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.