artist educator, singer songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
As time went on, I became better on guitar and began taking my songwriting more seriously. I took a few songwriting classes and workshops, deciding to treat it as a job rather than a hobby. I can’t say that it’s brought me much financial stability, but I’m definitely more fulfilled. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to share those songs, so I started going to the Eighth Step Open Mic regularly and eventually shared the hosting job with a few other musicians. We each had our own style. It was an interesting mix. Some of us, me included, set up the PA to give folks the experience of performing with amplification and learning how to sing into a mic effectively. Others preferred to set up chairs in a circle and facilitate a round robin session, similar to the way I ran my house jams. When I hosted, I made sure to talk to everyone before they went on, finding out a little about them so I could give them a proper introduction. I also set up and ran the sound. All of this went even further toward getting me out of my shell. I met a lot of talented musicians and songwriters including many who took their music even further.
I also started meeting other songwriters in the classes and workshops I took and learned about the craft of songwriting. Until this point, I always waited for inspiration to strike, writing randomly and erratically. Then, I took a workshop taught by Janis Ian. She kept repeating the importance of writing consistently. She recommended that we give ourselves assignments rather than waiting for that inspirational bolt of lightning. She explained that most of those songs would get tossed out, but we would get better and better. In addition to assigning topics to write about, she suggested that we also purposefully write in different styles. I have really taken that to heart as a songwriter and as a performer. I was doing that anyway with the covers I chose, so it was an easy jump to start doing it as a writer. I have to admit that I get bored listening to the same types of songs. I love variety. But I do also realize that because I don’t stick to one style, it’s held me back in some ways. It’s a whole lot easier to get gigs if you fit into one or even two categories.
The other thing I learned from the songwriting classes was how to edit my work. I learned about the preciseness of rhyming, unless it’s purposely more freeform, prosity which is the lyrics matching the vibe of the music, and I learned to count my syllables. It may sound rigid, and it is, but it hones my songs and makes them more accessible. I also began to value input from other songwriters that I trusted. We all look at our works of art from our own skewed perspective, often not at all the way others see them. Having an outside perspective is so valuable. You do have to set aside your ego, though which is not always easy to do. And, there are always some songwriters with whom I don’t connect. I don’t particularly like their style and they don’t like mine, but they still often have things of value to offer me from their unique view. Then, there are others who I have come to depend on. I learned the art of critiquing from a summer camp I attended for a few years. There were strict rules about how to go about giving your opinion about someone’s work. For example, always start with what you loved about it. Even if you really don’t like a song, there is at least one thing you can love about it. Maybe it’s the tone, or the use of certain chords. The other important thing I learned was to not say, “I don’t like …” Instead, I learned to say, “If it were my song, I would …” All of this made perfect sense to me and resonated with my independence and my alternative school teaching methods. I began giving myself regular assignments and found like-minded people to share songs with.
But once again, I found myself in a musical partnership where I had to fight for my songs. They were “too complex,” or “too poetic.” I soon realized that I needed to pursue my songwriting and my musical journey on my own. I was happy to continue to do gigs as Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh, but it wasn’t going to be my only thing. I even stopped asking for input on my songs from my musical partner because they never made the grade. He hadn’t taken any of the classes, never loved anything and was brutal with his criticism. Meanwhile, I was determined to continue on this path. I had put my own music on a back burner for too long. I took a course in Schenectady about working as an artist/educator and created a songwriting workshop for children. I taught that in a few schools and libraries, starting to work the library circuit during the summers. I also kept reaching out to more and more venues. One of my favorite Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh gigs was in an old railway station in Connecticut. It had been turned into an art gallery and performance space. The space was beautiful, the turnout was amazing, the crowd attentive and appreciative, and we made more money at that one gig than ever before or since.
But, while my music career was going well, my personal life was in turmoil again. That same partner was starting to have a wandering eye. Every other woman seemed to be more attractive, smarter about everything and more capable than me in his eyes. He also started worrying more and more about money. He didn’t like to work and was miserable when he did. He often told me that all he really wanted to do was lay around on a beach all day. I wished him luck with that. Then one day, he got offered a job in the Bahamas. It was his dream come true. The job was only a few hours a day with room and board paid for in addition to his salary. I was shocked when he turned it down. He only wanted to go if I went along. I wasn’t willing to give up what I had worked so hard for to live in the Bahamas for six months. I would have to start over again. Also, I had a child in school. I encouraged him to go without me. I didn’t know if he would come back or if he would even want to be with me when he did return, but I hated seeing him so miserable. He didn’t end up taking that job and spent that winter so depressed, he struggled to get out of bed.
