We found a rental at a trailer park in Beaver, Oregon and had to downsize quite a bit. We were always flexible and quickly figured out how to make do with a much smaller residence and a tiny fenced in yard. We were still in the same area with the same community, and we had a reliable babysitter right next door. However, Jessie did have to change schools. This was a little bigger school than the one in Hebo and less personal. The first big change was that they didn’t believe in letting the kids move up a grade for certain subjects that they excelled in. The second one was asking me to sign a waiver giving them permission to spank my child if necessary. What?! No! It amazed me how hard they tried to convince me of this necessity. I was ready to pull her out and homeschool her when they finally (reluctantly) relented.
Then, one day Jessie brought a permission slip home from school for me to sign. It was permission to join the “Good News Club” which would be meeting during school hours. Good news sounded okay to me. Paul and I talked it over and couldn’t see any harm in it. Of course, there was no description sent with the slip, so we had no idea that it was a religious club. Jessie would come home talking about how much fun she had and never mentioned any religion until one day when she brought home another permission slip. This one was asking our permission to let her sign her soul to God. That was the end of the Good News Club. She was unhappy about it, but Paul and I had both been raised Catholic, were not religious now and had agreed long before this to teach her about all religions and let her choose for herself when she was older.
Although Paul and I didn’t practice any organized religion, we were very spiritual and believed in the connection of all things in the universe. We also believed in the power of our minds to change the course of things. One example of this was when we had taken our VW bus to a remote beach that was only accessible during low tide. We lost track of the time and suddenly noticed that the tide was coming in. We hauled the kids back into the car quickly but realized we were running out of room for a running start up the steep hill. After trying three or four times to make it up the hill only to have the tires spin out in the sand and the bus roll back down onto the beach, Paul decided that we should try something different. He very solemnly explained that we were all going to hold hands and concentrate very hard on getting the bus up the hill. The water was almost up to the back wheels by this time. We’d run out of room for a running start and certainly were running out of time. We knew this was our last chance. He counted to three, and we all concentrated on moving the bus. I could even hear us humming. We very slowly and smoothly rode up to the road with no spinning at all. Even Paul, the biggest believer of all, was astonished. We were sure that was the end of our vehicle.
In spite of the changes we were undergoing, we still loved the area and our friends. There was always something to do, lots of potlucks and music jamming with many alternatives around as well. One day, a friend told us about an event happening that afternoon in a big open field nearby. It was a traveling Chautauqua. Paul was at work that day, so I packed up the kids and went. A Chautauqua is a traveling show that combined education with entertainment. The very first one was held in Chautauqua, NY in 1874. The tradition was revived by Patch Adams and The Flying Karamazov Brothers in 1981. They arrived in a hippie school bus and entertained the crowds while teaching self-health. At this one, The Flying Karamazov Brothers entertained the crowd with their band and unbelievable juggling tricks. In between acts, Patch Adams talked about how to take care of your teeth by demonstrating flossing technique with two large dancing teeth and a big piece of rope. He did other things, but that’s what I remember most about him, this big goofy clown dancing around and tripping over his big clown feet while flossing between these two people dressed up as teeth.
Ken Kesey was there and, I found out within the last 10 or so years, so was a current friend of mine who was traveling with those folks in his youth. Kesey was not the friendliest guy, but everyone else was very cool and welcoming. The high point for Jessie was Lancelot, the unicorn. A couple of hippies had bred goats until they finally got one with a horn in the middle of its forehead and the silkiest curly mane and tail that I’d ever felt. They bred a few more later, but Lancelot was the first. It was a real live unicorn, and Jessie was awed! Unfortunately, like so much from those crazy days, I don’t remember many of the details, but that was an amazing day. Many years later, when I was living in Albany and part of Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, we got to open for Patch Adams at an alternative education conference. I also ran into one of the original Karamazov Brothers at The Oregon Country Fair in 2014, after living in upstate New York since 1982. We enjoyed a waffle breakfast together, then I went to see him juggle again at one of the entertainment sites. It amazes me, in writing these memoirs, how much living we packed into a relatively short amount of time and how the same people keep popping up no matter where I go.
