes to myself. I started seeing garbage bags littering the road in front of me and just careened around them like running a slalom. I wondered why there were so many of them. “Oops, that one was a little close.” Paul woke up with a start and began yelling at me to slow down and pull over. “What is your problem, Paul?” He stuttered as he spit out, “You’re driving through boulders! Didn’t you see the falling rock signs?” No, I hadn’t noticed any signs, and those were just garbage bags, right? I looked again and realized what they actually were. Up to that point, I was driving with confidence and doing great. Now, I started freaking out. I managed to pull over and let him take it from there and never heard the end of it until the day he died. We made it home safely, he got to work on time, and I unpacked our past.
We had expended a lot of energy moving into a new city, having a baby and losing Paul’s father. Paul and his dad hadn’t been close. His mother and father had a tumultuous marriage, to say the least. One day, Paul and his siblings went for what they thought was a visit to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from their home with their mom in Greenwich, Connecticut. They never came back, their parents divorced and all communications from their mother was circumvented by their grandmother. Paul left home for good a few years later at the age of 14. What often happens in families where the adults are fighting with each other is that the kids also fight with each other. It’s a learned behavior. My brother and I did the same. It can be hard to lose that habit and often takes years away from it to succeed.
With so much stress, Paul and I, though we’d always bickered, started to argue in earnest. The one thing that kept us together was sharing our music. But even that was difficult with two kids and day jobs. Paul worked in restaurants, staying at one place for a few months and eventually moving on to the next one. I took whatever work I could find while juggling two small children. I made macramé plant hangers for a wholesale business until the fibers started affecting my lungs. I watched other kids and eventually started an underground daycare in our home. One of the most interesting kids I watched was “Spike.” Spike was three years old and the son of a hardcore biker, Rocky, and his beaten and much maligned woman. She was not his partner in any sense of the word. She was a very tough woman and accepted her lot. Their son was emulating his dad, but his behavior was too much even for Dad. They were related to one of our neighbors and had heard that I was unorthodox and watched kids. They wanted me to watch Spike three days a week. They’d tried many different centers and private daycares but had gotten thrown out quickly. Spike was violent and rude. He was totally out of control. They needed someone who could break a wild animal. I refused. I had other children to think about. He got gruff. I should explain that I’ve had other experiences with bikers in various places around the country. They’ve always liked our music, and Paul and I were often like pets or mascots. I was always provided with my own personal security guard when I went to their parties. I wasn’t intimidated by this guy and refused again. Anyway, hurting me wasn’t going to get him what he wanted. And, his brother lived next door.
They came back again, begged and offered to pay me a lot of money. I agreed under one condition. I would have total control. They were not to question anything I did or said, and they had to back me completely, no matter what their son said. They agreed. Spike’s first day, I searched him and took one knife away. He still had his fists, though. I wrestled him to the ground and, out of desperation, shoved him in the closet and leaned against the door. I took a breath and finally sat with my back against the door and started playing a game with the other kids. It got quiet in the closet. There was no more screaming and banging. Uh-oh, what if something happened? I slowly opened the door, and Spike bit my hand and tried to worm his way. I quickly shut the door again and locked it. What had I gotten myself into? I set the other kids up with an activity and started making lunch. I spoke to Spike through the closed door before opening it up again. I explained what the rules were again and told him that he could come out and be with the rest of us if he behaved. If not, I would give him a flashlight, his lunch, a snack for later and some things to keep him occupied until his parents came to pick him up. I couldn’t believe the words that came out of that child’s mouth. I returned with the promised items and waited for the end of the day.
I have to admit that I was a little nervous having to tell Rocky that his son had been locked up in a closet all day, but I was determined not to let it show. Rocky just laughed and mused that he’d wanted unorthodox, and that was what he’d gotten. He told him he figured it was better to have him in a closet than in a jail somewhere. He’d be back the next day. Spike spent all three days in and out of the closet, coming out for longer stretches of time out with the rest of us as the days went by. The second week went much better, and I was noticing a change in his whole demeanor. He would come sit close when I read to them and eventually climbed into my lap. He was still wild when they moved away, but he was not full of rage, lashing out at everyone around him. He learned how to make real human contact and let a very few trusted people in. I always hoped that he made it, but I never heard from them again. They just kind of disappeared, even from Rocky’s brother. They wanted to make a new life for themselves. I certainly understood that, having done it myself many times over.
Right now, though, I felt like I could stay in this place forever. Our house was in a little cul-de-sac with three other houses nestled together. The yards were long and narrow with three quarters of an acre each. There were fruit trees, flowers and vegetable garden plots in all three yards. They were fenced off from each other, but we soon took care of that, removing sections of fence so that the kids could have free rein. We all got along, and we all had children of similar ages. It was my first paradise, and I was happy.
