The East Greenbush Town Park is where I made my first New York friend.
Although we had anticipated a rough adjustment, it turned out to be rougher than we’d hoped. It was the end of the school year, and I had made sure that Jessie and Justin were both learning along the way. They had, in fact, learned some things that most adults haven’t yet learned about navigating your way through life, especially a life with difficulties. Jes. remembers some parts of the trip vividly, but Justin was 3-years old and doesn’t actively remember much, if any of it. However, those experiences are still in there and have an effect on both of their abilities to survive when necessary. I learned along the way that surviving is quite different from living life. It’s good to have that skill when you need it.
After our incredible journey from the Pacific Coast, and our dramatic arrival in East Greenbush, New York, we settled into my parents’ basement and started looking around. My parents had been begging us to move back east and promised to help us settle. We’d been advised by two different friends in Oregon to go to upstate New York to the Albany/Saratoga Springs area. One fellow, Carlos, told us to look up his parents who were part of the PSG (Pickin’ Singin’ Gathering). Another friend kept urging us to go check out Caffe Lena, the legendary folk venue. Paul, although he disdained folk music, was intrigued, so we finally agreed to move. My family had relocated there while was still out west. We arrived not knowing anyone there except my parents and siblings. Their suburban neighborhood wasn’t our ideal location, but we were determined to make the most of it. Now, Paul was out every day looking for work while I went exploring with the kids.
When Jessie was first born, Paul and I had decided that I would stay at home and raise our children, picking up work where I could. During that time, I had driven a school bus, been a crossing guard, made macrame plant hangers for a wholesaler, done childcare, worked for a pot grower and at an herb farm. I had also given music lessons here and there and homeschooled my kids for a couple of months at a time when traveling. In Portland, while Justin was still a baby and Jessie was still not school-age, I was given the opportunity to work for the phone company. It would have been a great salary with benefits at a time when, as usual, we were struggling financially. We researched childcare, looked at the numbers and talked it over. We realized that the cost of childcare would take up almost all of the extra money I would make while our kids were being raised by someone else. Paul had a grave look on his face as he explained that, although I would be bringing in so much more money than him, if I took the job, he would never be able to do what I was doing at home. The kids would be neglected, the house would fall apart, and we would both be miserable. We understood that it would be a disaster. Paul was raised in an even more dysfunctional family than mine. He and his siblings were left to raise themselves amidst violence and total chaos. He struggled with being a parent because he had nothing to base it on. He was angry often - at the world, at life, at his job and at home. I actually loved being a stay-at-home mom, I thrived on it. I felt like I was in my element and could give rein to my creativity in new ways. I was also getting tired of the economic struggle and knew we had to get out on our own as soon as possible. Mom refused to watch my children so that I could work. It being summer, I became determined to explore my new environment. I learned about the town beach with their free swimming lessons for kids, so I headed over there at the first opportunity and signed them up. I knew that I would need activities for them and also saw this as an opportunity for me to meet other parents.
Meanwhile, I was at home with my mom and sister during the days. My sister was only six years older than Jessie, having been born when I was almost sixteen. She was incredibly jealous of Jessie and had a vindictive streak. Jessie was a spitfire when riled and wasn’t going to take it. My mother was very protective of my sister, and I was protective of my daughter. Mom and Dad had been trying for years to have another child after my brother and had dealt with a few miscarriages. When they were finally successful, Mom was almost forty, and my sister had many serious health issues. But now, in 1981, she was older, physically stable and spoiled rotten. She and Jessie started fighting the first day and fought constantly. This also meant that Jessie and I were always in trouble with Mom.
Mom and I were like oil and water. It had been that way for as long as I could remember. I know that she loved me, but I never felt as though she liked me very much. She certainly didn’t like the choices I’d made. When I was around her, I only heard complaints, some of them valid, and unwanted advice. Nothing I did was the right thing in her mind whether it was how I raised my children, who I chose to marry, the lifestyle I had chosen, or just about anything really.
A couple of days after we had arrived, after complaining that our cat was annoying her by walking across the piano keys, located with us in the basement and which we thought was very cool, she showed me a puddle she had found by furnace in the garage. We checked the furnace for leaks but soon realized it was urine. I cleaned it up but the next day it was back. We asked the kids if they knew anything about it. Jessie didn’t know anything, but Justin explained that it was “the bear.” My mom replied that the bear had better cut it out or he’d have to leave, glaring at me as she said it.
