artist educator, singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
Deciding to move out of the city was hard. We were feeling settled for the first time since we had been together, but Paul was out of work again, and we had unexpectedly come into some money between our tax return and a small inheritance. It was enough to get us resettled in our new location. We gave our notice and packed everything up. Amber agreed to help us move. Even with our car and her VW bus we had to make several trips back and forth from the city to the coast. We were finally down to the last trip. Paul took the kids with him, and I drove Amber’s vehicle with Amber in the passenger seat. We didn’t get far when the rain started. It wasn’t bad at first, but when I went to turn on the windshield wipers, they didn’t work. Now it started to pour. I finally found a place to pull over and wait it out and soon realized that it wasn’t letting up any time soon. With both front windows open, Amber and I manually moved the wipers back and forth often enough to enable me to drive, s–l–o–w–l–y, slowly, slowly. I have to admit, it was a good trick negotiating all of the curvy mountain roads that led to the coast while holding my arm out the window moving the wipers back and forth. But, I had once fearlessly and successfully successfully navigated boulders in the road that I thought were garbage bags a few years back. So, I knew that I had this. Of course, once we arrived on the other side of the mountains, soaked to the bone and shivering, the rain stopped. Thankfully, Paul had arrived without incident and had fed the kids and settled them for the night.
Our new home was located in Hebo, Oregon. It was a large house, much larger than we needed for ourselves. Although the upstairs wasn’t completed, it was fine for our purposes being mostly one huge open space. Jessie loved one of the rooms upstairs which had a half-sized door that adults had to duck to enter through. We named it the “Hobbit Room.” The two kids shared a long downstairs room that could easily have been split into two rooms. The windows in that room looked out onto the enclosed front porch which faced Highway 101, the coastal road. The heating system was a wood furnace which, when stoked properly, stayed lit all night long. There was a large backyard with the Nestucca River running on the side. And, it was an ideal location two doors down from the Hebo Inn, a short walk to the tiny red Elementary School, Post Office and Hebo Market. We felt that we could stay here for a while, and our rental was open-ended. The Hebo Inn was noted for the backwards n’s on its sign.
We were now located where Highway 22 joined with Highway 101, a prime location to meet fellow travelers. And meet them we did. We decided that the house was more than large enough to share with others, so when we picked up hitchhikers, who were plentiful, we offered to let them stay for any trade they cared to make. We had people do laundry and other household chores, gardening and small repairs. Others gave us various items they had made or found along the way. Everyone contributed something and were happy to do it. A few people even stayed for a few days. I always made pancakes in the mornings. Before long, we had people knocking on the door telling us that they’d run into someone on the road who had led them to us. They were told that for whatever they wished to trade, they could get a room, a hot shower and pancake breakfast in the morning. We were suddenly running an underground bed and breakfast for hippies. In all fairness, not everyone was a hippie, but most were.
A couple of notable temporary residents were a man from Israel who had met someone in Ohio that told him to look us up. We were floored. Word had certainly gotten around. Another one was a man who was doing a peace walk from the Peace Arch in Vancouver to Nicaragua carrying a large silk banner promoting peace and supporting the Sandinista rebels. Jessie connected strongly with this quiet but strong man. They talked often during the week he stayed with us. He promised to send her a postcard for her birthday if he actually made it to his destination but was honest with her about his doubts that he would make it alive. He shared with all of us that yes, he felt scared sometimes and had already encountered some uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations, but he was committed to his cause and that kept him going. When Jessie’s birthday came and went without a postcard, I expected my now 6-year old daughter to be devastated. She took it all in stride reminding me that he thought he might be risking his life for the cause he believed in. She told me that she wasn’t sure that she would ever do the same but thought that he was an exceptional person and brave for doing it.
It was easier than usual to make new friends here because we already knew our old neighbors and friends who had moved from Portland. Jim had lived in the area before and had lots of friends and connections. Paul got a job right away, and I met other parents who occasionally needed childcare. Once again, I managed to do some wonderful trades which included trading for fresh caught salmon and another one that I’ll write about in another chapter. We finally had lots of other kids around that were our kids ages. Up to that time, we rarely had friends who had children. This was wonderful! There were parties and potlucks and music. Before long, we started hosting a weekly Open Mic at The Riverhouse in Pacific City. It was located minutes from the beach and right along the Nestucca River. We settled quickly and were happy.