However, as much as we loved the area, our stay there was not as long lasting as we’d hoped. Paul lost another job, the unemployment rate in Oregon was skyrocketing and we had just gotten a large tax return. It was time to think about a new plan. The trailer park was okay, but not ideal. We missed having a large yard and a little more privacy. A few other things came into play right around that same time. One was that our son Justin had developed a recurring rash on his back that just wouldn’t quit. Every doctor I spoke to told me the same thing. It was a fungus, similar to athlete’s foot that was caused by the wet environment. I could keep treating it with an antifungal cream, but the best solution was to move to a drier place. Our babysitter’s mother had been encouraging us to move to upstate New York for our music. She told us about Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York and said that our music would fit right in there. We also met a new friend, Carlos, whose parents lived out there and were part of a group called the PSG (Pickin’, Singing, and Gathering). He encouraged us to go look them up. Coincidentally, my parents had recently moved to East Greenbush, New York for my dad’s new job at The Troy Record, the local newspaper and were also pushing us to relocate there. We could stay in their basement as long as we needed.
Paul and I always lived our lives listening to and watching for signs that come along to show us the way. It sure looked like the signs were pointing us to the Albany area. Growing up in Southwestern Connecticut, we always thought of New York as the metropolitan area of New York City. I had gone camping once in the Adirondacks as a teenager but otherwise only knew the Big Apple and bits of Long Island. But it was time for a move and going there would be a new adventure with a place to land until we could find work and our own place. We already had our VW bus and knew how to pack well, so we started that process. We threw a farewell Open Mic, packed up our VW and went to say goodbye to our good friends, Jim and Patty. Jim came by to see us off the next day, walked up and handed me a jar of old barn nails of varying sizes. Jim is an eccentric and a kind of gypsy. He’s an amazing artist and writer. He has always lived an unusual life as did we, and I greatly admired him. He was older than us and had been around, taking his bumps along the way. As I took them, he said, “You never know what you’ll need on the road.” I agreed and put them in our toolbox, knowing that somehow, at some time, they would come in handy. I had tears in my eyes as we left our beautiful Shangri-La. This was the hardest leave taking so far, but we were headed for new adventures which always cheered me up.
Paul was always one for “bad” jokes and puns, so he started telling at least one joke a week. It was an immensely popular segment of the show. Most of them were real groaners. After a year of hearing these jokes week after week, folks started getting tired of it and came asking me to do something about it. It was around the same time that Aron Kay and other yippies were pieing political figures such as William Buckley, Phyliss Schlafly, G. Gordon Liddy and many others. They even pied Andy Warhol because he had dinner with the Shah of Iran. Every pie's flavor was chosen on purpose. Paul really admired the yippies for doing that, so I decided to give the “bad joke of the week” segment a big ending. I had already pleaded with him and knew that Paul would never willingly give it up. One week, I came up with a plan to pie him in the face after his joke. I chose whipped cream because it reminded me of the old comic routines with cream pies. Later on, a friend, Clinton, suggested that shaving cream is a kinder way to do it, but at the time all I knew was whipped cream. As he told his joke, I filled up a pie pan with whipped cream and waited … and waited … and waited, while he told more and more jokes. He usually only told one, maybe two, but this night, he went on and on. The crowd was getting antsy, and the whipped cream was melting. Because I was holding the “pie” in the back of the room, I couldn’t go up and give him the hook. When he finally finished, I hit him with this pie pan full of half liquid cream. Sploosh! The crowd loved it. Paul was shocked but had always been a good sport and, that was the end of “bad joke of the week.” It was fun while it lasted but everything must end sometime, and even Paul had to admit that this was a great ending.
We met a lot of interesting characters at these Open Mics. One man we met there was a songwriter named Mitt. He was not a hippie. He was a local and was very conservative. He had a connection with a local radio station in Tillamook and hired us to record one of his songs in multiple harmonies. There were six of us on that recording. It was my first experience in a recording studio and my first time hearing myself on the radio. I was hooked. One day, he came to the house to jam and met our kids for the first time. At that time, Jessie loved to dress her brother up in her old dresses. She even had a name for him in drag. She called him “Rubessa.” He enjoyed it too, probably because of all the attention he was getting from his sister, and we saw no harm in it. That day, he was wearing a frouffy, lacy dress, toddling around without anything on underneath because he was potty training. I always found it easier to teach my kids to use a potty when it was easily accessible, so they had a potty where they could see it, not hidden away in the bathroom, and didn’t wear training pants. It worked very well for all of my kids. This was well before they started making disposable training pants, which in my opinion are too much like diapers to be highly effective. The kids were playing around us as we jammed, dancing and listening to the music when Justin fell, and his dress flew up around his face. The look on Mitt’s face, as he realized that we didn’t have two daughters, was priceless.