Now my eldest son was getting himself in trouble again. I worried about the company he was keeping. He was stealing from us and started stealing from our roommate. Finally, he got arrested for stealing money out of a car. My heart broke when I went to visit him in jail. We had to talk on telephones through plexiglass the first few visits. Each time I visited him, he told me that jail wasn’t so bad. He was even making friends. I quickly started calling up my friends connected in the legal system to help me figure out what to do. The last thing I wanted was for him to be learning new skills and making new friends in jail. We arranged a restorative justice meeting in which the victims and the criminal face each other and work out an arrangement. Unfortunately, not all of the victims were willing to participate but it was powerful anyway. In the end, he did time in a drug rehab facility, even though he wasn’t an addict. He was supposed to spend a year there with no visitation from family or friends for the first six months. This was also heartbreaking but at least he wasn’t learning from the criminal element. He realized later that he could have spent six months in the county jail instead of more than a year in this other place. He felt duped, but I was relieved to have him out of trouble during that time. Though he did get into plenty of trouble there while they tried unsuccessfully to break his spirit.
Then one day, he got a message to me that he was going to be volunteering, with a group of other residents, at the Holiday Lights in the Park. He was going to be dressed up as Elmo at the boathouse, greeting the younger kids. I packed my youngest in the car and off we went. He enjoyed the lights and was looking forward to getting cocoa at the boathouse. When got out of the car, I told him to go over and say hello to Elmo. He refused. I hadn’t told him that it was his brother, because I didn’t want to disappoint him if plans had changed. It had been months since we’d last seen his brother. He did finally reluctantly go over. He was shocked when Elmo gave him a big hug. When he realized who it was, he was elated. I had to caution him not to give it away because we were being watched by the house managers. We wandered off then came back again for another brief visit. It was a bizarre experience running this covert operation to connect with my son, but it warmed my heart. We were then allowed a brief visit just before Christmas to bring him gifts. Gradually, he was allowed more visits and time out, but we had to fight to get him released. After the year was over, they kept finding reasons to keep him longer. He just wasn’t compliant enough. I knew that no one was going to tame this son of mine who was as rebellious as his parents. Eventually, with the help of our lawyer and other connected friends, he was released. I breathed a sigh of relief and hoped for a respite, but there was more turmoil to come. Thankfully, throughout my entire life, it’s always been music that has seen me through the toughest times. My music was thriving.
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 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.
Living in New York State was a rough adjustment for all of us. My husband, Paul had a tough time finding work, and I was still a stay-at-home parent for our then 3-year old son and 7-year old daughter. In the past, I'd always found work here and there to help out, music lessons, childcare, crafting piece work, whatever I could find, but it was harder here because we didn’t know anyone yet except my family. I was still nursing my son and got lots of dirty looks if I did it in public. Even in my parents’ house. My dad actually told me I should go into the bathroom to nurse, to which I replied that I thought he should eat his dinner in the bathroom. My kids had been raised in an alternative lifestyle, and I wasn’t meeting like-minded people. My family were all very conservative, and we had never gotten along well. I was beginning to worry that we had made the wrong decision.
We were also struggling with meeting musicians. We had always arrived in a new town and gone to the local clubs, making contacts in the music scene. That usually led to shared gigs, to help us settle in, and lots of new friends who invited us to parties and jams. Albany was different. Everyone was very guarded and exclusive. We finally went to Rok Against Reaganomics concert in Washington Park and met the organizers, informing them about our anti-Reaganomics song “No Free Lunch.” They fit us into the schedule, and we finally met other musicians and lots of new friends.
While still in East Greenbush, I signed the kids up for free swimming lessons that summer at the East Greenbush town park. I thought I could meet other moms there. I sat there week after week being ignored by the suburban mothers until one day a single woman came up to me and asked if the “hippie van” was mine. She had noticed the curtains in the windows. I replied that it was, and we took a smoking break in the van while the kids were in their lessons. Linda became a good friend and helped me acclimate to this new seemingly hostile environment.
We stayed in my parents’ basement in East Greenbush, NY for a few months then finally found our own apartment in the south end of Albany. It was a three-bedroom apartment on Green Street near the projects and bordering the ghetto. We were told that there were no pets allowed but, after looking for months for a place we could afford and being sick of living with my parents, we weren't going to turn this apartment down. But, we also couldn't leave our cat out of our lives. She had traveled 3000 miles cross-country with us after all, so we decided to try to sneak her in. It worked for a while, but we were finally found out and given notice unless we got rid of her. We didn't know very many people yet but had a young lead guitar player who offered to keep her until we could take her back. Stupidly, we trusted him. He kept assuring us that she was doing well. Then, many months later, we found out that he had given her to an old woman in his neighboirhood who had fallen in love with her. This broke Jessie's heart, and we never really forgave him. We tried to get her back, but the woman had moved away to parts unknown.