We also started writing songs together again. We had written one or two in Portland, including one about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, but were so busy trying to get by, there was little time for composing. Now, we wrote “875” together, about getting busted in Disneyland and “No Free Lunch” about the Reagan presidency. We also wrote “Lord, Help This Boy” a funny song about different walks of life. I started writing on my own as well and wrote a song about living in Tillamook County and another one about Mt. Hebo.
Mt. Hebo was on the coastal range. It overlooked five snowcapped mountains in two directions (Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Ranier, Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson) and the Pacific Ocean in another direction. The view was breathtaking. At the summit was an air force station that was off-limits to the public. We weren’t supposed to be anywhere near it, but it was unmanned, and we often broke some of the rules that we thought were irrelevant. Life was good, the kids were happier than ever, we were making wonderful friends and focusing on being good parents, partners and musicians. This was the life we’d been searching for … finally.
Meanwhile, Jessie had taught herself to read and was already reading well but it was time for her to start Kindergarten in the fall. She looked forward to meeting other kids her age and making new friends. I was also looking forward to this new phase. It didn’t take long for her teacher to start sending her to the first-grade classroom for reading. It also didn’t take long for her to figure out whose parents smoked pot and whose didn’t. I had cautioned her not to talk about it at school, explaining that it was illegal, and we could get in trouble. After her first or second day, she came home with a list of which families were okay with it. Ugh! It felt as though the country was becoming more conservative, and I started to worry about her lackadaisical attitude. She just didn’t seem to understand the kind of trouble we could get into. This was the same child who once asked me, “If I don’t talk to strangers, how will I ever make new friends?” She definitely had a point.
Paul had no trouble talking to strangers and making friends. He continued to bring random people home, mostly fellow travelers. One day, he walked in the door with two young men from Germany, Mike and Lars. They were studying to be architects and had come to the United States on vacation. When they found themselves in Portland, Oregon, they got excited about the prospect of visiting the Portland Cement plant. They had approached Paul asking where they could find the plant. He didn’t know, so he brought them home to ask me. They had very little English but kept saying “Portland is the city of cement.” We had never heard of Portland Cement and had no idea where the location was. I replied that Portland was the city of roses, not cement. They kept insisting, so we started making a few phone calls to try to find the answer. They appreciated the help and were happy to have found a place to stay for a few days. Eventually, we discovered that Portland Cement originated in Portland, England, an ocean away but easy enough for them to visit when they got back home to Germany. They decided to take a tour of a cement factory anyway, so we set that up for them. The man we spoke to on the phone was confused as to why anyone would want a tour but also thrilled since it was his first, and maybe only, tour ever requested.
Mike and Lars went off the next day to do a whole day of being tourists. They came back just before dinner and showed me a button Mike had bought downtown that read “LXIX” and wanted to know what it meant. Apparently, it had caused quite a stir in the shop when they asked the young woman behind the counter what it meant. She blushed, laughed a lot and refused to answer. They asked other customers and got the same reactions. Because of the reactions, he decided it must be a good button to have and a great souvenir of Portland. I translated the Roman numerals for them, but they still didn’t understand what it was, and I wasn’t willing to go any further with my explanation. I assured them that Paul would be home soon and could give them an answer then. When Paul did come home and was faced with the question, he almost fell over laughing. Then, he tried to explain what it was, but their English was so spotty, nothing got through. He finally drew a stick figure drawing. I watched the light dawn on them as they both got huge smiles, nodded and said to Paul, “Das ist gut, jah?” Paul agreed, and Mike wore that button proudly as they left the next day.
Meanwhile, Amber purchased herself another VW bus and came to Portland to retrieve it from the seller. The vehicle had been too good a deal to pass up, so she bought it before remembering that she didn’t drive a stick shift. She hadn’t even taken a test drive. She asked me to go with her to get it, which I did. I drove it back to our house and started trying to teach her to drive it. I learned to drive on a stick shift that was three on the column and had taught many people how to manage the gears. Amber, however, was not a great student. She finally left the bus with us for a little while, coming back for lessons. One day, I took the bus out to go shopping with my kids. There still were no car seats or seatbelt regulations, and the older cars had no seatbelts at all. So, the kids were in the back, cozied up in blankets on the bed while we drove along. I stopped on the side of the road to get out and mail a letter, but when I got back in, the bus wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. We were pretty far from home, too far to walk with two kids and all of my groceries. I sat there for a few minutes trying to come up with a plan when I saw a group of husky young men coming down the street. They looked like they might be college students, maybe even football players. After instructing Jessie to stay put, Justin was already asleep in the back, I jumped out, explained the situation and asked if they would push so that I could jump start the bus. They agreed.