One of the conditions for us moving in, a condition that was stated the day after we arrived, was that I was not allowed to cook in the kitchen but that we would have to eat meals with them. Mom hated that Jessie and I were vegetarians. She was determined that she would break us of that silly notion. They ate all processed foods, vegetables that were frozen or from cans and lots of red meat. I had been baking my own whole grain bread, growing fresh vegetables, picking fruits from the Hood River Valley orchards, making jellies, jams and canning applesauce and other fruit. It didn’t matter how much I argued, she had an explanation for everything. There wasn’t enough room in the refrigerator or the cabinets for another family’s food. She didn’t like other people using her appliances. I would be in her way, even if I did my cooking opposite hers. The list went on until I finally realized that I had no choice. We were already here and would have to try to make the best of it.
My parents had assured us that there would be plenty of good paying work available, but Paul was not having any luck finding it. Tensions in the house were growing the longer we stayed, and I knew I had to take the kids out of the house every day or someone would lose it. Paul and I were not doing so well either. After all of the adrenaline from the cross-country saga, this was more than anti-climactic. There were four of us living in one room with a large heating vent in the ceiling amplifying every conversation throughout the house, not to mention any potential nighttime activities. We fought now in vicious hushed tones. Something had to give soon.
Finally, the swim lessons at the town beach started up. I drove the kids to their first lesson and sat on the sand glumly looking around at all of the suburban housewives staring at me in an unfriendly way when a woman walked up and introduced herself as Linda Baker. She said that she’d noticed me drive up in my hippie van with the Indian print curtains in the windows and wondered if I’d like to go sit in the bus with her for a smoke. Wow! What a blessing. We got high together every Monday through Friday while my kids were occupied with their lessons and spent most of the summer hanging out and getting to know each other. These were the high points of my week.
When she found out that my name was Cavanaugh, she asked if I was related to Dick Kavanaugh, who was a good friend of hers. I replied that we weren’t related, and she suggested that I should meet him because she was sure I would really like him. She must have sensed something because many years later I would finally meet him and end up in a long-term relationship with him. She often invited us to come jam at her house nearby, but the jams at her house were folk music, and Paul had a preconceived notion that folk music was boring. He had always been jealous of my music and ability to make money with it, and things were already tense between us, so I never managed to make it to any of her jams.
One evening, Paul and I went for a walk and talked about the need to move on. This just wasn’t working. My family was impossible to live with and were actively aggressive toward Paul. He had finally found a job, so we could start saving up some money to make another new start somewhere else. That night, we told the kids what we were planning. Jessie threw a fit. She refused to move again. She wanted to have extended family and wanted to settle somewhere. In spite of her troubles with my sister, she was determined to stay with Grandma and Grandpa if we insisted on moving again. We looked at each other, sighed and reluctantly agreed to stay. That next morning, my mom informed me that since Paul was now working, they would charge us room and board. We realized that this was only fair. We had been there for the whole summer, but it was making moving out next to impossible. I was also pretty sure that they had overheard us talking to the kids the night before and wanted to keep us local.
We needed to get on with our lives and our music, make new friends and settle in. We knew that we couldn’t do that in East Greenbush and wanted to move to Albany. We weren’t sure anymore how to do that successfully, and now there was school to think about. I broke down and registered Jessie in the East Greenbush public school. Everything was a huge culture shock to us. I worried that Jessie might have a difficult time fitting in. Up to now, she’d lived a gypsy life full of adventure, surrounded by street musicians and circus performers. She’d been uprooted over and over again and was struggling with making friends in this foreign land. I hoped that school would help. We also answered an ad in the local entertainment newspaper, Metroland, and started a rock and roll band. The drummer and bass player both had kids similar ages to ours and things started looking up. At least now we could get out of the house with the kids for band practice in Schenectady a couple of times a week. We all became fast friends, relieving a lot of the pressure on us and enabling us to hang on a little longer. Soon, Cosmo Rock started getting gigs at local bars and festivals and hanging out together with our families.