We moved to 10605 East Burnside in Portland with the help of a couple of friends who drove from the city. Thankfully, we didn’t have a lot to move. The house we moved into was perfect. It had two bedrooms, a kitchen large enough for a table and chairs and a good-sized living room. It also had a front porch and a huge fenced in back yard. There were two other houses on the little dirt road that went down into a gully off the main drag. It was on a major bus route and was within walking distance of a small neighborhood grocery store. However, the previous tenants had left the house a mess, and that is an understatement. We were appalled at the condition of the house, especially the bedroom that their young child had been in. We set to work cleaning immediately.
One thing they forgot to tell us was that the house came with a resident tomcat. His name was Leon. He was a large slate gray feisty, scarred tom who thought it was his house. I love cats, but this cat was unruly and rude. When he insisted on using our daughter’s bedroom as a litter box, we threw him out. He kept meowing at the door to be let in, to no avail. I was relieved when it seemed as though he’d given up and moved on. However, that night we heard the sound of glass breaking in the bathroom and ran in just in time to see him jumping through that broken window. Paul scooped him up and threw him back out as I taped up the broken window and cleaned up the glass. As soon as he was outside, he went to another window and started banging his head against the glass, and we realized that’s how he had broken the first window. We drenched him with water. Eventually, I was able to train him to stop using her bedroom and just use the great outdoors, but it was a struggle.
Leon ended up being a great cat once he learned the rules. He was sweet with Jessie and, when the new baby came, he tolerated just about anything from him. It wasn’t long before we realized that we were not his only home. One day, as Jessie and I were taking our daily walk, we saw Leon coming out of a neighbor’s house. Jessie ran up calling his name. The woman who lived there told her that she must be mistaken because her cat’s name was Felix. Meanwhile, Leon was rubbing up against us and purring. We knew it was him. We saw him at other houses during our time living there and no longer wondered why he disappeared frequently for days at a time. Although we tried to take him with us when we moved again, he insisted on staying behind. I guess he didn’t want to leave his other families. We thought it was awfully nice of him to have let us live in his house for a while.
Once we cleaned and unpacked, I went looking for a midwife. After my horrible experience birthing Jessie at the hospital with the doctor yelling at me and smoking his stinky cigar in the room, I wanted a home birth this time. There was a school for midwives in Portland, and I soon found a group of three women to attend my birth. I was now 7 months pregnant and anxious to start preparing. We often frequented the library getting books for Jessie to prepare her for a sibling and got all of our supplies together sterilizing them in the oven and packing them away for the big day, or days as it turned out to be. Paul arranged for some time off from his job to help out afterwards. I also contacted our friend Debbie who agreed to come as a support person for Jessie during the birth. She also arranged for a couple of days off from her job to help us out.
Finally, the big day came. I went into labor and contacted the midwives to let them know. We all know that old saying about the best laid plans, right? Well, one of the midwives was sick and wouldn’t be able to attend. Oh well, at least I still had the other two. Nope the second one couldn’t make it either. That was okay, we were still prepared with all of our supplies and support set up, or so we thought. Debbie’s boss decided that she couldn’t actually take the time off after all. She did come after work, though. Paul and I sang throughout my labor as I rested my large belly against our standing space heater for warmth in our drafty home. It was now winter in the Pacific Northwest which meant lots of cold rain and not much sun at all.
After too many hours of labor, it was past time for Jessie to go to bed. She had asked to be present for the birth which we had agreed to, but it was getting late and she was starting to crash. I promised that we would wake her when it was time. Debbie took her off to her room where I could hear the crying and screaming. My labor was going full force at this point, but I was distracted by my needy child. Against the advice of my midwife, who wanted me to focus on the birth, I decided to go to her. As soon as I walked into her room, my labor stopped completely as I sang her to sleep. Once she was sound asleep, the contractions came right back, stronger than ever. After 45 hours of labor with 10 of them being transitional, Justin was born. He had been facing the wrong direction, making it difficult for him to come out. At some point, I heard the midwife talking to Paul about needing to take me to the hospital. She was getting worried. I screamed out, “No! I am not going anywhere. I’m having this baby right here.” They gave me an ultimatum. I had an hour, and then they were taking me to the hospital. Within that hour, he finally turned and came out with his sister standing by, glowing. This three and a half-year-old child actually held my hand and said, “I know it’s hard work, Mommy. You can do it.”