I got back in and, as we got rolling along, I popped the clutch. Nothing happened. I popped it again, and again, and again. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working until I finally realized that I had forgotten to turn the key. Those poor guys pushed for blocks before I finally got it going. I was embarrassed at having made that mistake and didn’t want to stop, so I waved out the window and shouted my thanks. They waved back; a bit more than I had expected. They were still waving when I turned the corner heading for home. Once they were out of sight, I started laughing and telling Jessie what had just happened. When she didn’t respond, I figured she had fallen asleep in the big pile of blankets with her brother. I pulled up to our house, unloaded the groceries then went out to retrieve my kids. Uh-oh, there was only one child there. Somehow, I had left Jessie behind.
Luckily, the bus started right back up and, sure enough, when I got back to the spot where the bus had originally stopped, there was Jessie hanging out with these guys and having a great time. They were very sweet and assured me that they not only understood it was just a simple mistake, but they had really enjoyed my daughter. Apparently, Jessie had climbed out when I was talking to them and followed them down the street, block after block. They knew I would be back, and she wasn’t worried at all. To Jessie, it was another grand adventure. To me, it was horrifying. After that, I always checked for both kids before driving away. Paul used to tease me about my paranoia, but he didn’t have the same experiences that I did. I had taught my kids to be independent and now had to suffer the consequences.
It was fun having the bus to drive for a while, but Amber needed her vehicle. It was time for her to figure out how to manage this car. One day, I left the kids with Paul and took her out for what was to be her last lesson. She was so timid about using the clutch, I wasn’t sure she would ever learn. I tried to get her to hold the car with the clutch on a slight slope before taking her on a bigger hill. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t get it. I even tried having her listen to the sound of the gears as a way of knowing when to shift. Finally, out of desperation and frustration, I stopped the bus at a stop sign on a steep hill and got out. Amber looked at me in horror. I hadn’t pulled over but stopped in the driving lane. As she rolled down the window, I told her that I was finished teaching her. It was time to sink or swim. At the rate she was going, she would never get her car home. I knew she could do it. Amber is one of the most capable people I’ve ever known, so I didn’t understand what the problem was. I started walking away. She called to me, but I didn’t even look back. A couple of cars honked their horns then went around her. She finally got into the driver’s seat and successfully pulled away without even a single buck. Luckily for me, she let me back in and took me home.
Then, on December 8th, 1980, I was listening to the radio and heard that John Lennon had been shot. I just sat down and cried. The year 1980 had been a rough one. There were still good things happening, especially on the musical front with the music changing and growing. Although we were still into The Grateful Dead, now I was listening to David Bowie, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Devo, and so many more. But it still felt as though my whole world was falling apart. Our neighbors on one side had moved away, and I missed them terribly. The neighbors on the other side were planning a move, too. The mountain was still spewing ash now and then, and we were entering our rainy season, which meant dismal depressing days where my kids went out to play in the mud day after day, unlike other places where they play in the snow during the winter. Paul was hating his job again and was probably going to walk out any day, as he so often did, leaving us even poorer than we already were. Politically and socially, things were taking a conservative turn for the worse. Ronald Reagan had won the presidential election in November. There was an Iran/Iraq war going on and Iranians were still holding fifty-two Americans hostage. Serial killings seemed commonplace, and now John Lennon was dead. It was time for a change. When the going got tough, Paul and I always got going … somewhere new. Our old neighbors had moved to the coast and had a friend nearby who was looking for someone to rent his house indefinitely for the same rent we were currently paying. although I would be sad to leave the house that my son was born in, it seemed like a no-brainer to us, and we started making our plans.