The plan to make the best time we could went slightly awry when we made a necessary stop for gas and bathrooms and inadvertently left our cat at the truck stop. We realized as soon as we got halfway up the entrance ramp, which was longest ramp I’d ever been on and was also very curvy. There was no backing up, and the next exit was much further than we anticipated. Jessie cried the whole way, certain that Autumn would be gone by the time we got back. This was the same cat that I had gotten at Saturday Market as a surprise for Jessie and the same one who had had her first litter of kittens behind my chair on the day that we had rushed Justin to the ER with a concussion after he fell off a tall slide onto asphalt. When we finally did make it back, there she was sitting in the parking space we had vacated, just waiting for us. We scooped her up and went on our way, stopping at dusk, just to be sure, and made it all the way to Ohio before our next challenge. Before reaching Ohio, however, Paul insisted on going to Peoria, Illinois because years earlier he had heard, “If you can play in Peoria, you’ve got it made.” He rather foolishly decided that this included street music and not just vaudeville, so we found a street corner, set up and played some music on the street which was fun but not very profitable and ate up too much of our daylight traveling time. We finally got as far as Ohio when the car broke down on the side of the highway in broad daylight. Ugh! What now?!
Our flywheel fix from early on in the trip finally gave out, and our flywheel was shredded. As we stood there looking sadly at the engine wondering what to do now, a young man came by and offered Paul a ride to a dune buggy shop he knew of. The shop specialized in VWs, turning them into dune buggies and maintaining them. The shop was called “Mud, Sweat and Gears.” Then he offered to take me and our kids to his house. His parents were away and had left him and his sister home alone. So off we went. My kids were used to strangers and had grown up learning how to stay safe and feel out people’s vibes, so they were good to go. I always found that children seem to have a better sense about people than adults do sometimes, and I’ve always tried to listen to them if they felt uncomfortable around someone.
While Paul was off doing car business, the kids got baths, I showered then actually got a nap on a real bed while the younger folks played with my kids. These young folks loved hosting us. My kids were always very friendly and adaptable to new situations. They were having a blast. The sister was making chicken and dumplings for dinner and invited us to stay. At this point, we’d lost most of that day already, so staying put with a real meal sounded good to me. Both kids were having a great time and also looked forward to trying dumplings for the first time. I learned much later how important that meal was to Jessie. Here is what she wrote to me after reading this the first time I posted it in “Memoirs from a Hippie Mama.”
“So.. The thing about the chicken and dumplings...
One thing that you haven't mentioned in all of these posts were how we kept ourselves entertained on the road. Games like I Spy, license plate games and sing-alongs. A big favorite was "She'll be coming 'round the mountain" and one of the verses was "we will a have chicken and dumplings". To me they were almost like a mythological food. Something you hear about in weird magical ways, but don't generally get to try. I'd put it in the same category as Turkish Delight from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
So "She" had finally come. Or maybe I was "She" in that moment. But it was a major moment for me. That song had been part of our soundtrack, and I finally understood it more deeply than ever before.” - Jes. Cavanaugh
Meanwhile Paul arrived at the car shop where the owner gave him three flywheels, just in case we needed them, with the understanding that the payment was to help out three people on the road in the future. Whew! That was easy. We did that all the time anyway. He made the repair then took a shower. After dinner Paul announced that we could now travel at night and had better hit the road. We still had a long way to go and were both burning out fast. The kids were disappointed but also anxious to get to our destination which was their grandparents’ house. We said a tearful goodbye and headed out again.
As dawn approached, Paul and I realized that we were never going to make it to the herb farm where we had the promise of work on the gas left in the tank and also didn’t have enough money to make up the difference. We thought long and hard then made a detour to Wheeling, West Virginia to pawn his twelve-string guitar. He loved that guitar, having bought it in Santa Cruz many years before, but we didn’t have a lot of choices left, so we left it in the pawn shop never expecting to see it again. Paul kept that ticket safe in his wallet for many years until he gave it to one of my maternal uncles who had heard our story and decided to go to the pawn shop to see if he could retrieve the guitar. We assured him that way too much time had gone by. It had been many years, but he insisted. My uncle was a real character and had his share of crazy adventures. He kept telling us that it’s important to have faith because you just never know. He actually got that guitar and, before driving home to Florida, brought it up to a second cousin living in western Pennsylvania who would be going to visit in-laws in Chatham, NY. When my mother got the phone call, she went to Chatham to pick it up, and Paul was reunited with that much-loved guitar more than 10 years later. We usually had faith that things would work out, but this was a good reminder not to give up when things seem impossible.