I soon went looking at the neighborhood school. Upon visiting, I was told that I had nothing to worry about as they were going to search the Elementary School students for weapons upon entering each morning. Yikes! This was not the school I was looking for. I finally met someone who told me about The Albany Free School, which was also in the neighborhood, so I went to visit there. I had experience with other alternative schools on the west coast and was very open to the idea of sending my children to this one. It seemed like a good fit, and I started volunteering there in the fall as my daughter started school. I ended up teaching there for 12 years in various roles.
In addition to our grown-up struggles, our kids also needed to learn how to navigate this new place. The day after we moved in, the neighborhood kids came running up the stairs to tell me that my son was peeing on the sidewalk. He was used to peeing in our backyard, which we didn’t have now, and had to learn to come inside. He had a lot of accidents for the next month or so. The first week we were in our apartment, Jessie’s bike was stolen. A boy had asked if he could ride her bike then never came back. Ugh! We reported it and were visited by the neighborhood cop who made sure to tell us where all the drug dealers were so we could avoid them. He also told us not to bother reporting these minor incidents. We had never really lived in a city before and were learning a lot. Paul thanked him and, after he left, Paul went out for a walk to the areas we had been warned about. We were getting to know the area and the people, making contacts and figuring out how to survive and hopefully to thrive.
Once I found The Free School, I found the local food co-op and more. Although, Albany was still a bit behind the west coast in alternatives, such as home birthing and natural healing, I had finally found my community of like-minded people, and it only grew from there. We joined the Rok Against Reaganomics committee and started putting on shows at the local clubs and the big annual event in the park. We were welcomed by local musicians and had a social life that included our children who often came to shows. Our first band was “Cosmo Rock” and was like another family. Our drummer and bass player both had families of their own with kids our kids’ ages. It was a lot of fun. The next band was “General Eclectic,” a name that stuck with us for many years to come. This band had many different incarnations with players coming and going. Sometimes it was just the two of us, other times we had up to six members. Jessie loved the social aspect of the shows and rehearsals. Justin was still quite young and often crawled under a table with a pillow and blanket to sleep through it all. He was always very smart about finding an out-of-the-way spot where no one would trip over or step on him.
Although Jessie was struggling with making friends, she came to us and declared that she wasn’t moving again. She wanted to stay in New York and would stay with her grandparents if necessary. She was tired of having to start over every year or so and yearned to plant roots. Although it was not an easy decision for two adventure-seeking tumbleweeds, Paul and I agreed to stay … and we did. We moved out to the country at one point but stayed in the general area. It's been hard sometimes to stay put, but in the long run, I'm glad. I like it here.
Summertime is always so busy and often takes my mind away from my writing. However, my eldest who is also my only daughter, came to visit for a week inspiring me to get back to this project.
After our wonderful late-night parade, we traveled on without incident aiming for an herb farm in Western Pennsylvania. Paul’s sister lived there, married to the owner of the farm and had promised us some day work. We knew we were running low on funds, so we stopped in Illinois 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 the summit of the Rocky Mountains 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 always listened to them if they felt uncomfortable around someone.
While Paul was off doing car business, we all showered, and I napped on a real bed while the younger folks played with my kids. 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.
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, came back for a shower and dinner and announced that we could now travel at night and had better hit the road. 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 farm on the gas 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. 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 uncles who had heard the story and decided to go to the pawn shop and see if he could retrieve the guitar. We assured him that way too much time had gone by, but he insisted. He actually got the guitar, drove it up to a cousin of his who was going to visit in-laws in Chatham, NY. My mother went to Chatham to pick it up, and Paul was reunited with that much-loved guitar more than 10 years later.
We arrived at the herb farm and breathed a sigh of relief, forgetting that Paul and his sister were like oil and water. The visit didn’t go very well, but we did work for a couple of days, long enough to make enough money to pay for the rest of the trip and even get a motel room, with cash this time, our last night on the road. We were exhausted by now and wanted to arrive in New York well rested. Plus, the kids had been such troopers, and a motel room was a huge treat for them.
We woke up excited, knowing that in a few hours our trip would finally be at its end. We ran outside to the bus only to find one of the tires not only flat, but with chunks out of it. So much for well rested and relaxed. Now even the kids, who had been totally engaged in the trip until now, were done with this adventure. We got the new tire and headed toward Albany, NY. We had been on the road for over three weeks now.
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.
