Settling In Upstate New York
Living in New York State was a rough adjustment for all of us. My husband, Paul had a tough time finding work, and I was still a stay-at-home parent for our then 3-year old son and 7-year old daughter. In the past, I'd always found work here and there to help out, music lessons, childcare, crafting piece work, whatever I could find, but it was harder here because we didn’t know anyone yet except my family. I was still nursing my son and got lots of dirty looks if I did it in public. Even in my parents’ house. My dad actually told me I should go into the bathroom to nurse, to which I replied that I thought he should eat his dinner in the bathroom. My kids had been raised in an alternative lifestyle, and I wasn’t meeting like-minded people. My family were all very conservative, and we had never gotten along well. I was beginning to worry that we had made the wrong decision.
We were also struggling with meeting musicians. We had always arrived in a new town and gone to the local clubs, making contacts in the music scene. That usually led to shared gigs, to help us settle in, and lots of new friends who invited us to parties and jams. Albany was different. Everyone was very guarded and exclusive. We finally went to Rok Against Reaganomics concert in Washington Park and met the organizers, informing them about our anti-Reaganomics song “No Free Lunch.” They fit us into the schedule, and we finally met other musicians and lots of new friends.
While still in East Greenbush, I signed the kids up for free swimming lessons that summer at the East Greenbush town park. I thought I could meet other moms there. I sat there week after week being ignored by the suburban mothers until one day a single woman came up to me and asked if the “hippie van” was mine. She had noticed the curtains in the windows. I replied that it was, and we took a smoking break in the van while the kids were in their lessons. Linda became a good friend and helped me acclimate to this new seemingly hostile environment.
We stayed in my parents’ basement in East Greenbush, NY for a few months then finally found our own apartment in the south end of Albany. It was a three-bedroom apartment on Green Street near the projects and bordering the ghetto. We were told that there were no pets allowed but, after looking for months for a place we could afford and being sick of living with my parents, we weren't going to turn this apartment down. But, we also couldn't leave our cat out of our lives. She had traveled 3000 miles cross-country with us after all, so we decided to try to sneak her in. It worked for a while, but we were finally found out and given notice unless we got rid of her. We didn't know very many people yet but had a young lead guitar player who offered to keep her until we could take her back. Stupidly, we trusted him. He kept assuring us that she was doing well. Then, many months later, we found out that he had given her to an old woman in his neighboirhood who had fallen in love with her. This broke Jessie's heart, and we never really forgave him. We tried to get her back, but the woman had moved away to parts unknown.
I soon went looking at the neighborhood school. Upon visiting, I was told that I had nothing to worry about as they were going to search the Elementary School students for weapons upon entering each morning. Yikes! This was not the school I was looking for. I finally met someone who told me about The Albany Free School, which was also in the neighborhood, so I went to visit there. I had experience with other alternative schools on the west coast and was very open to the idea of sending my children to this one. It seemed like a good fit, and I started volunteering there in the fall as my daughter started school. I ended up teaching there for 12 years in various roles.
In addition to our grown-up struggles, our kids also needed to learn how to navigate this new place. The day after we moved in, the neighborhood kids came running up the stairs to tell me that my son was peeing on the sidewalk. He was used to peeing in our backyard, which we didn’t have now, and had to learn to come inside. He had a lot of accidents for the next month or so. The first week we were in our apartment, Jessie’s bike was stolen. A boy had asked if he could ride her bike then never came back. Ugh! We reported it and were visited by the neighborhood cop who made sure to tell us where all the drug dealers were so we could avoid them. He also told us not to bother reporting these minor incidents. We had never really lived in a city before and were learning a lot. Paul thanked him and, after he left, Paul went out for a walk to the areas we had been warned about. We were getting to know the area and the people, making contacts and figuring out how to survive and hopefully to thrive.
Once I found The Free School, I found the local food co-op and more. Although, Albany was still a bit behind the west coast in alternatives, such as home birthing and natural healing, I had finally found my community of like-minded people, and it only grew from there. We joined the Rok Against Reaganomics committee and started putting on shows at the local clubs and the big annual event in the park. We were welcomed by local musicians and had a social life that included our children who often came to shows. Our first band was “Cosmo Rock” and was like another family. Our drummer and bass player both had families of their own with kids our kids’ ages. It was a lot of fun. The next band was “General Eclectic,” a name that stuck with us for many years to come. This band had many different incarnations with players coming and going. Sometimes it was just the two of us, other times we had up to six members. Jessie loved the social aspect of the shows and rehearsals. Justin was still quite young and often crawled under a table with a pillow and blanket to sleep through it all. He was always very smart about finding an out-of-the-way spot where no one would trip over or step on him.
Although Jessie was struggling with making friends, she came to us and declared that she wasn’t moving again. She wanted to stay in New York and would stay with her grandparents if necessary. She was tired of having to start over every year or so and yearned to plant roots. Although it was not an easy decision for two adventure-seeking tumbleweeds, Paul and I agreed to stay … and we did. We moved out to the country at one point but stayed in the general area. It's been hard sometimes to stay put, but in the long run, I'm glad. I like it here.