As the winter started coming to an end, Mt. St. Helens kept growing a bulge on her northwest side steadily, day by day. We watched all of the TV reports, read the newspapers and listened to the radio, waiting for the big day and hoping it wouldn’t be a disaster. The agency in charge of setting the red and blue zones for safety must have been bought off by the logging companies because the red zone, which prohibited anyone from being there, hugged the base on the northwest side of the mountain, the side with the rapidly growing bulge. The blue zone, allowing residents to remain but no tourists, hunters or other visitors, stretched widely on the south and east sides with almost no blue zone on the north side. It was pretty obvious to the rest of us that the mountain would probably blow out the bulge, but there were logging operations happening on the north side, and it seemed to be business first. Meanwhile, it continued to grow, and evacuations had begun. A few residents were evacuated, tourism was halted, but business went on as usual.
Then finally, the dreaded day came. The mountain erupted on the northwest side with a force 1600 times the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It created one of the largest landslides ever recorded, killing 57 people, most of whom were in the safety zone. It was a landslide composed of earth, rock, ice and gases surging at 300 miles per hour, devastating an area about six miles wide and 20 miles long. The landscape looked like a scene on the moon. The fallen, scorched timber flowed down into the Columbia River, clogging it up causing flooding and stopping all shipping in the area. Luckily for us, the ash blew east instead of devastating those of us in the city.
If we walked across the street to the neighbor’s yard, we could see the mountain. We would watch it regularly before and after the eruption. We could see the puffs of smoke and steam before the big blow and, after the big eruption, as it continued to have smaller ones, spewing varying amounts of ash, we would watch for the direction the ash was blowing. If it was blowing our way, we would run out to the store, stocking up on necessary supplies to last until the ashfall stopped.
The ash was composed of silica, which is like finely ground glass. It is the substance that causes Black Lung, the coal miner’s disease. If we went outside, we needed to wear protective face masks with special filters to block the ash from getting into our lungs. I even made a baby sized one for my young son, though we just didn’t go out unless absolutely necessary. After an eruption, if the ash had come our way, we would go out and hose it down, shoveling wet ash into garbage bags to be removed by the city. I remember feeling horrified at the numbers of children who were playing out in their yards with ash blowing all around them as they ran through the grass.
On June 12, 1980, we got a babysitter again and went to a Grateful Dead concert at the Portland Coliseum. Justin was doing a little better at being without me, though going out without kids was still a rare occurrence. As The Dead played an amazing version of “Fire on the Mountain” with a killer jam drum solo, the mountain erupted again. Here's a link to some sudio of that show. They finished up, and the bouncers shooed us out, all of us disgruntled at such a short show, because none of us realized what had happened. We swarmed out, many of us going to a neighborhood bar and seeing the notice posted saying, “Go home, the mountain has erupted with ash heading this way!” You couldn’t drive in those gray blizzards. The ash clogged your air filter and scraped your windshield if you tried running your wipers. It was also slicker than snow. Many Deadheads had no place to go, so we invited them home. That night, we had wall to wall Deadheads staying at our house. It was so much fun. We jammed all night long. Jessie was thrilled when she woke up in the morning to a house full of strangers. Justin was not so thrilled but always accepted the odd assortment of people who came through, as long as they left him alone.
Another time, I had arrived in downtown Portland, after having visited Amber on Mt. Adams, the next mountain over. The bus had run late, and I had spent the last of my money entertaining Jessie in the bus station with pinball and snacks. When we arrived in Portland, Paul was nowhere to be seen. He was supposed to pick us up from the bus station but had fallen asleep, and I didn’t even have money for a phone call. I decided to walk around outside with the kids, enjoying the rare sunshine. Suddenly, I noticed the gray ash falling from the sky. I was quite a distance from the bus station and didn’t have our masks with me. I was beginning to worry when a homeless man came up to me offering his spare change so that we could go to a nearby café. I started to decline, when another man came up with his change, then another and another. They reminded me that my children always gave them some of their lunch when we busked at the local street fair on Saturdays. This was their way of repaying us. I graciously accepted with tears in my eyes and a sense of relief and sadness as they settled themselves in a sheltered alley to ride out the storm. I called Paul then ordered some food while we waited.