We briefly discussed what to do. We were so close to the end of our journey now. We decided to go on, as slowly as we could, using our gears to slow us down when necessary. 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 3 ½ years old, decided to “fix” the bus for us. He found a can of oil and poured it all over the engine. The engine in those old VW buses were in the back, easily accessible to a 3-year old, especially if the hood is not attached securely. Luckily, the only harm was the smoking as the oil burned off, and at that point, all we could do was laugh.
Many people believe that the mid-west is flat. They often complain about the tedium of traveling across such flatlands, seeing nothing but fields and farms. If you have ever driven through that land in a VW Bus, you’ll know that’s not true. We breathed a sigh of relief once we passed through all the western mountains until we realized that the bus slowed down on every slight rise. It didn’t look like we were going up or down hill, but the bus felt it. It seemed like it took forever to cross the plains. We managed to stop at rest areas or truck stops before dark for most of the time.
In general, we really liked driving through Nebraska. Nebraska had the best rest stops for children. There were playgrounds and lots of shaded areas to run around and play. One evening, it was starting to get dark, so we had decided to get off at the next exit and find a place to spend the night. Unfortunately, the next exit was too many miles away, and we were forced to turn on the headlights to see, slowly coasting to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. We sat on the side of the road, hoping 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 and yelled, “There are kids in the car!” The troopers slowly walked forward and patted Paul down, then shone their flashlights into the car. They yelled at him for what seemed like a long time telling us both to never jump out of the car or rummage around. To them, it looked like we were up to something. I never forgot that lesson.
We finally got around to telling them about our car issues and the reason 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, not even enough to pay for the tow let alone the rest of the ill-fated journey. We were trying to get to Pennsylvania, where we had the promise of some day-work. I’d always taught my children to be friendly with law enforcement. They always waved when we passed them and often engaged them if we were stopped for any reason. They helped me get out of a lot of speeding tickets back in my younger days. They probably helped that night, too. All of the men who had stopped loved them and spent time asking them about their trip so far. Luckily, they were also very wise about what not to say to officials. After going round and round with the police, begging and pleading, they finally agreed to give us a jump and let us drive in the dark with Paul and I holding flashlights out the windows and the emergency vehicles in front and behind us with their spotlights and flashers on. The flashlights were the cops’ idea, which I thought was a little silly, but the kids loved being in their own parade! Somehow, I was always able to spin difficult events into something fun and exciting.
When we got to the truck stop, the volunteer firefighters had taken up a collection and handed us money to buy breakfast with some left over for gas. 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. My ulterior motive was that they would sleep in the bus, giving us more time and distance on the road. She still remembers it fondly. It's always interested me how people in the same family, experiencing the same things, remember them so differently. For us, the "responsible" adults, it was very stressful. For the kids, it was fun and exciting.
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 very long and curvy. There was no backing up, and the next exit was very far. Jessie cried the whole way, certain that Autumn had run off when we left her. We finally made it back, and 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.
It’s hard to get back to this topic with China still so fresh in my mind. And, now I’ve been invited to go back in late December to a different area of the country and am prepping a show about my travels there for early August, but I really do want to also keep writing about my past journeys. So here goes …
We had made the decision to move back east and with my parents now living in upstate New York, that seemed like the most practical destination. We had a VW bus that we prepped for travel. I 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 my 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. I knew what kind of toys and art supplies were best and stocked up on those. When traveling with my kids, whether on short or long trips, I always made sure I had something new and exciting, something they'd never done before. Painting was definitely out, but they both loved it so I found paint with water books. I found a narrow necked bottle that attached to the curtains and filled it halfway with water - just enough for them to manage without it spilling everywhere. I also picked up a couple of those "magic" books with the special pen that looks invisible but reveals what's on the paper. Justin got a coloring one, and Jessie got one with puzzles and the like.
We were finally packed and ready for our exciting adventure. We hosted our final Open Mic and said a tearful goodbye to all of our wonderful friends. Just as I was getting into the bus, an artist friend handed me a jar of old barn nails saying, “You never know what you might need along the way.” That turned out to be a very prophetic statement. We left in late April and planned to travel for a week. We didn’t consider the fact that we were traveling in an older VW bus loaded down with all of our possessions, two children, two adults and a cat. We also thought we had plenty of money for the trip and planned on getting jobs when we arrived at our destination. We didn't realize at the time that we would break down in every state along the way. That ill-fated trip took us almost a month. The only time we stopped on purpose was to work on an herb farm as day laborers in Pennsylvania to make enough money to finish the last leg of our journey.