We also met a woman flutist, Marla, who lived on a farm with her boyfriend Tom. One Easter, we were invited to an egg hunt at their farm. Most of the eggs were in the barn, so off we went with a whole troupe of friends to find them. Jessie decided that she needed to use the bathroom, so we left the group and started walking back to the house when we were suddenly attacked by their flock of geese. They surrounded us and started trying to bite our legs. Justin was still small, so I scooped him up while holding on to Jessie and kicking at the geese. Finally, another adult came out to help us, and we made it to the house. Jessie’s memory is that I picked her brother up and left her to the strong beaks of those geese. She still reminds me of that. In reality, I was trying to protect both children and could only lift one of them, but we all remember things in our own ways. Another incident at that farm happened when we arrived one time for a visit. They had horses, so there was a metal gate that had to be opened to drive through. Jessie loved being a “big girl” and opening the gate for me. This one day however, there was a curious horse that strolled over as she opened the gate. It startled her, and she screamed, scaring the horse and sending it galloping down the road. Tom came running out and chased the horse almost all the way to the highway before he finally caught him.
Of course, our friends, Patty and Jim were living there as well. They were the reason we ended up moving there in the first place. Although they didn’t have a farm, they also raised animals and gardened. They bought a lamb, who they named “Buck Burger” as a way of letting the kids know that this would someday be food. They were all cautioned not to play with the lamb for that reason. Predictably, they didn’t listen and played, not only with the lamb, but with the baby rabbits, too. We would chase them away, and as soon as our backs were turned, they’d go right back. Nothing could keep them away from these cute little babies. One day there was an unusual heat wave, and all the baby rabbits died. We were invited to a delicious dinner that night. Jessie raved about how good the food was and wanted to know what we were having. When Jim told her that we were eating Buck Burger and rabbit, she cried and never ate meat again. It was a hard lesson but one that farm kids have to learn. She was obviously not destined to live on a farm.
Another man we met was a stand-up bass player named David. He had one of the longest beards I’d seen and braided it in creative ways. He was a gentle giant, and Jessie was fascinated by him. He often joined us in our sets at the café. He was one of the few friends who didn’t have children of his own. David introduced us to an older man who had landscaped his yard as a fantastical playland for kids and adults. There was a rope swing that went out over a deep pond, gardens with fun decorations, play structures for all ages and unusual trails. Looking back on it now, I realize how much of an inspiration that was for my own landscaping.
There were lots of couples with kids including one couple who worked on a dairy farm and a pot farmer and his partner who had recently had a child. This man grew square plots of marijuana scattered throughout the National Forest which bordered his home. Every square was kept separate and pollinated by hand with every one of them being a different strain. He often hired his friends to help out in the fields and paid us with any branch we would like to cut. I often babysat for his child and was also paid in weed. He had studied the genetics, creating his own strains very scientifically. He eventually made enough money to pay all of his tuition for medical school, much like our friend in San Francisco who raised her tuition for art school by being an upscale call girl. That year, one day right around harvest time, he heard a knock on his door. When he answered it, he saw a man from the Forest Service in his uniform. He admitted later that he was a little worried. The Forest Service official told him that he had received an order to fly the planes over that part of the forest the following day. He wanted to warn him so that he could get his friends together to do the harvesting immediately. A bunch of people worked all afternoon and almost until the morning getting all of the plants in before the fly by. I always thought that was such a nice service.
We had finally landed in a community with like-minded people, many of whom had kids that befriended our own kids. I soon found out about an alternative school that was there. This was the second time I’d heard about alternative education, the first being in San Francisco in the artist community we were in briefly. As you’ll find out later when I make the move to Albany, New York, the third time was the charm. There was so much that I could relate to, that inspired me and influenced my life for many years to come. However, like many things, it wouldn’t last for us. We soon got word that our landlord had found himself earlier than expected and was coming back home. We had a month to move out. In all fairness, he had offered to let us stay there with him as long as it took to get a place. He soon found himself fending off well intentioned travelers who had gotten the word about our hippie bed and breakfast. I guess that went on for years, much to his chagrin. Although, I’ve heard that he had a good laugh about it.