We arrived at the herb farm and breathed a sigh of relief, forgetting for a moment that Paul and his sister were like oil and water. The visit didn’t go very well. She constantly complained about Paul to her husband, who was a quiet unassuming man. He finally went to sleep in his tree house which was a fully furnished cabin retreat ten feet in the air. We worked for a couple of days weeding the herb beds, which was back-breaking work, but in a couple of days we made enough money to go on our way. We now had enough for the rest of the trip and were even able get a motel room that night, with cash this time. It was going to be our last night on the road. Paul and I were exhausted by now, aching from bending over the gardens for days, even more stressed out than when we had arrived in Pennsylvania from dealing with Paul’s sister, and we wanted to arrive in New York well rested and freshly bathed. Plus, the kids had been real troopers on this trip, going along with all of our craziness. We wanted to give them the treat of another night in a motel room. I think the trip for them was just one big grand adventure full of games, songs and new people and places. While for us it was worry and scheming as we made our way across the continent. But now, even with the cost of the motel room, we would arrive with some money left over, or so we thought.
We woke up that morning excited, knowing that in a few hours our trip would finally be at its end. We had breakfast in the motel restaurant, confident that we would arrive in the afternoon. When we went outside to the bus, we found that one of the tires was not only flat but had big chunks of rubber out of it. We needed a whole new tire. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised us. We’d just gone over three thousand miles on that tire. But, so much for arriving in the afternoon well rested and relaxed. Now even the kids, who had been totally engaged in the trip until now, were done with this adventure. It took hours to get the new tire, but we were finally headed toward Albany, NY. We had been on the road for over three weeks.
My parents lived in East Greenbush, a suburb of Albany. We got off the thruway in Albany and started heading east to cross the Hudson River when suddenly Paul jumped out of the driver’s seat and started running alongside the bus, trying to stop it with his feet and body. I thought I was watching Fred Flintstone for a minute, remembering the way Fred would drive his car with his feet on the road. Both kids started laughing, not realizing the dangerous situation we were in. I was sure that Paul had finally lost his mind and wasn’t sure what to do. Then he turned sharply into a Mobil gas station and crashed into a pilon, stopping the bus abruptly. Apparently, we had lost the brakes.
After a brief but frantic discussion, we decided to go on, as slowly as we could, using our gears to slow us down when necessary. We were so close to the end of our journey now. We made it to my parents’ house, pulled into their driveway, making a huge entrance by crashing into their stone wall. I sat silently in the passenger side of the bus watching the stones come down like dominos as my family came running out of the house to see what all the commotion was about. There were no cell phones back then, and they had no idea when to expect us, although I did call a few times from a pay phone so they wouldn’t worry. I wish I’d had a camera to take pictures of the looks on everyone’s faces, or maybe I’m glad I didn’t. Anyway, seeing their grandchildren made everything a little less intense. A journey that should have taken less than a week, took us more than three. The kids were thrilled to be there; My parents were thrilled that we had finally arrived safely; and the next day, Justin, who was three and a half years old, came running in the house proudly exclaiming that he had fixed the bus for us.
We dashed outside to discover that he had found a can of oil in my parents’ garage and poured it all over the engine. We stood there not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The engine in those old VW buses were in the back, easily accessible to a three-year old, especially if the hood is not attached securely, which it wasn’t. As Paul and I looked at each other, all we could do was laugh which my mom and dad couldn’t understand. But they hadn’t been on the trip with us with all of its ups and downs, and never understood me anyway. Luckily, the only harm done to the VW was the smoking as the oil burned off. It seemed an appropriate ending to that saga. Now it was time to figure out how to settle in this new area for who knew how long. And, even more importantly, how to get out of my parents’ house and into our own home as quickly as possible. It was not going to be easy living there.
As we were leaving Salt Lake City, Paul and I realized that the trip was going to take a lot longer than anticipated unless we could figure out a low to no-cost way to repair the bus. Now, we were really glad that we had made a stop in Reno before hitting Salt Lake. We both knew before we left Oregon that this journey across the country would require more resources. When it was just the two of us, we could go hungry for a day or two, hit grand openings to get a free buffet and jump at opportunities, even if they were a little risky. Now we had two kids to care for and keep safe. We’d planned lots of stops into our itinerary for running around and seeing some sights, had packed what food we could and budgeted money for more supplies and a couple of meals out. When we went through Nevada, we saw billboards advertising an all-you-can-eat buffet for $2.99 (and kids eat free) in Reno. What a great opportunity. There were four of us, and we figured we could take a doggy bag or two or four. We didn’t realize at the time how important that stop would become.
