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.
We finally arrived in Husum, Washington where my best friend, Amber, had just had her first child named Harvest. Amber had been with me for the birth of my first child, and now I wanted to be there for her. She was living in an old farmhouse on the side of Mount Adams with a beautiful view of the mountains. Her daughter was beautiful, of course. Her relationship with Harvest’s dad was not so beautiful, and he was mostly absent, leaving Amber to take care of everything by herself. Unfortunately, at that time, Paul and I were not the best house guests. There was no indoor plumbing, and Paul really didn’t know how to deal with that, so he made quite a few mistakes that added to the tension already in the house.
In addition, we needed to settle somewhere, so he went looking for work. He finally found a job at Timberline Lodge, a ski resort on Mount Hood that had been built by the WPA during the Great Depression. FDR wanted to give artists and artisans employment, so he put them to work building this spectacular lodge. There are murals, wood carvings, tile work, stone work and much more. It is a beautiful work of art. There is snow on the mountain all year round, so it’s a popular place for skiing, even the Olympic teams have trained there. In order to get to work every day, he had to live there in the employee housing. However, he couldn’t bring his family, so Jessie and I stayed behind seeing him only on weekends.
We had a wonderful leave taking the night before he left for the lodge. At one point, I warned him that there might end up being another baby on the way. We both decided that would be fine and not much later, I was absolutely sure. In all of my pregnancies, I never got morning sickness. I always felt healthier than ever before. This one was no different. I would occasionally feel a tiny upset, but it was never very uncomfortable and didn't last long. However, my emotions were raw. Here I was living in a very stressful environment with a 3-year old and expecting another baby. We didn’t have our own home yet, and my husband was living on another mountain. Sometimes I would drive to visit him on a weekend and very rarely, he would come to Husum. Neither of us wanted to be there any longer, and we weren’t really welcome anymore either.
Eventually, we moved into a motel at the base of Mount Hood. We had two rooms and a bathroom for a weekly rate. There were other people living there, too. Finally, Paul found us a tiny cabin in the village of Zig Zag. This cabin also had two rooms and a bath but was even smaller than the motel rooms. But at least here, Jessie and I could walk to the Post Office and the little health food store for some socialization.
Hippies that we were, we loved knowing that our address was Zig Zag, Oregon. But that was the extent of the perks. I was very lonely and becoming more depressed every day. There were no neighbors, and I had no friends here. After a short while, Paul lost the job at the lodge and had to go looking for work in Portland. On one hand, I was relieved. I was going to be having a baby and had decided to have a home birth after the fiasco of my first hospital birth, and the clock was ticking. I needed to find a midwife. We hoped that we could move to the city soon.
Our car had broken down, and we had no money to fix it, so Paul spent the next few months hitchhiking to and from Portland for his job. He would leave at 4 am and get home late at night. Once again, the time we had together, which was very little, was spent fighting. And I wasn’t the best mother to Jessie at that time. I became so depressed, it was difficult to get out of bed. I had to force myself to read to her and play games, but I made sure that we went for our walk every day to and from the Post Office and up and down the little road we lived on. I forced myself to put on a good face, but she could tell that things were not the same.
We finally met a couple who lived on our road, only two cabins away. They invited us for dinner one night where I ate tofu for the first time. They cooked it in spaghetti sauce. They had friends visiting who were living in Portland and looking for a place on the mountain near their friends. How synchronistic! We were looking for a place in Portland. We were each paying $350/month rent and decided to just trade houses. Each of the landlords were pleased, so we moved to 10605 East Burnside Avenue when I was almost seven months pregnant. In addition to all of the other stressors, Amber and I were not speaking, and I missed my friend. Luckily, enough time had gone by from when we had dropped off Debbie and Steve after our nightmare of a trip, that we reconnected with them and started a new life in the city.
The new house was wonderful. We didn’t have access to the back rooms with the washer and dryer, but we now had two good sized bedrooms, a large living room and eat-in kitchen and a huge backyard. The house was set back off the main road on a little dirt cut away with another house on either side of us. Our neighbors were great with kids of their own, so we ended up taking down the fences between our yards giving all of the kids free rein of a lot of land. We were right on a main bus line making it easy to get anywhere we wanted. We were ecstatic! We were ready for this next phase in our nomadic life.