One of the many visitors we had while living in Hebo was our old friend Clinton. Clinton is the juggler who had lived in our backyard in Portland and who became a good friend. After his year off traveling by thumb around the country, he went back to Yale to finish his degree in Geology. We had kept in touch and knew we would see him again eventually, probably that summer. However, with nomads, you could never really count on anything. He showed up on one of the most terrible days, a day full of surprises.
That day, I had taken the kids to the little school playground less than a block away from our house. We went there often, having no play structures in our own yard. There were even woods behind the school where we would often gather wild foods for our meals. The playground was usually empty but not that day. This time, we were sharing it with an older man and his granddaughter. As I’ve said before, Justin was a daredevil. There was no holding him back, and he loved slides. This playground had a rather tall metal slide, so I would always go up the ladder behind him, making sure he was safely seated at the top then go around to the front and catch him as he slid down. We’d been doing this successfully for weeks, and he always waited for me to say “Go!”
This time, he waited for me then started down the slide putting his sneakered feet out to the sides to slow himself down when suddenly, he flipped over the side, still near the top, landing on his head on the blacktop below. I lunged for him and managed to grab the tip of his sneaker as he hit with a loud crack. I was horrified and wanted to scoop him up immediately, however my mother was an RN, and I knew that I shouldn’t move him. I knelt down next to him checking to see if he was conscious and trying to assess how hurt he was. He wasn’t crying, which scared me. Meanwhile, the only other adult at the playground, the grandfather, came running over and started screaming at me. “What kind of a mother are you? Why don’t you pick your child up?” I managed to block out everything except my son and kept whispering to him as he started focusing on me. Eventually, he moved of his own accord and started sitting up, still dazed. Once he sat up, I did scoop him up, grabbed Jessie’s hand and started running for home. As we entered the driveway, Justin threw up all over me. I knew we had to take him to the hospital.
Paul came running out and, when he saw Justin bleeding and vomiting, also started yelling at me. He wanted to know what I had done to our son. Once again, I bit my tongue and ignored him, walking into the house to clean up and grab the car keys. I was greeted by Clinton and an old friend of his from their home state of New Jersey. My first thought was, “what a bad time for a visit.” Then I realized that they could stay home with Jessie while Paul and I made the trip to Tillamook to the closest hospital. Luckily, when Clinton saw what was happening, he took Paul aside and talked him down then sat with Justin while I changed into clean clothes. Within minutes we were on the road, headed to the Emergency Room.
The hospital was a rinky-dink little facility that didn’t really instill much confidence in me, but we had no other choice. They checked us in fairly quickly and led us to the X-ray room. Once there, they had me lay Justin down on the table and handed me a lead vest to wear so I could stay in the room with him. When I asked where Justin’s protection was, they answered that they didn’t have any child-sized vests and actually only had that one. After freaking out at them for their incompetence, I promptly took it off and draped it over my small child. They didn’t like it, but I guess they knew enough not to argue with a mama bear. It was all starting to hit me now and, with everything that had happened so far, including being screamed at by two different men earlier, I was not to be trifled with. Miraculously, there was no fracture, but he did have a concussion. They wanted to keep him overnight, but I refused. I didn’t trust this place to keep him safe, and it was at least a half hour away. They gave me directions to wake him every hour and ask him simple questions to be sure he was okay. He was already very drowsy and would probably sleep in between.