So far, the flywheel was still holding out from it’s first repair with the barn nails and the old leftover brake part. In spite of the stop for that repair in the mountains, we’d made pretty good time. We arrived at “Circus Circus” in Reno, paid our $6.00 and walked into a huge place with flashing lights, lots of noise and various circus performers all around. Both kids were awed, though Justin, at 3-years old was mostly wide-eyed and slightly scared. It turned out that the money was for admission to this extravaganza, not just the buffet. Of course, this was Nevada, and they were counting on everyone gambling. They could afford to give away food and entertainment when you were losing so much money to the games. We dragged the kids away from the acrobats overhead and entered the dining room. I could not believe how long the rows of tables were. They ran the entire length of this huge hall with an amazing assortment of all kinds of food available. Then, there was another smaller room with desserts and beverages. There was food for any type of meal, too. You could eat breakfast, lunch, dinner or a light snack.
After eating, Paul suggested that we hang out for a while and let the kids have some fun. Maybe we could spend enough time to have a second meal. Finally, someone from security told us that we really had to spend money to stay. Paul went over to a slot machine in the gambling room and lost a few times. He grumbled about wasting our time here and suggested we leave. I reminded him that I hadn’t had a turn to try and wanted to have a little fun, too. He shrugged and agreed to hang out with the kids while I hit the slots, and I agreed to only spend two dollars. Justin still didn’t like being away from me, and minors were not allowed in the gambling areas. Paul, who didn’t ever do much of the childcare, carried him off to see the clowns. Justin loved clowns and was fascinated by them. Jessie, however, was frightened of them, well maybe more like terrified. I knew that Paul would have his hands full but thought I’d have my quick turn and we’d resume our trip. Then, I won on my first try and slipped another coin into the machine. Wow, I won again and again and again. I was smart about keeping my winnings in a different pocket but just kept winning again and again. I didn’t lose once. I’d started out playing the cheap machine, but it was starting to add up, and I was afraid to go to a different machine and ruin my streak. I also wanted to keep an ear and eye out for my family, but the bigger winning machines were further in the interior of the beast.
Pretty quickly, Jessie had enough of feeling terrorized by the clowns and wanted to go back to the jugglers and acrobats who were near where I was working. As soon as he spotted me, Justin broke away and came running over, hanging on to my leg and crying. Paul whisked in, with Jessie right at his side, and dragged him off of me taking him back out into the hall. It didn’t last long though. He soon broke away and was back at my side. I was starting to get annoyed. This seemed like a prime chance to fill our coffers for the long saga, and Paul couldn’t seem to keep Justin away. This went on for a little while until the same security guard, who had been watching us the whole time, told us we had to leave. Apparently, the manager had noticed because we were causing such a scene. I realized that it was over. Justin was pretty upset by this time; Jessie was bored; and Paul was frazzled. We figured that we had gotten our money’s worth and it was time to move on, so we did. We had spent $6.00 to get in and left with a little over $50.00. We didn’t realize at the time how much we would need every extra dollar. Now, as we were leaving Salt Lake City, having successfully traded for a motel room, we also realized that we were going to have to stop every night around dusk, making our trip brutally long. This extra money would help, but maybe not enough now to make it all the way to upstate New York. We’d researched what towns allowed busking, but there weren’t very many along the way. We’d have to get creative. At least we didn’t have to worry about high peaks any more.
Many people believe that the mid-west is flat, and I guess it is compared to other parts of the country. They often complain about the tedium of traveling across such flatlands, seeing nothing but fields and farms. If you have ever driven through that part of the country in a VW Bus, you’ll know that it’s not as flat as it looks. We breathed a huge sigh of relief once we passed through all the western mountains until we realized that the bus slowed down slightly on every rise. It didn’t look to us like we were going up or down hill, but the bus certainly always let us know. And, the road just went on and on. Even though we managed to stop at rest areas or truck stops before dark most of the time, it felt as though it took forever to cross the Great Plains.