We had survived the gloomy, rainy winter only to be faced with a gloomy, ashy summer. There were five smaller eruptions that summer, and Saturday Market wasn’t quite as much fun anymore with all of the dooms-dayers walking around the streets carrying signs about the end of the world and encouraging us all to repent. They assured us that the end was coming. It was an amazing experience to have lived through in spite of the inconveniences. We were never in any real danger and, hopefully, it was a once in a lifetime occurrence, but it was surreal, intense and frightening, nonetheless. I’m sorry that I never saved any of the ash and never got any photos of all of us wearing our masks. However, I do have many newspaper clippings from that time and found other photos to share.
We tried to go on with our lives as usual, working during the week and going to Saturday Market on weekends for some extra money and tons of fun, but it was always in the back of our minds that we might get stuck in an ashfall. The car that we had was already on its last legs, so we started looking around for something else. Meanwhile, Amber was visiting regularly. On one of those visits, she offered to stay with the kids while Paul and I went to the market for our regular busking gig. There were always people there trying to give away puppies or kittens. This day was no different. Jessie had been asking for a kitten for a long time. We still had Leon, but he was not a kitten. He was a surly Tom and not the cuddliest cat, although he was very tolerant of Justin pulling on him and Jessie carrying him around. This Saturday, there was a homeless man with a box of calico kittens, and I fell in love with one of them. When Amber brought the kids to pick us up, the kitten poked her head up out of my shirt where she was all snuggled up. I still remember the look on Jessie’s face when she saw that little mottled face peeking out. She named her Autumn. Leon accepted her easily, and she became a big part of our family. We also had a little white puppy.
I was enjoying being a stay-at-home mom for the most part, but it was incredibly hard work, especially because I was also working at home giving music lessons, doing childcare and any odd jobs I could find. The puppy, Cola, a small white mixed breed, had been an impulse buy. We saw her at a pet store, felt sorry for her and fell in love … until we started living with her. She was not well-behaved at all. I’ve always been great with pets, training them easily and establishing myself as the dominant one. This puppy was a challenge. She refused to be housetrained and would often wait until she came back indoors to go to the bathroom. She even went in a crate, which is unheard of. She didn’t follow simple commands and was snippy. She was very unpredictable, snarling at things we couldn’t see, going wild, biting furniture for no apparent reason and more. She got plenty of exercise, was fed well and well-cared for, but nothing seemed to help. I even took her to a vet thinking that maybe there was something seriously wrong. The vet didn’t have much to say except that she had an eccentric personality and maybe wasn’t suited for a family with young children. I had to constantly keep an eye on her and was at my wits end.
One day, while both kids were napping, I decided to rearrange the living room. We had a fish tank that had nothing but dozens of snails. It had fish at one time, but they all died, and the snails just kept procreating until the tank was filled with them. Of course, the kids thought that was great, so we kept them. I worked for hours moving furniture and even put up a new shelf that held our National Geographic magazines and the fish tank. As I went to sit down to enjoy my last few minutes of peace and quiet before the kids woke up, I heard Justin start to stir, so I turned to go into his room when the new shelf behind me crashed to the ground sending water, magazines and snails everywhere. At the same time, Cola decided to defecate in multiple places on the floor. I was exhausted, stressed out from dealing with the erupting mountain, this deranged dog and Paul’s escalating anger, and I completely lost it, sinking to the floor in tears. Just then, my friend Debbie walked in. Thankfully, she swept into action, going first to the kids who had both woken up then helping me with the mess. Cola soon went to another home. I just couldn’t deal with so much at once. Our idyllic scene was starting to come apart at the seams. It was time to start thinking about relocating again.
We were feeling quite settled in Portland. Jessie was loving kindergarten, and living right on a main bus route made life pretty easy. I took the kids to the library at least once a week, went to Saturday Market every weekend, had settled into my childcare routine, and we were making new friends. However, I missed Amber. We had left Husum, where she lived with her boyfriend on bad terms and hadn’t spoken since. During that time, we had moved to the city from the mountains, I’d had a second child, and Paul’s father had died. After a little searching, I found her again. She and Michael had split up, so now she was a single parent with no support from him and little contact. Like all of us who survived a rough childhood, she is a survivor and has always bounced back. When you go through trauma in your early years, you have two choices. You can give in to the hopelessness and give up, or you can fight like hell to stay on your feet. When you decide to fight, the fights don’t necessarily get easier, but you get better at facing them.