We finally got home well after dark to find dinner waiting for us. Thank-you, Clinton. Jessie was all ready for bed but had insisted on waiting up for us. I settled Justin, set an alarm for an hour, put Jessie to bed and ate some dinner. An hour had gone by already, and it was time to wake Justin. He barely woke up but did answer everything falling back into a deep sleep immediately. I set another alarm and exhausted, sunk into our recliner hoping to nap, when I suddenly heard a distressed meowing from behind my chair. Our cat was struggling with having her kittens and needed assistance. Everyone else had gone to bed already, so I stayed up all night long delivering kittens and waking Justin hourly. Justin recovered quickly and was back to his old self of climbing high things, trying to escape whenever he could and taking ridiculous risks. The ironic thing about this accident was that it wasn’t really a risky thing or shouldn’t have been. I realized later that the rubber on the side of his sneaker had stuck to the side of that metal slide and had flipped him over. Ever since then, I have cautioned parents at various playgrounds about that danger. I even saw it almost happen again with another kid years later. Luckily, that child pulled his foot back in before actually going over the edge.
The next day, I got a formal introduction to Vernon, the friend that Clinton had brought with him. Vernon was even more shy than me, which was saying a lot. As a child, I was so shy that I would be doubled over with stomach cramps if I ran into a schoolmate at the grocery store. I battled waves of nausea when called on by teachers in school. I never looked anyone in the eye, not even family members, so I understood what he was going through. However, Clinton was outgoing and had been on the road the previous year. Vernon's shyness was too much for Clinton. He felt like he was carrying a lead weight. He asked if he could leave him with us for the summer. Paul was not excited about having him stay. He had been with us for three days and hadn’t said a word except a whispered hello with downcast eyes. On the other hand, I was always glad to have more people around, and the kids had taken a shine to him. I also understood shyness and liked this quiet man. Poor Vernon wasn’t thrilled at being dumped by his friend either, but he also wasn’t happy about the idea of constantly meeting new people on the road. We all finally agreed to the arrangement. Vernon ended up being one of our best friends. Once he adjusted to this new situation, he opened up and became a member of the family. We were all incredibly sad to see him go when Clinton returned to get him to hitchhike back to New Jersey together.
Clinton had gone north to Washington State and hung out with the Flying Karamazov Brothers, a world-renowned hippie collective of jugglers. He came back with all kinds of new tricks. He learned how to eat fire, which he told me was not really a trick. You actually burn the inside of your mouth. It wasn’t something he wanted to continue with, and I didn’t blame him. He also started juggling any three things that were handed to him. So, of course, Jessie handed him a dollhouse, a super ball and a cup. If he dropped anything, you got to pie him in the face with shaving cream. He’d started out doing whipped cream, but it got rancid pretty fast all stuck in his beard, so he switched to a non-food item. He always managed to drop something because being pied in the face was an important part of the show. He stood out on our front lawn, right on Highway 101, juggling everything including flaming torches. We were acquiring quite a reputation in town by this time, but luckily, we weren’t the only hippies in this very rural area. The locals were adjusting quickly to this new community.
We settled into our new coastal life easily. The Friday night Open Mic at The Riverhouse was a huge success. We kept meeting more and more like-minded people and were surrounded by music. We had a reliable babysitter who came from a large family and was not flustered by Justin’s adventurous nature. After a couple of incidents where he broke away from her and went running down the highway chasing after our car, he soon grew to love and trust her. It wasn’t until we were able to have a night out every week that we realized how much our relationship was suffering. I had been totally immersed in being a stay-at-home mom, which was a twenty-four-hour seven day a week job that exhausted me and kept me from being the partner that Paul wanted and needed. Now, that could change. I hoped we would fight less and remember how much we loved each other.
Our two children were as different as night and day. Jessie was very talkative and independent but respectful of limits. Justin was an adventurer and had no sense of practical limits. He was always pushing the boundaries. Even as a toddler, Jessie would never venture far and always came back if I said I was leaving without her. Justin, however, would turn and run in the other direction as fast as he could go. This was confusing to me since he usually wanted to be attached at the hip. It was a crazy dichotomy. He was fine if it was his idea to explore but, if I wanted to go somewhere without him, even into another room, it was a different story entirely. Both kids were exhausting in their own ways, and both of them were smart as a whip.
When I was pregnant with Jessie, I had read somewhere that you should read aloud to children from the day they were born. I read everything aloud from that point on including novels or newspapers that I was reading while she played by herself. When she was three years old, she suddenly read a cereal box to me. I thought I must have read it to her at some point, and she was reciting it from memory, but I was wrong. I brought other things to her, and she read them, too. Unbeknownst to me, she had taught herself to read. Now, in kindergarten, she was a voracious reader and far beyond her classmates. When we lived in Portland, the school refused to let her into an advanced reading program, so I was surprised when her new teacher in this tiny rural school suggested that she do reading class with the first grade. She excelled and was happy there.