In general, we really liked driving through Nebraska. For the most part, the people were friendly and helpful, and Nebraska had the best rest stops for children. There were always playgrounds, picnic tables and lots of shaded areas to run around and play. One evening, as it was just starting to be dusk, we decided to try to go a little further and get off at the next exit to find a place to spend the night. Unfortunately, the next exit was closed, and the next one was too many miles away, so we were finally forced to turn on the headlights as the dark settled, slowly coasting to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. We sat on the side of the road, hoping in vain that no state troopers would come by. However, they soon did. As they pulled up behind us, Paul started rummaging around for our registration and hopped out of the car as they were starting to walk towards us. Suddenly, both cops crouched down with their guns drawn and Paul immediately threw his hands up yelling, “There are kids in the car!” The troopers slowly walked forward and patted Paul down, then shone their flashlights into the car. They made both of us get out and yelled at us for what seemed like quite a long time telling us both to never jump out of the car or rummage around again when stopped. To them, it looked like we were up to something. I never forgot that lesson.
Eventually, they asked why we were stopped and if we needed help. We told them about our car issues and started explaining why we were sitting on the shoulder when the volunteer fire department showed up. Now there were four emergency vehicles surrounding our little family. The troopers were insisting on calling a tow truck to get us out of there, and we were protesting vehemently, explaining that we had little money left, certainly not enough to pay for the tow and the rest of this ill-fated journey. We were trying to get to Pennsylvania, where we had the promise of some day-work at an herb farm owned by Paul’s brother-in-law. I had been growing an herb garden and using them medicinally since 1975. I was looking forward to doing some work there.
The police didn’t seem interested in my hobbies and weren’t feeling very sympathetic to our plight, but I’d always taught my children to be friendly with law enforcement. They always waved when we passed them, and Jessie often engaged them in conversation if we were stopped for any reason. My kids helped me get out of a lot of speeding tickets back in my younger days. I know that they helped immensely that night, too. All of the volunteer firemen who had stopped were enjoying hanging out with them, asking them about their trip so far. Luckily, the kids were also street wise by now and knew what not to say to officials. After going round and round with the police, begging and arguing, with the eventual support of the volunteers, and the pleading eyes of our children, they finally agreed to give us a jump and let us drive in the dark without our headlights while Paul and I held flashlights out the windows with the emergency vehicles in front and behind us with their spotlights and flashers on. The flashlights were the cops’ idea, which I thought was more than a little silly, but we did it anyway. The kids loved being in their own parade! Somehow, we were always able to spin difficult events into something fun and exciting.
When we got to the truck stop, the volunteer firefighters handed us money to buy breakfast “for the kids” with enough left over to fill our gas tank. They had taken up a collection. We were so impressed with their kindness. I even cried a little. We ate breakfast at around 3 or 4 am then took the kids out to the playground, swinging on the swings and sliding down the slide until the sun came up. As we headed down the road, Jessie exclaimed that she’d had the most fun ever. She was totally impressed by not only the parade but also with being able to play outside at the playground in the dark. For her, it’s a fond memory. She remembers the big puddles on the ground under the swings and her dad pushing her on the swing while trying to avoid those puddles. It's always interesting to me how people in the same family, experiencing the same things, remember them so differently. For me and Paul, the "responsible" adults, it was incredibly stressful. For the kids, it was fun and exciting, an adventure to be remembered and treasured.
I almost forgot to write about one last thing that we needed to do before leaving the West Coast. Remember our cat Autumn who’d had her first litter of kittens behind my chair on the night of Justin’s concussion? Before we could get her spayed, she had another litter of kittens. As soon as they were weaned, we took her in for her surgery but still needed to find homes for the kittens. We packed them into a box and headed for Portland’s Saturday Market where we had originally gotten her. We had so many good memories of playing there and wanted a final goodbye. It turned out to be the hottest day of the year, an unusual occurrence for springtime. The poor kittens were getting overheated in the covered box, so we opened the lid to give them air. They started scrambling all over the car. The kids were in the back seat trying to hold them in, but it wasn’t working. We finally pulled off the road to stop at a park for lunch and to let me get into the back seat for damage control. When we opened the doors, as carefully as we could, to get out, so did the kittens. There were five kittens running all over the park. As soon as we captured one and put it back in the car, another one would escape. It was crazy! After chasing them for over an hour, Paul was all for letting them fend for themselves and going back home. Both kids and I were not okay with that, so we continued to chase them around, finally giving up after another hour or so and heading to town with only two of the original five. I felt terrible, but what could we do? We couldn’t even see the other three anymore. We got to Saturday Market just as it was closing down for the day and did manage to give the two kittens away then turned around and went back home. What a fiasco!