The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. We almost didn’t make it up the highest point we would have to climb when our bus just stopped. We could see the summit but couldn’t get there. We jumped out of the bus and went 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 fly wheel was 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. We pounded a few of the largest ones in there, but it wasn’t quite enough. A year earlier, Paul had repaired the brakes on our Plymouth Valiant and had one small piece left over, he took them apart a few more times and still couldn’t figure out where it went, so he threw it in the toolbox, hoping for the best. That old brake part fit perfectly with the nails in the leftover space in the flywheel, and that repair took us all the way to Ohio … but not without many stops along the way.
Although we had made a temporary fix, the car now only ran during the daytime, so we slept the first night in the bus on the side of the road. It was important to stop frequently and let the kids run around. They were young, just 3 and almost 7 with lots of energy. And I did make them run – literally. At every stop, we ran circles around each other and the rest areas. We also let the cat out to do what she needed to do. My cats never had litter boxes. They always learned to let me know when they needed to go out. By the time we stopped running, everyone was happy to sit back down in the bus. The next day, we drove into Salt Lake City just as night was falling 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. The attendant took one look at us with our long hair, hippie van with curtains in the window, our kids trailing along behind us and our cat looking out the back window. He cautiously 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 and please, please would we help him out. We finally took pity on him. He offered to trade us a room for a few joints then 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 generously, in weed of course, and went on our way. We still had a long way to go.
We loved living in Hebo, Oregon with our ever-changing motley crew of intrepid travelers passing through almost daily and our weekly Open Mic gig in Pacific City. Then one day our old friend Clinton arrived with a friend from New Jersey. They couldn’t have come on a better day. Jessie’s elementary school was less than a block away with its little playground, so we went there often. This particular day, I set Justin at the top of the tall metal slide, as I had done many times before, waiting for him to be settled before going around to the bottom to catch him. This time, he stuck his sneakered feet out against the sides to slow himself down where one of them snagged and flipped him over the side and onto his head on the asphalt surface. I saw him falling and lunged for him, catching the toe of his sneaker as he hit the ground.
He was conscious but dazed, and I knew enough first aid to know that I probably had shouldn’t move him right away, although my first instinct was to scoop him up into my arms immediately. Instead, I kept talking to him, asking if he could see me then asking if he could move at all. He was bleeding but had not yet started crying. I was terrified. A grandfather was also there with his grandchild and came over screaming at me about what a bad mother I was because I had not picked him up yet, but I managed to block him out and focus completely on my injured child. Eventually, he started to cry, rolled himself over and started vomiting, so I picked him up and ran home with Jessie keeping up with me.
When we entered the driveway, Paul met us outside. I was covered in blood and vomit and in shock. He was the next one to start screaming at me. He wanted to know what I had done to his child. At this point, I couldn’t even speak, so I just stared at him. Thankfully, Clinton came out and took Paul aside, allowing me to go inside and formulate our next steps which were to get to a hospital as soon as possible. With Clinton there, we were able to leave Jessie at home. We packed Justin into the car and set off on the half hour ride to Tillamook for the nearest emergency room.
We walked in and waited … and waited … and waited, trying to keep him alert and awake. Once I started making a scene, they finally took us in for an x-ray, they handed me a lead vest to wear but nothing for him. When I questioned them, they explained that they didn’t have a child-sized vest and only had one on site. He needed me to stay with him, so they wanted me to wear it. I immediately took it off and laid it over him. I was not impressed with this place so far. Luckily and miraculously, there was no fracture, but they wanted to keep him overnight for observation. Based on my experiences with them up to this point, there was no way I was leaving him there. Under protest, they instructed me to wake him every hour and ask questions such as “what’s your name, can you tell me your abcs, can you sing a song.” We arrived back home at 11 pm.
It had been a very long day, and I was looking at waking every hour for the rest of the night. During that first hour, I finally changed out of my disgusting clothes and showered. Then I woke him, asking those all-important questions and sat down heavily in our recliner to try to de-stress. As soon as I sat, I heard a very distressed “meow” coming from behind the chair and discovered our cat having difficulties giving birth to her first litter. The first kitten was out but she ignored it, so I removed the sac and rubbed her to consciousness. The same happened with the second and the third. I tried to show her what I was doing, but she wasn’t interested. She was having a hard enough time getting them out. So, I spent the rest of the night delivering kittens and waking my concussed toddler every hour while everyone else slept soundly. In all fairness though, all of the adults did check in occasionally throughout the night.
A few days later, Clinton asked us to house his friend Vernon for the summer. They had hitchhiked across the country together, but Vernon was brutally shy and was becoming a burden. Clinton was certain that they would both have a much better summer apart. Paul was a little apprehensive, but I was also very shy and understood. I also figured that if he experienced all of our craziness upon his arrival and was still willing to stay with us, he might fit right in, and he turned out to be one of our closest friends for a very long time.