She was bouncing around to different locations trying to juggle a small child with working, washing vehicles, working potato fields, fruit orchards, whatever she could find to make an income. She did most of that work with her daughter on her back. Luckily, she didn’t need or desire a lot. I don’t remember who contacted who first, but it didn’t take long for us to be back to our old sense of camaraderie. She soon met our neighbors. In addition to the ones on our little enclave, we had befriended the folks who lived across the street, Rick, Renee and Chelsea. Chelsea and Jessie bonded over having eaten a bottle of Flintstones vitamins at Rick and Renee’s one day. Jessie had a taste for exotic foods.
She also came home one day from a different set of neighbor’s houses, bouncing into the room and off the walls. She was talking so fast; I could barely catch a word of what she said. Then, I realized that she was telling me about something wonderful she had sampled next door. In rushed Baird, the eight-year old neighbor boy with a bag of whatever they had been eating. At the same moment, Jessie pulled something out of her pocket and was ready to pop it into her mouth when I caught her hand, pried it loose and found coffee beans. I immediately emptied all pockets from both of them and returned what was left in the bag and their errant child. I actually loved Baird, though he was very wild. He was, like me, a free spirit with a flexible sense of right and wrong. Patty was his stepmother, younger than his artistic father Jim. Shard was the oldest of the two boys at age ten and was pretty reliable. We got quite close to them during the time we lived there until they moved to the coast. Even after that, we visited and eventually moved there, too.
Amber and I visited back and forth, though usually, she came to us. We had plenty of room, and she usually lived in cramped quarters, big enough for the two of them but three more people didn’t usually work out. One day, I really needed a break from Paul. He was another of those traumatized youths and often got caught up in his anger. Having grown up in an angry household with loud, vicious arguing and corporal punishment for my me and my brother, I could only take so much of Paul’s outbursts, which were getting more and more frequent and intense. So, I decided to take a greyhound bus to Washington to visit Amber. She had moved into a school bus in the same general area she’d been living in on Mount Adams. School buses were all the rage, and there was such variety in the designs and decor. Her bus had a bed for herself in the back and a smaller one for her young daughter over one of the wheel wells. It also had a small table and chairs for eating at, a small propane stove with a tiny oven, another smaller table with a lamp and an adult-sized rocker on one side and a child-sized rocker on the other. There was also a hanging closet, storage underneath Amber’s bed and a porta-potty. She always stayed on someone’s land and was able to plug in a refrigerator outside of their house. Later on, she got a woodstove for this uninsulated bus. She had all of the essentials. Even later, the US Government deemed her school bus a viable residence, in the same category as a house, and insulated it incredibly well. It was part of the Crude Oil Windfall Profits Tax Act that was voted in because of the rising energy prices throughout the 1970s. They even insulated her windows, which were just wooden slats that folded down like venetian blinds, by applying insulating foam. She lost a couple of inches on the windows and along the insides, but the bus was definitely well insulated.
Amber wanted to take me out to the local tavern for some “r & r” and a break from our kids. I was concerned about childcare, explaining that Justin still didn’t relish being away from me, especially with strangers. She told me that she left Harvest in the bus when she went out at night. She always checked with the couple in the house first to make sure they could just keep an eye and ear open for any issues. I didn’t really like the idea. My kids were visiting this place for the first time and didn’t know their way around. Amber assured me that it was a short walk to the house and coached Jessie through it. Jessie, who always wanted to play mom, was excited about the prospect. Justin was about fourteen months old, and Jessie was five and a half. I still didn’t like the idea. Amber kept pushing and finally agreed to not leave the kerosene lamp burning as a safety precaution.
Every parent makes their share of mistakes when raising their children. Often, we don’t realize until later in life what those were, especially when our children insist on telling us about them. However, some mistakes are apparent immediately afterwards. Luckily for me, those mistakes have usually not had dire consequences, although they certainly could have. I have to admit that it was a much-needed break. There were new people to meet, music and dancing. I didn’t drink much. After my early drinking days, I was never much of a drinker. I always preferred smoking and still do. After about an hour or so, I was starting to get that uncomfortable itch again. Something was wrong. Sure enough, the bartender called us over to take a phone call. Justin had woken up, climbed over his sister, without waking her and was found wandering around the perimeter of the forest, crying. The woman holding him when we returned was understandably upset, and so was I. This was not the first time he had a close call, so I should have known better, but this was the only time I was irresponsibly the cause.