One of the friends I had while living in Connecticut was a woman with the same name. That wasn’t unusual. In fact, Debbie was such a common name, I had multiple friends named Deborah or Debbie for short. This particular friend was looking for a change. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend who had fallen in love with someone else and moved away to be with her instead. When I told Debbie that we were planning to move back to the west coast, she asked if she could join us. She was one of the few people around whom we felt comfortable having our child, and we realized that it would be good to have another driver with their contribution to the fuel expense, so we said okay. A few days before we were due to leave, her ex-boyfriend decided that he had made a mistake and wanted her back. She begged us to let him join us. After much back and forth, we finally agreed. I was worried about the fact that he had broken her heart which was still feeling raw, and we were going to be trapped in a car with them. Then there was the fact that there were now four adults and a small child, with all of the belongings we could manage to fit, in a Plymouth Valiant. Paul, always the optimist, assured me that all would be well. Boy, was he wrong.
The trip was stressful even before we started on the road. We had a couple of meetings during which Debbie and Steve argued. We finally told them that one of the conditions of continuing on with us was that they agree not to argue in the car. So, they often took it outside. The car was packed so full that even the floor in the back was packed right up to the seat, so whoever was in the back had to sit cross-legged. Jessie was in the back with two adults, and I hoped that whoever was back there would help keep her occupied. That didn’t work out the way I’d hoped. Steve decided to bring along his comic book collection. They were all encased in plastic sleeves and worth a lot of money, so he didn’t want anyone but himself touching them. Tell that to a two-year old. Not only was there constant tension between him and Debbie, who didn't actually fight inside the car, as per our agreement, now he fought with our two-year old in the car over his comics during the entire trip. He also ate sardines on the road, stinking up the car, making everyone nauseous, and there was no reasoning with him. I wanted to drop them off somewhere and let them find their own way, but Paul was insistent that we needed their monetary contributions and their driving abilities.
When we got to Ohio, they wanted to stay for a few days and visit with a friend of theirs. We wanted to keep moving and had a friend in Kansas City, Kansas that we wanted to visit. We dropped them off in Ohio and drove to Kansas. The plan was for them to hitchhike and meet us in Kansas City by a certain date or we would go on without them. I hoped that they would decide not to come or would come too late and we’d be freed from this burden. Just as I started to breathe a sight of relief, because the rides had been in their favor, they showed up right at the last minute, so we had a full compliment once again.
Paul and I wanted to get to Washington State, where Amber was waiting for us, as quickly as possible, but Debbie and Steve really wanted to see the Grand Tetons. We were traveling in May, and I knew from past experience that there was often still snow in May, but there was no deterring them, so off we went to Wyoming. We hit a snowstorm and ended up spending the night in a motel, an expense that we hadn’t expected or prepared for, but it turned out to be a good thing since Jessie had picked up some stomach bug and vomited all night long. By the time we reached our destination, I had a constant headache and was running on fumes from lack of sleep.
We had a lot of grand adventures during that trip including a trip to Wind River Canyon where Jessie was picked up by the wind and carried off, causing her dad and I to chase after her, finally grabbing her foot as she went sailing through the air. We connected with old friends along the way and finally made it to Husum, Washington where Amber had just had her first child. That was the most stressful trip we made, including one to come a few years later that, although it was stressful, there were lots of fun elements that kept us going. This one didn’t have a lot of fun. Even Paul, who was very easy going with friends, had enough by that time, and was starting to fight with Steve. Once during the trip, I thought they would actually physically fight but thankfully, we were able to avoid that. We did manage to stay friends with Debbie and Steve, after a little time went by, and grew to really treasure that friendship. They were both a big part of my first two children's lives. I'm so glad to know them.
I’ve been taking these blog posts, expanding upon them, adding details and more stories and turning them into chapters for a book. I’ve been wanting to write a book for a long time and just felt overwhelmed by it. Where do I start? What do I write about? Now I figure I’ll write different themed books. One will be about my travels, maybe about my childhood, teaching, who knows. This first one will be “Recollections of a Hippie Mama.” I only have a few photos from that time, but I will include some of those as well.