Unfortunately, all good things seem to come to an end, and our landlord decided to come back much earlier than originally anticipated. We moved to a tiny trailer in a trailer park in Beaver, Oregon, not far from Hebo, made some new friends and enrolled Jessie in her third school. She was in first grade. One of our neighbors kept telling us that our music reminded her of music she had heard at Caffe Lena in upstate New York and suggested that we relocate there. We had no intention of moving. We liked it where we were but the thought stuck.
Then, one day Jessie came home with two permission slip. The first one was giving permission for “paddling” if necessary. Because I refused to sign it, I was called in for a conference with the principal. He had dealt with hippies before and wanted to assure me that, as long as my child behaved, there was no need to worry. The second form was giving permission for Jessie to join “The Good News Club” which would be meeting during school hours. Not knowing what it was, and liking the name, I signed that one. It wasn’t until she started bringing home bible tracts that I realized what the good news really was. Paul lost another job at that time, and we received a large tax return. My parents had also recently moved to upstate New York so, remembering the suggestion of our neighbor, we started packing for the journey east that felt like it took a lifetime.
We settled into our new home quickly. The hippie community was very welcoming. The longtime locals were cautious at best. Paul quickly found work at a restaurant, and I started babysitting for a few children. I had worked doing childcare out of my home in Portland, which was quite an experience at times. Now, I just did it part-time, mostly for trades of freshly caught salmon or homegrown pot. We also had a weekly gig running an open mic at The Riverhouse, a café on the Nestucca River in Pacific City. The place was always packed, and we met some wonderful musicians there. It also taught us a lot about running successful shows. The hardest party about doing these shows once a week was leaving my kids behind. We started out with them coming, but Justin was too little to stay out so late and was a rambunctious trouble-maker, so I had to find a sitter. Luckily, we found a wonderful teenaged girl who lived in a neighboring town and had many younger siblings, so I knew she could handle him. Although he often cried when we left, one evening, Justin decided he’d had enough. He broke away from her as we drove off, running down the middle of the highway screaming, “Mama, come back!” I started yelling at Paul to turn around and go back. My heart was breaking at the sight and sound of my baby crying for me. Paul refused to stop and, when I called home upon our arrival at the café, I found out that Justin had stopped crying as soon as we were out of sight. I could hear him laughing in the background and learned a valuable lesson that night.
Paul was always one for “bad” jokes and puns, so he started telling at least one joke a week. It was a very popular segment of the show. Many of them were real groaners. After a year of hearing these jokes week after week, folks started getting tired of it and came asking me to do something about it. It was around the same time that Aron Kay and other yippies were pieing political figures such as William Buckley, Phyliss Schlafly, G. Gordon Liddy and many others. Paul really admired the yippies for doing that, so I decided to give the “bad joke of the week” segment a big ending. I knew that Paul would never willingly give it up, so I had a plan to pie him in the face after his joke. Later on, a friend suggested that shaving cream is a kinder way to do it, but at the time all I knew was whipped cream. As he told his joke, I filled up a pie pan with whipped cream and waited … and waited … and waited, while he told more and more jokes. The crowd was getting antsy, and the whipped cream was melting. When he finally finished, I hit him with this pie pan full of half liquid cream. Sploosh! The crowd loved it. Paul was a good sport, and that was the end of “bad joke of the week”.
One man we met there was a songwriter named Mitt. He was not a hippie. He was a local and had a connection with a local radio station in Tillamook and hired us to record one of his songs in multiple harmonies. There were six of us on that recording. It was my first experience in a recording studio and my first time hearing myself on the radio. I was hooked. One day, he came to the house to jam and met our kids for the first time. Jessie loved to dress her brother up in her old dresses. She even had a name for him in drag, Rubessa. He enjoyed it too, and we saw no harm in it. He was wearing a frouffy, lacy dress that day, toddling around without anything else on because he was potty training. I always found it easier to teach my kids to use a potty when it was easily accessible, so they had a potty where they could see it, not hidden away in the bathroom, and didn’t wear even training pants. This was well before they started making disposable training pants, which in my opinion are too much like diapers to be very effective. The kids were playing around us as we jammed, dancing and listening to the music when Justin fell, and his dress flew up around his face. The look on Mitt’s face, as he realized that we didn’t have two daughters, was priceless.