The first time, he escaped from our house. He was always trying to go somewhere. Jessie was my talker and thinker. Justin was my adventurer. He didn’t seem to have a good sense of danger. He was constantly experimenting and exploring. He was also like Harry Houdini. He could get out of any restraint and sneak out of sight in a second. There were no covers for doorknobs like there are now, and he could open any door and was working on learning the locks. He learned to climb out of a playpen quickly. Finally, in desperation, I hung bells from all of the doors in the house and put bells on his shoes to try to keep track of him. As long as I could hear the sound of the bells on his shoes when he was on the move, I knew he was safe. The bells on the door were bigger and made a different sound.
One day, I left the two kids sitting quietly in the living room reading books while I folded laundry in my bedroom while Paul napped on the couch. Justin was not yet a year old and was not walking steadily, yet. After a little while, Jessie came in and started to help sort socks. Justin hadn’t followed her in as he usually did, and I noticed that I didn’t hear the sound of bells. Quickly, I went to investigate and found his belled shoes on the floor. I wasn’t too worried because I would have heard the sound of the doors opening if he’d gone outside. I woke Paul to help look for him. As we all searched the house, we heard the screech of brakes from the main road, car horns and then the sound of my child screaming. Paul dashed outside and up the hill to find Justin in the arms of a stranger who had parked her car sideways across the street blocking traffic. She’d seen him wobbling in the middle of the road and, thankfully swung into action. She saved his life! Upon investigation, we discovered that he had removed his shoes, pushed a kitchen chair against the side wall, climbed out of the window, dropping down into a big bush (we could see the indentation), crawled to the front yard, across the dirt road and up the steep hill covered with berry bushes (yes, he was covered in little scratches) and into the main four-lane road.
I learned a lot from my earlier mistakes but sadly didn’t stop making them. Meanwhile, there were rumblings on Mount St. Helens as it started to grow a bulge on one side. Amber and I had picked wild blueberries on the mountainside, watching out for bears, of course. We talked about hiking through the old lava tubes but never actually did it. We knew it was an active volcano, but it was a popular place to go, and many of the mountains were, and still are, active in that range. Mount Adams was the next Cascade Mountain over, right along the Columbia River. There were massive logging operations on Mount Saint Helens, on the same side as the bulge. We had met some loggers when visiting Amber and played music at parties in the area. We could see the mountain and its ice cream cone shaped snowcap from many locations around the city including Rick and Renee’s front yard, across the street from us. We’d never had any experience with volcanos before so we had no idea what, if any, repercussions an eruption would have, but we started watching the news carefully.
At that time in my life, my life was once again filled with music. We continued to play at Saturday Market every weekend, sometimes both Saturday and Sunday. One day we were doing our usual thing when a TV crew came by. They were from Sapporo, Japan which is a sister city of Portland. They were filming a segment on the arts scene and wanted to know if they could film a couple of songs. Of course, we agreed and continued on with our planned set. We did some Joni Mitchell, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, and even threw in some jazz and blues. Now, it was time for some Grateful Dead, Mr. Charlie, Tennessee Jed, Cumberland Blues… We went right into “Trucking,” one of our theme songs at the time, by the Grateful Dead. The camera crew started smiling and zoomed in on the line “living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine.” We later met a fellow traveler while living along the coast who recognized us from a television segment he’d seen in Japan. He told us that was why he remembered us so vividly. It was because they’d included that closeup scene in the final product.
We met lots of musicians both at the market and through Paul’s job as a cook. I’ve discovered early in my adult life that lots of musicians work in food service, which is a little strange considering the fact that many of them are pretty spaced out, and the work usually involves sharp knives. But many of them came over to jam when they weren’t dealing with injuries. One of them was Tim, who played the flute. I’ve always loved the sound of a flute and would love to learn to play it well. My meeting with him for the first time was another of my most embarrassing moments. Paul had told me that Tim would probably arrive a little before Paul got home and that I should be on the lookout for him.
