We always packed a lunch and ate in the park. The homeless people also hung out in the park, and my kids would share their leftovers with them. Then they would hang out and visit. We knew them all, and they knew us by name. To my kids, they were just friendly people, though once in while Jessie would remark that some of them smelled bad. One time, my parents were visiting, and we took them downtown for a tour. In every doorway, some homeless man would sit up and greet us. My mom, whose dad was homeless I was to find out much later on, turned to me, a little horrified, and said, “Are these your friends?” “Well, yes. Kind of,” I replied. Those same men did me a great service a year later when Mount St. Helens erupted.
We met people who would turn out to be wonderful friends forever, including Clinton. Clinton was a Yale student who decided to take a year off to travel the country. He was learning to juggle and decided busking was not only a good way to hone his skill but maybe he’d also make a little money. He had met the Karamazov Brothers and learned a little from them. Now he was in Portland and had no place to stay. During our travels, Paul and I had stayed with many different people and were always willing to put people up. Clinton asked if he could pitch a tent in our yard. Of course, we said yes. After a little while, I noticed that he was coming in to use the bathroom more than seemed usual. I finally asked him about it. It seems that, although he was making a little money here and there, he wasn’t making much and had been living on the fruit growing on the trees in our yard – mostly plums. I insisted that he start having his meals with us, which he did. There are lots of wonderful stories that include Clinton as he became one of our best friends.
Amber and I reconnected, and Paul never stopped bringing random people to the house. We now had a wide assortment of friends, including musicians who we jammed with regularly. It felt like maybe we were settling down for a change. One day, Paul brought home a couple of German young men visiting the US. They spoke very little English but were able to communicate enough for us to find out that they were studying construction and were looking forward to touring the cement factory in Portland. They thought that Portland cement was made in Oregon and asked us to set up a tour for them. The man I spoke to at the factory told me that they were not the famous Portland cement place, but Lars and Mike didn’t care. They came to tour a cement factory and were determined to do it. They had already gone to Portland, Maine with the same result. The fellow at the factory was thrilled to be giving his first tour ever, and they were satisfied. They stayed with us for a week during which they spoke to my kids in German, telling them stories and singing German children’s songs. In the book, I will relay another very funny story about their visit. All in all, it was a great experience for all of us even with the language barrier.
Another couple that we knew were Pam and Mark. They knew that Paul and I never got out without my kids, and they had gotten to know them. They told us they eventually wanted kids themselves. There was an all-day concert coming up with The Grateful Dead, David Bromberg, Allman Brothers and more. They offered to babysit, so that we could go to the show together. I was reluctant because Justin was so clingy, but I also desperately needed to go out as a free adult. I pumped plenty of milk, and I knew Jessie would be there, too. Justin adored his sister. He cried when I left, and I did, too. Paul assured me all would be well. After about an hour into the show, my milk started flowing. I assumed it was because I was thinking of him. But it didn’t really stop. This was before the days of cell phones, and there was no access to a phone in the middle of this big field. After a while, I started to feel panicky and insisted that we go home. Thankfully, Paul was reasonable about it. We’d been there for a few hours already and had seen the bands we were really attached to seeing. We got home and walked in the house to find Mark walking up and down with a screaming baby while Pam was reduced to a puddle of tears on the floor. Justin had been screaming the entire time I was gone. So much for getting a break.
Then, one day Paul brought home Ray. Ray was also traveling around the country after a tragic breakup with his long-term girlfriend. He was broken-hearted and broke. He asked if he could stay while he found a job and saved enough money to make it back home in the Southeast. Of course, we said yes … again. However, this time we regretted it. Ray was a closet Christian but didn’t live as a Christian. He was pushy and selfish, the polar opposite of Clinton. He would think nothing of eating all the food in the refrigerator and try to make us feel guilty when we called him out on it. One day, I caught him proselytizing to Jessie, giving her a child’s Bible and scaring her about the fires of hell. I lost it at that point and, after screaming at him, told Paul he had to go. He’d been working and never gave us anything, so I knew he must have plenty of money for his drive home.
A week later, he asked Paul to go out for a farewell drink. Hooray! He was leaving early the next day. He packed his van with all of his things and off they went. When Paul walked in the door without him hours later, I suspected that something had gone terribly wrong. Apparently, the van wouldn’t start so Ray decided to pour some gasoline into the carburetor, which was in the cab in this Chevy van, and accidentally set the van on fire. An hour later, the burned-out shell of his van was towed to our driveway. He lost everything, including all of the money he had saved. Normally, I am a very generous and understanding person, but I insisted he find another place to stay. He’d already been with us for a miserable month, and I knew I couldn’t put up with him for even one more day. He moved on, and life resumed with way less stress.
Next up ... Mt. St. Helens and another move.