We also met a woman flutist, Marla, who lived on a farm with her boyfriend Tom. One Easter, we were invited to an egg hunt at the farm. Most of the eggs were in the barn, so off we went with a whole troupe of friends to find them. Jessie decided that she needed to use the bathroom, so we left the group and started walking back to the house when we were suddenly attacked by their geese. They surrounded us and started trying to bite our legs. Justin was still small, so I scooped him up while holding on to Jessie and kicking at the geese. Finally, another adult came out to help us, and we made it to the house. Jessie’s memory is that I picked her brother up and left her to the strong beaks of those geese. She still reminds me of that. In reality, I was trying to protect both children and could only lift one of them, but we all remember things in our own ways. Another incident at that farm happened when we arrived one time for a visit. They had horses, so there was a metal gate that had to be opened to drive through. Jessie loved being a “big girl” and opening the gate for me. This one day however, there was a curious horse that strolled over as she opened the gate. It startled her, and she screamed, scaring the horse and sending it galloping down the road. Tom came running out chasing the horse almost all the way to the highway before finally catching him.
Of course, our friends, Patty and Jim were living there as well. They were the reason we ended up there in the first place. Although they didn’t have a farm, they also raised animals and gardened. They bought a lamb, who they named “Buck Burger” as a way to let the kids know that this would someday be food. They were cautioned not to play with the lamb for that reason. Predictably, they didn’t listen and played, not only with the lamb, but with the baby rabbits, too. We would chase them away, and as soon as our backs were turned, they’d go right back. Nothing could keep them away from these cute little babies. One day there was an unusual heat wave, and all the baby rabbits died. We were invited to a delicious dinner that night. Jessie raved about how good the food was and wanted to know what we were having. When Jim told her that we were eating Buck Burger and rabbit, she cried and never ate meat again. It was a hard lesson but one that farm kids have to learn. She was obviously not destined to live on a farm.
Another man we met was a stand-up bass player named David. He had one of the longest beards I’d seen and braided it in creative ways. He was a gentle giant, and Jessie was fascinated by him. He often joined us in our sets at the café. He was one of the few friends who didn’t have children of his own. There was also a pot farmer and another couple who worked on a dairy farm. We had finally landed in a community where our children had lots of friends, and we were surrounded by like-minded people who were raising their kids in a similar way. I also found out about an alternative school that was there. This was the second time I’d heard about alternative education, the first being in San Francisco in the artist community we were in briefly. As you’ll find out later, the third time was the charm.
Because our house was so large, we started offering the hitchhikers we picked up a place to stay for the night. We had been well taken car of during our travels and wanted to repay those favors. We were on a major intersection, so sometimes we would see people hitching right in front of the house. Before long, people started knocking on our door saying that they’d heard about a place to stay with a hot shower and a pancake breakfast in the morning. We became so popular that these travelers suggested that we should ask for some kind of payment, so we asked for trades. Some folks did yard work, some did house cleaning, some gave us trinkets that they made, some entertained the kids while I did my own chores. Whatever they wanted to trade was always acceptable. Many years later, I found a pancake breakfast sign in the closet of a big rambling old mansion I lived in. I still have it today as a reminder of that time.
We had one man from Israel who was touring the US by thumb tell us that he had heard from someone in Ohio that he could find a place to stay with us. Another man was walking from Vancouver, British Columbia to Nicaragua to protest US involvement there. He carried a large silk banner that he had made. I wish I had taken more photos from that time or kept a journal with all of the details. Jessie was fascinated by this unusual long-haired hippie. He explained his journey to her and told her that his plan was to arrive at his destination around her birthday, at the end of the summer. He also said that, if he arrived safely, he would send her a birthday card. Sadly, we never heard from him again. I couldn’t possibly count the numbers of people who stayed with us during that time, and I heard later that when the landlord moved back and we moved on to another place, he had hitchhikers knocking on his door for a few years more. It was a wonderful education for our kids. They got to know such a variety of people from all different cultures, some of whom didn’t speak much English but figured out how to communicate with us, nonetheless. And, they would sing songs and tell stories in their own languages, entertaining my kids for hours.
Of course, our old friends visited us here, too. One in particular, I will write about next.
Shortly after this difficult birth, Paul found out that his dad was dying of cancer. He’d always had a stormy relationship with his dad and wanted to try to have a better ending, so he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a month and a half to be with him in his final days. Justin was only a month old and already very attached to me. The absence of his dad solidified that attachment, as I quickly became more of a supermom than I already was. We still had no car and very little money, so taxis were out of the question, and everything was just too cumbersome for a bus. Because of the cloth diapers I was using, it was impossible for me to lug both children and huge loads of laundry to the laundromat more than a mile away, so I washed our clothes in the bathtub, boiled the diapers on the stove and, because it was winter in the rainy Northwest, hung everything to dry in the living room. I had a Tupperware device that looked like a plunger with multiple cups that had holes in them for hand washing clothes. That helped, but it was an endless job. I felt like a pioneer woman. After three or four weeks of this, my parents, who rarely helped out, finally took pity on me and sent money for disposable diapers which helped a lot. Now I only had to worry about the muddy clothes from playing outside in mud instead of the snow I’d been used to.