Remember those best laid plans? Well, it all went out the window. Paul’s boss needed him at work that morning because the other cook had suddenly walked out. Debbie had to go back to work, and the midwife got called to another birth. Now here I was with a newborn baby only a few hours old and an energetic, excited three and a half-year old after a grueling labor that had left me totally exhausted. Before he left, Paul fed Jessie and set our lunch in the refrigerator while I tried to sleep. Justin was in a small cradle on the other side of the bed. When he woke up, fussing to be fed, Jessie hopped out of my bed and raced for the cradle. “Don’t touch the baby,” I called out. Too late! She scooped him up and started running back to me, dropping him on the floor. It was all I could do not to scream at her, but I didn’t, and he was fine. It’s a lucky thing she was low to the ground and equally lucky that babies bounce with their soft bones. After that, the cradle stayed next to me at all times. I’d had two children now and both arrived without a community around to support me. I’d had no baby showers or meals delivered. I had a few visitors, mostly people Paul had met at work, but I was in a hostess role for them, so I finally asked Paul to stop bringing them by. Debbie did help as much as she could, and I think that’s what got me by. Luckily, my depression did not come back.
I slowly recovered but soon noticed that my chronic back issue was much worse than it had been before the birth. I have a severe case of scoliosis and earlier in my life had worn a steel and leather back brace that stretched from just below my hips to my chin, causing me to look up slightly. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, in my case, a double curve that, among other things, pinched off part of one of my lungs. I wore that brace from the summer leading up to high school until graduation. It was a nightmare, but I endured it knowing that it was saving my life. The brace was not a corrective measure but was meant to stop the progression of the curve. Now suddenly, it was flaring up again. There were days that the pain was so bad, I could not get out of bed. On the days that I could walk, we still went for our daily walks. On other days, I spent a lot of time lying in bed reading and playing games with Jessie. Paul got in the routine of leaving a cup of milk in the refrigerator and a covered bowl of cereal on the table so that Jessie could fix her own breakfast just in case it would turn out to be a bad day. He also made our lunches every morning for weeks. I finally started being able to tolerate even the worst days and started going back to my usual routine when Paul got word that his dad had cancer and was dying. He didn’t have much time left, so Paul arranged to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a while.
When Justin was only a few weeks old, I was on my own in a new city with very few friends and no car. I was washing laundry by hand and hanging everything all over the house since it was still the rainy season, including diapers because I couldn’t haul the red wagon that we usually used with a child in a front pack. Luckily, the grocery store was so close, I could go every couple of days and not have to carry a lot. However, one day I left with Justin on a front pack, and a backpack on my back for the groceries. Jessie was an amazing walker, often walking miles with me. This one day, I had gotten a little too much, and the backpack was heavier than I realized. But it was only a short walk home along a dead-end road that led up to the main street right across from our house. As we walked along, Jessie saw a flower and insisted that I lean down to smell it, which I did. As I leaned down, she leaned against me and I toppled over onto my back. I tried to roll over, but the backpack was so heavy, I couldn’t budge. I felt like a turtle on my back. I wanted to cry. Jessie tried to help to no avail. I couldn’t reach the straps that secured the front pack and couldn’t take my arms out of the backpack, so I just laid there hoping someone would walk by. There was no traffic on this road during the workday, and it was before the dawn of cell phones. After about an hour, a stranger did come by and helped me up. He did laugh, which I understood. It was a pretty ridiculous sight. That was one of my most embarrassing moments, and I’ve had more than a few.
At least spring comes early out there, so now I was getting outdoors enjoying the flowers and greenery. Paul was gone for a month and a half. When he returned, Justin didn’t know who he was and was very clingy. Justin wouldn’t go to his dad, and I know that Paul was very hurt by that. Unfortunately, I think that had a huge effect on their relationship going forward, and it always saddened me. Eventually, things went back to some semblance of normal. I had met our immediate neighbors, all of whom had children for my kids to play with, and finally had a sense of community. Now that the weather had broken, we looked forward to resuming our busking career at Saturday Market in downtown Portland.
After living in the motel for a few weeks, we finally found a little cabin in Rhododendron, Oregon. It was a tiny unincorporated town on Highway 26 that was located just west of the Mt. Hood recreational area. I was excited to move into our own place. The weekly rental at the motel was expensive, and I wanted a little more privacy. The only advantage of living in a motel was the ever-changing variety of people moving in and out. There were a few other weekly renters, and it was fun seeing them regularly. However, there was really nowhere else to go. Jessie and I were used to taking walks every day and exploring our surroundings. Even though the cabin was also isolated, there was a post office and health food store in a little strip mall within walking distance.
Living in the cabin was okay at first. We took our daily walk to the strip mall, taking our time and hanging out there for increasing amounts of time. However, even though I have been extremely shy for most of my life, I was also social and craved the company of others. The woods were pretty wild with no trails near us, so that was out of the question. Paul took the car most days to make it up the mountain to the lodge, so we were on our own six days a week for most of the day. Once in a while, I would drive him so that I could have the car, but I got bored fast.
