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