Meanwhile, I was still recovering from the bruised ribs that occurred during my pregnancy and now had massive back pain. I found out years later that the back pain was due to that same pregnancy. Not only did it bruise my ribs, but my scoliosis, which had been managed earlier in my life had started progressing again. But for now, I was a single mom with two kids to care for, and I had to just push through the pain, though there were days when I struggled to even get out of bed and had to depend on Jessie to mostly care for herself. Justin was a clingy baby, so it was easiest to wear him all the time in spite of the discomfort. I wore him while I did my house cleaning and cooking and while I spent much needed time with his sister. I would shower as quickly as I could while he lay in his crib screaming and refusing to be entertained by his sister. When Paul finally returned, Justin didn’t even remember him and was very shy, refusing to be held by his own dad.
Grocery shopping was easier because there was a little Chinese grocery store just a couple of blocks away that was an easy walk. They had great produce, and I could buy tofu, which I had recently discovered, in bulk from the back room. I would go knock on the window and hold up one finger or two. The worker would bring it out to me with a big grin, obviously thrilled that a Caucasian was buying tofu. Once, in very broken English, a woman asked me how I cooked it. She was stunned when I told her I used it in spaghetti sauce and said she would try it. One day, I stuck Justin in the front pack and put on my framed backpack to go buy some food. As usual, I bought more than anticipated and had a full heavy pack on my back. As we were walking along, Jessie saw a flower and insisted that I lean down to smell it. As she reached for me to push me further down, I lost my balance and fell onto my back. I quickly realized that I couldn’t get up from this position. The pack was so heavy that I also couldn’t roll over. I was stuck like a turtle on its back. Jessie tried to push and pull me to no avail. I had no idea what to do and felt like a complete fool, plus it was very uncomfortable. We were on a shortcut that was a dead-end road with very little foot traffic. After what seemed like an eternity but was just under an hour, someone came walking by, and Jessie ran up to him asking if he could please help her mama, which he did. Thankfully, I never saw him again.
Once the weather turned nicer, we got to know our neighbors and really enjoyed their company. Before that, I felt very isolated and had started plunging into depression again. The constant gray skies and rain didn't help either. Now, I saw the neighbors every day. I also could go out walking in a more pleasant environment without the cold rain and sometimes icy conditions. There were children on either side of us that were similar in age to my kids, and they got to be great friends. There were Jerry and Stephen on one side and Shard, Baird and Lucy on the other. Stephen and Lucy were both babies, and Jerry was Jessie’s age. Shard and Baird were older, but Baird and Jessie enjoyed playing together. One day, the two of them came racing into the house. Jessie was always a big talker. She even talked in her sleep so much that it often kept me awake until I got used to it. This day, she rambled on frenetically, jumping up and down and waving her arms. I couldn’t understand a word she said and kept trying to get her to slow down. Every once in a while, she would run back and forth until she was out of breath then start up again. Eventually, I found out that she was telling me about this great snack they just had … coffee beans!!! They had gotten into the jar of whole beans when no one was looking and had a feast. Their pockets were even full of them. She did this once more with a neighbor across the street, only this time they ate a bottle of children’s vitamins.
The other thing that changed, once the weather got nicer, is that we went back to busking. We had done it in California and occasionally on our way across the country. In Portland, there was a weekly market, “Saturday Market.” We soon became fixtures there along with many other buskers. We brought the kids along and made it a family outing. Justin was sitting up now and would sit in the guitar case playing with the money. He never ate it but often threw it back out at people. This was a great hook, and folks often put even more in. Jessie was also getting older and wore her flowing long hippie skirts, dancing around while we played and sang, drawing a crowd with her cuteness. We met the most amazing characters there. There was Tom Noddy the Bubble Man and Artis the Spoon Man. They spent summers in the Northwest and winters in Florida, making a good living performing on the streets. They’ve both been on television numerous times, and you can find them online. Artis taught Jessie her very first string figure, even before she learned Cat's Cradle. There were jugglers and magicians, there and was always a hammered dulcimer player who drew the biggest crowds playing the same four or five tunes over and over again. There was also a hippie woman walking around with a basket on her head that held pot cookies. Most of the kids didn’t realize what they were and often followed her around begging for a cookie, but she had her standards and only sold to those she knew were cool. All of the performers knew each other, and we were quickly invited into the “inner sanctum” – the smoking room in the back of an open warehouse.
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