Then the car died, leaving us stranded. There was no grocery store in the area. Even the little touristy places were too far away to walk with Jessie, so I shopped at the health food store, and Paul brought food home with him. Once in a while we would drive to Portland for supplies. Meanwhile, my pregnancy was progressing, and we were in the middle of nowhere with no doctor, no vehicle and no friends. I started to get worried and became very depressed. The cabin was smaller than the motel suite, and I didn’t know anyone. The post office and health food store were usually empty, except for the workers who probably got tired of chatting with me every single day. I made myself take Jessie out every day but spent a lot of time laying on my bed, leaving her to her own devices. I’d gone from being an engaged, loving parent to being almost catatonic. It was so bad that sometimes when she brought me a book to read, I would start crying partway through and couldn’t finish. Something had to change, and fast.
Something did change. Paul lost his job. There was no work to be had anywhere in the area, so he started hitchhiking to Portland to try to find work there. Portland was about an hour away, and we still had no car. When he finally found a job, he left hitchhiking at 4:00 am to be sure he was on time and usually made it home between 9:00 and 11:00 pm. It was a nightmare. He was exhausted and grumpy, snapping at me for every little thing. Jessie never saw him. On his day off, he mostly slept since he was so sleep deprived during his work week. My depression got worse. Before long, I stopped going out for our walks, leaving my poor toddler in the tiny living room which also doubled as her bedroom as I lay on my bed crying. I knew I had to do something, but I couldn’t even think. All I could do was cry.
Just when I thought I couldn’t go on another day, an old friend from Connecticut came out for a surprise visit. Jim was an energetic 6 foot 3-inch-tall drummer who drummed on everything. In Connecticut, this incessant drumming sometimes drove me crazy. Now, it was music to my ears. I started to feel alive again. There were no extra beds, so he slept on the floor in that doll-sized living room. It was such a small room that he couldn’t stretch out all the way, but he didn’t mind. He had come looking for an adventure. He certainly found it with us.
I was also expecting my dad to visit soon, but I wasn’t sure when. We didn’t have a phone so, when I’d called home, I found out that he was going to be in Portland for a newspaperman’s conference and wanted to come visit while he was there. I gave him our address and knew that he would just show up whenever. He arrived the day before Jim was supposed to leave. Our bedroom was barely big enough for a double bed, with no room for Jessie, so that night we had two tall grown men sleeping on our living room floor next to Jessie’s tiny bed. You had to climb over a corner of our bed to get to the only bathroom. At some point, I heard my dad laugh and say, “This is just like when I was on the submarine in the navy.” I thought he would be upset at the lack of accommodations, but he just laughed about it.
I loved having Dad there. He and I were very alike, and very close. We had a strong connection and got along well, as long as Mom wasn’t there. When she was around, Dad didn’t say much and let her run the whole show. I always suspected that Mom might have been bipolar, but she was never diagnosed. Her mood would switch dramatically without any notice. We’d be having a wonderful time one minute then the next minute, she was screaming, and my brother and I would have no idea what even happened. She also made things up, and Dad always believed her unconditionally. When Dad and I were alone though, we had the best conversations. I could be myself with him, and I think he felt the same. One day, as we were out touring the area, he turned to me and said, “Don’t tell your mom this, but I thought it was great when you went hitchhiking to California. I admired your adventurous spirit. I did a lot of hitchhiking in my Navy days. I knew you were smart and would be alright.” I started to cry, thanked him and told him that I was not alright now. I talked about how depressed I was and worried about not having health care during this pregnancy. I didn’t know what I would do when he left. Surprisingly, he didn’t suggest I come back to Connecticut. Instead, he encouraged me to figure out how to get into the city, and soon.
He was such a huge help during that visit. Paul was working all the time and spending all of those extra hours hitchhiking back and forth. Dad always hated Paul anyway, so it was a good thing that they didn’t spend much time in the cabin together. Dad took Jessie and me sightseeing all over the Hood River Valley. Getting out and about made me start to feel alive again. He also played with Jessie, recited poetry and sang to her constantly. My depression had been hard on her and, although I tried hard to engage, I had failed miserably. I started dreading the day Dad would return home. But his visit had lifted the fog somewhat, and we started taking walks again. I felt terrible about having abandoned my child to my misery after having been such a dynamic mother who was always engaged and reveling in being a parent. Now I was determined to turn things around.
Not long after Dad left, on one of those walks, I met a couple who lived a couple of cabins away. They invited us for dinner. They made spaghetti, and it was the first time I had tofu. I’d never even heard of it before that night. It was 1978. At dinner was another couple. They were friends of theirs who lived in Portland and wanted to move to the mountain. They were currently renting a two-bedroom house in Portland with a huge yard on a little dirt road arc with two other houses on one of the main streets and a major bus route. They asked if we wanted to trade houses. I was 6-months pregnant, had no doctor yet, no car or phone and was living in the middle of nowhere basically by myself with my toddler. It didn’t take me any time at all to agree. They talked to their landlord, and we started packing. Paul and I had been together five years and had already lived in eight different places. I hoped this place would last for a while. I was ready to settle and have my baby.
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