In the late afternoon, I saw a long-haired fellow carrying a small instrument case coming down the road and decided to walk out to meet him. I went to the door carrying my baby, who had fallen asleep on me. I had him in front of me against my chest, trying not to wake him until I could set him in his crib. I couldn’t really see where I was walking and headed straight out the front door toward the porch stairs. As I took that first step and started falling forward, I suddenly realized that the stairs didn’t line up with the door but were slightly to the side, an obvious engineering flaw. I managed to save my child, landing on my elbows, and quickly roll over, just a little dazed. Justin was still fast asleep. Looking up into the concerned eyes of our new friend, I asked if he could give me a hand. I assured him I was fine. It was just another day for me. I’ve always been clumsy and figured that if my friends remained my friends after witnessing my many mishaps, they must be true friends. Many of them were also as freewheeling as we were and didn’t stay in one place for too long. Tim was no different. He turned out to be a good friend and a fun musician who fit in with our music well, but in a few months, he was off to his next adventure.
“Bongo Bob” was another work contact. He was a percussionist who was married to a very jealous woman named Judy. Judy hated him spending time away from her and insisted on coming with him whenever he came over to jam, which was usually two times a week or more. She sat glaring at us most of the time, rarely spoke, although I tried hard to engage her. After a while, Bob started coming only once a week. Finally, after a few songs, Judy would start pestering him to leave. Eventually, he would sign and say, “Okay, one more song.” That was the point at which Paul and I became expert at throwing in segues. That “one more song” would turn into three, four, five or more as we kept going from one right into the next, much to Judy’s chagrin. She soon caught on though, and pretty soon, “Bongo Bob” was not allowed to play with us anymore. I guess we were a bad influence.
There was also a couple we spent quite a bit of time with, Pam and Bill. Pam loved hanging out with our kids. Justin was always very wary, radically and loudly preferring me over anyone else, except sometimes his sister. I was getting burnt out fast and Pam could see that. They offered to babysit so that we could go to an outdoor all-day concert. I wasn’t so sure about it. It would be a long time for a 5-month old who had was already very clingy. Pam had experience with children, and Bill was onboard. Jessie was excited to have a whole day with these fun friends, so I reluctantly agreed. I left plenty of milk, and he already drank water and herbal tea from a bottle. They would be fine, or so I thought. It was June 30th, 1979. On the bill were The Grateful Dead, McGuinn, Clark & Hillman and David Bromberg. Doors opened at 10 am.
The Dead’s set list was: Jack Straw, Candyman, Me and My Uncle, Big River, Tennessee Jed, Looks Like Rain, Deal, I Need a Miracle, Bertha, Good Lovin’, Friend of the Devil, Estimated Prophet, He’s Gone, and by then we were pretty gone, Drums and Space, The Other One, Wharf Rat, Sugar Magnolia and One More Saturday Night. I didn’t remember all of these, only a few. I looked the rest up online. I was never much of an archivist. I remember a little of Bromberg’s set, too. He played I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning, Bojangles and Main Street Moan, and plenty more. I danced and partied all day long. I didn’t realize until I arrived how much I needed this day.
We had a great time. The music was awesome, the crowd was friendly as always, and it was a beautiful day. But, all day long, I had a nagging feeling. This was before the days of cell phones, so there was no reliable way to reach us short of a serious emergency. Even then, it wouldn’t be easy. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer and found security. I explained the situation, admitting that I didn’t actually know that there was something wrong, it was just a strong feeling, maybe mother’s instinct. I asked if there was any way I could use a phone. How could they say no? When I finally got through to our house phone, I could hear Justin screaming in the background. Bill insisted that all was well. Justin was a little fussy, but they could handle it. Pam was getting his bottle now. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to the show, but I never lost that uncomfortable feeling that something was wrong.
At the end of the day, refreshed, recharged and floating on air from not only the incredible music but also the break from parenting, we returned to a screaming baby, a crying caregiver and her frazzled boyfriend. Apparently, Justin started crying as soon as we walked out the door and, other than falling asleep briefly from pure exhaustion, had cried all day. He didn’t drink any of the milk I had left but immediately stopped crying as soon as he was back in my arms. When I asked Bill why he hadn’t told me when I called, he said that they could see how stressed out we both were trying to parent in addition to work and music without any support from family and friends. They wanted to give us a much-needed break. I appreciated it, and it did help me cope, but Justin became even more attached to me after that, even as he got older. That day was just a taste of what was to come. Jessie was also upset because she'd basically spent the day entertaining herself in a very loud environment. Pam and Bill offered to spend a day just with her, so it worked out even better. And, of course they took her out of the house on her own adventure.
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.