Although Justin also learned to read early and loved it as much as his sister, his skills were of a different nature. He was a planner and a schemer. I was never sure what was going on his head, unlike Jessie who was an open book and eager to share every thought … endlessly. Justin didn’t say much and would think nothing of suddenly taking off to go wading into the rushing river or jump right into the big waves of the Pacific Ocean. We often visited the beach in Pacific City climbing up the big sand dune at Haystack Rock enjoying the majestic view. But no sooner were we settled at the top, than Justin would go plummeting down the steep hill, tumbling most of the way to the bottom with me running after him. Paul always looked at the child-rearing as my job. He brought in most of the income, though I did what I could while managing both kids and the household, so in his mind, he was off the hook as a parent. Although, he was always ready to yell if they disturbed him.
Meanwhile, my back issue was getting worse. Hauling around a feisty two-year old didn’t help it any either. While in Portland, I had tried many different remedies for the pain including chiropractors, massage therapy, even Nemo Therapy which was electro-shock to the muscles. It tightened the muscle until it released itself. It was a painful procedure but was actually the only thing that helped. The relief usually lasted for a day or two before the pain came back again. Now, we were in the middle of nowhere, and those things were no longer available. I started stretching everyday and doing floor exercises, with Justin climbing all over me. However, mostly, I just got used to the constant discomfort and soldiered through. Some of my new friends noticed and offered to do the heavy lifting when they were around which helped. But the never-ending pain affected my mood more often than not.
I was also starting to be noticed by some of the other musicians. Before I met Paul, I had been working with wedding bands and getting solo gigs with churches for various services. When we first got together, he became jealous and insisted that I give all of that up. I had spent my childhood alone and my high school years bullied and wanted him more than I wanted the gigs, so I agreed. Now, I was getting invited to sing back-up on recordings and offered radio work in a neighboring town. That caused us to start fighting again, so I turned down anything that didn’t include him. I wasn’t ready to go back to the endless yelling and certainly wasn’t ready to be a single mom. I had grown up with parents who, although they loved each other passionately, fought constantly. I thought that was probably normal, but I was willing to do whatever it took to avoid that in my own relationship. Unfortunately, Paul had also come from a highly dysfunctional and violent family and was probably addicted to adrenaline. He was not violent towards us but threw things at the walls and stormed around too often for my comfort.
I soon started playing the role of protector towards the kids, mostly towards Justin. As I said, he was a rambunctious troublemaker. He would go racing through a room where his dad was sitting on the floor reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a bong. In no time, the coffee and bong would be spilled, and Paul would be standing over our terrified boy, waving his arms, throwing the coffee cup and screaming at him. I would swoop in and scoop him up, facing Paul’s rage myself and propelling Justin towards his sister who would take him to refuge in their room. Once the dust settled, Paul would take up his guitar and we would heal ourselves and our relationship in our music. I’ve often said that being in a band is like being in a marriage because the bond of music is so strong. For us, we had both our love and our music. For a long time, the music was the strongest bond of all and eventually became the only bond. And then there was also pot.
Pot was one of the glues that held us and the music together. We smoked together remembering our love for each other and became inspired to write or share music. For me, music was everything. It was the air I breathed. I had been singing for as long as I could remember. It was the one thing that had always healed my soul. It was what made me feel connected to the world. But it was also a business. I always wanted to be a professional musician and had started on that path early on. I even went to college to study music but soon dropped out, having never been a good student. For Paul, it was a hobby. It was definitely something he loved, but he had no aspirations to make his living with it. It was always my push to get gigs. I always did the promotion and all of the behind the scenes work. I organized practice in addition to jamming. Paul was very social and was able to talk to people easily and book gigs at clubs and private parties. He just needed the push to go do it. In that way, we were a good team. He would make the initial contact, and I would follow up. Everyone loved Paul. In public, he was funny, gregarious and generous to a fault. That was the man I had fallen in love with, and I wanted him back. I was convinced that I could help him heal from his earlier trauma. I wasn’t ready to give up on him yet.