When we arrived in Connecticut, after finishing up my parents’ vacation with them in New Hampshire, we immediately hit up the local bar for a gig. It was a huge success with all of our friends showing up to support us. Of course, we were convinced that this was our big start, so we set up housekeeping in Connecticut. My parents were thrilled. They would have their only grandchild close by. Now, you have to understand that my parents hated my husband. He was not who they had envisioned for me. He was a long-haired hippie who had been on the road since he was 14 and had whisked me away hitchhiking across the country. But at least he had married me when I got pregnant and provided for us, so they began talking to him on our return.
That doesn’t mean that things weren’t still tense. My parents were very conservative Republican, and my dad was quite influential in town. They knew that we smoked pot, which was a very big deal at that time. They also knew that we were very radical politically, and that was an even bigger deal. As a result, my daughter (Jessie) spent a lot of time with them by herself. Unfortunately, my sister was 16 years younger than me and became jealous of this interloper. She had been close to me before I left. Now I came back with a baby. How could I abandon her like that? At that time, they were both young enough that it was manageable, though that changed years later. Also, my mom still had a young child at home and wasn't available as often as I had hoped she would be.
Meanwhile, I took Jessie on walks around the neighborhood every day. We visited the firehouse which was only a block away and walked to the library. There was the park where I had gone to school with swings and slides. We also walked to the nearby vacant lot every morning. She called it the meadow. We would run and play, picking wildflowers and watching the butterflies. After a few rainy days, when we were unable to visit the meadow, we noticed that our apartment was vibrating - a lot! The dishes were rattling, and things were falling off the shelves. We finally got a sunny day and walked over to the meadow only to find that it had been transformed into a rock crushing operation. I looked at Jessie, worried at what her reaction would be. She looked up at me with awe and said, “Look Mommy! Now we can go to the mountains!” And we did, every morning. Luckily for us, they only worked in the afternoons and evenings.
None of our friends had children yet, so it was difficult for us to acclimate into our old group of friends. Many of them were wonderful, but we just couldn’t go out on the town every night as we had in the past. We did have a babysitter that lived in our building and hired her until we discovered that she was stealing our pot and getting way too high while watching our child. Jessie was not in school, and we didn’t go to a church, so it felt impossible to meet other young parents. We also struggled with finding other musicians to play with. In California, we'd had a full exciting life where we'd grown up a lot and changed our views on many things. Now, we were back in a conservative environment where many of our friends had not changed at all, still living the high life with no responsibilities. We were quickly becoming dissatisfied with our current environment.
In addition to those struggles, making a living in Connecticut was just as hard as it had been when we left. The cost of living was high, and we were unskilled workers. Our friends, who had come out en masse to support our music soon tired of it and went their own way. Paul worked two jobs while I tried my hand at different jobs … a school crossing guard and a school bus driver. Ugh! Although I could bring Jessie with me to both of these jobs, they both turned out to be horrible.
As a crossing guard, I was often the target of curses and had to jump out of the way of cars trying to run me down, sometimes while the kids were still crossing. Even with my little sign and vest, there was just no respect for that during rush hours. The school bus job was just as bad. I drove a short bus, bringing Jessie along for the ride. There were still no seat belts back then, and I was refused an aide. I had one girl who removed every item of clothing one at a time, throwing them out the bus window as I drove. Jessie soon learned to do that, too. By the time I reached my destination, I would have two naked girls. I had another girl who tried to run out of the bus every time I stopped to let someone on or off. I would open the door and lunge for her, holding her while she kicked and flailed at me and whoever was getting on or off. Once she got away and I had to flag down a passerby to chase her down and bring her back because I couldn’t leave the bus unattended. It was a zoo! Time and time again I requested back-up, but no help came. For a short while, the mom of a boy on crutches rode with me in the mornings. But that was short lived as he only needed the ride until he was off crutches.
I finally gave up the bus driving job because they got tired of me complaining about the lack of an aide and decided to put me into the bus that drove to the projects. The woman who had driven that route before me had been attacked by the students and ended up in the hospital, so there was a vacancy. They assured me that I shouldn’t worry because they had now installed a radio, so I could call for help if needed. Although I enjoyed driving the buses, and mostly enjoyed the kids, that was the end of my bus driving career.
Meanwhile, Paul was working nights at a high-rise private club as a chef and daytimes as a school cafeteria cook and manager. He had Sundays off and slept most of the day. Life had gotten very stressful there. We fought for much of the time he was awake, and my mother was once again starting to try to run my life, which was one of the reasons I had left originally. We realized that we needed to get out of there … again … so we started to plan the next move.
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