Having made the decision to move back east to live in my parents’ basement in upstate New York until we could get a place of our own, I was filled with trepidation. I knew we were making a good to move, but my parents and I had never gotten along, and they hated Paul. I never understood why considering that he literally saved me from eventually overdosing on speed at the beginning of our relationship, giving me an ultimatum – be with him or keep shooting up. Of course, my parents only saw his long hair and radical politics, which actually were less radical than my own. I knew that the living arrangements would not be easy and hoped we could settle quickly into our own home. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult it would turn out to be, or for how long.
We had our VW bus all prepped for travel. I had attached edges to the table in the back that stuck up above the surface to keep any crayons or other toys from rolling off. It was already set up with curtains and beds. I sewed pockets into the curtains to make drinks, snacks and other necessary items for children easily accessible. There were still no seatbelts or car seats at that time, but I knew I didn’t want them running all over the bus. I had also learned by then what kinds of food traveled easily. I remember thinking that I should write a book on safe and reliable traveling with children because I had already done so much of it. We left in late April and planned to travel for a week. We didn’t consider the fact that we were traveling in a VW bus loaded down with all of our possessions, two children, two adults and a cat over a couple of different sets of mountains.
The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. We were almost at the top of Donner’s Pass on I-80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when our bus just stopped. We could see the summit. It was so close, but we just couldn’t get there. We jumped out of the bus around to the back to look at the engine and see if we could figure out the problem. There it was, right in front of our eyes. The two wheels of the fly wheel were shifting back and forth and had widened the slot that held the two pieces together. We looked at it for a while when I remembered the jar of barn nails that Jim had given me as we were leaving. We pounded a few of the largest ones in there, but it still wasn’t quite enough. A year earlier, our left rear wheel had come off our Plymouth Valiant and passed us on the left as we rode over a narrow bridge with a logging truck headed our way. I don’t know how he did it, but Paul managed to steer the car straight as our back end was up in the air and all of us held our breaths. After chasing the tire into a corn field, he put it back on and tightened the lug nuts as tight as he could. Not long after that, Paul repaired the brakes and had one small piece left over on that same wheel. We worked on those brakes together a few more times and still couldn’t figure out where it went, so he finally threw it in the toolbox, hoping for the best. The brakes worked fine after that, and now that old leftover brake part fit perfectly with the nails into the leftover space in the flywheel. That repair took us all the way to Ohio … but not without too many stops along the way.
Although we thought we had fixed it, the car now only ran during the daytime. Once we turned on the headlights, it would totally drain the battery, so we slept the first night in the bus. We also stopped more frequently than anticipated to let the kids run around. And I did make them run – literally. Every stop, we ran circles around each other and all around the rest areas. By the time we stopped running, they were happy to sit back down in the bus. The next day, we drove into Salt Lake City just as night was falling. We turned on the headlights and, as the car died, we coasted into a motel right off the exit and went in to see if we could afford a room. We did have money, but we had a long way to go. We hadn’t budgeted in car repairs and had hoped to only take a week to make the journey. It already looked like it was going to take much longer than anticipated, so we needed to conserve our resources. We thought , if it was too much money, maybe they would take pity on us and let us sleep in our bus in the parking lot.
The attendant took one look at us with our long hair, hippie van with curtains in the window and our kids trailing along behind us and asked if we had any pot. At first, in our paranoia, we denied having any. He kept at it, insisting that we must have something and explaining that Salt Lake was the driest town in the US. He pleaded with us! When he offered to trade us a room for a few joints, we finally took pity on him. We gave him more than he asked for since we had gotten paid for our work harvesting in weed and had more than enough for ourselves. He threw us the master keys, turned on the No Vacancy sign and asked us to keep an eye on the place while he was off partying with his friends. No problem! We got nice soft beds, showers, and the kids even got TV, a rare treat. This wasn’t going so badly after all. The young man came back the next morning looking a little bedraggled but with a big grin. We tipped him well, in weed of course. We even sold him some of our quite large stash and went on our way. We still had a long way to go.
Looking back at it now, we must have been crazy carrying all that weed in our vehicle with our two kids. But things were very different back then, and it never occurred to us that we were taking a big risk. Also, we didn’t know anyone where we were landing and knew we’d need our stash to survive my family.
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