Meanwhile, Jessie had taught herself to read and was already reading well but it was time for her to start Kindergarten in the fall. She looked forward to meeting other kids her age and making new friends. I was also looking forward to this new phase. It didn’t take long for her teacher to start sending her to the first-grade classroom for reading. It also didn’t take long for her to figure out whose parents smoked pot and whose didn’t. I had cautioned her not to talk about it at school, explaining that it was illegal, and we could get in trouble. After her first or second day, she came home with a list of which families were okay with it. Ugh! It felt as though the country was becoming more conservative, and I started to worry about her lackadaisical attitude. She just didn’t seem to understand the kind of trouble we could get into. This was the same child who once asked me, “If I don’t talk to strangers, how will I ever make new friends?” She definitely had a point.
Paul had no trouble talking to strangers and making friends. He continued to bring random people home, mostly fellow travelers. One day, he walked in the door with two young men from Germany, Mike and Lars. They were studying to be architects and had come to the United States on vacation. When they found themselves in Portland, Oregon, they got excited about the prospect of visiting the Portland Cement plant. They had approached Paul asking where they could find the plant. He didn’t know, so he brought them home to ask me. They had very little English but kept saying “Portland is the city of cement.” We had never heard of Portland Cement and had no idea where the location was. I replied that Portland was the city of roses, not cement. They kept insisting, so we started making a few phone calls to try to find the answer. They appreciated the help and were happy to have found a place to stay for a few days. Eventually, we discovered that Portland Cement originated in Portland, England, an ocean away but easy enough for them to visit when they got back home to Germany. They decided to take a tour of a cement factory anyway, so we set that up for them. The man we spoke to on the phone was confused as to why anyone would want a tour but also thrilled since it was his first, and maybe only, tour ever requested.
Mike and Lars went off the next day to do a whole day of being tourists. They came back just before dinner and showed me a button Mike had bought downtown that read “LXIX” and wanted to know what it meant. Apparently, it had caused quite a stir in the shop when they asked the young woman behind the counter what it meant. She blushed, laughed a lot and refused to answer. They asked other customers and got the same reactions. Because of the reactions, he decided it must be a good button to have and a great souvenir of Portland. I translated the Roman numerals for them, but they still didn’t understand what it was, and I wasn’t willing to go any further with my explanation. I assured them that Paul would be home soon and could give them an answer then. When Paul did come home and was faced with the question, he almost fell over laughing. Then, he tried to explain what it was, but their English was so spotty, nothing got through. He finally drew a stick figure drawing. I watched the light dawn on them as they both got huge smiles, nodded and said to Paul, “Das ist gut, jah?” Paul agreed, and Mike wore that button proudly as they left the next day.
Meanwhile, Amber purchased herself another VW bus and came to Portland to retrieve it from the seller. The vehicle had been too good a deal to pass up, so she bought it before remembering that she didn’t drive a stick shift. She hadn’t even taken a test drive. She asked me to go with her to get it, which I did. I drove it back to our house and started trying to teach her to drive it. I learned to drive on a stick shift that was three on the column and had taught many people how to manage the gears. Amber, however, was not a great student. She finally left the bus with us for a little while, coming back for lessons. One day, I took the bus out to go shopping with my kids. There still were no car seats or seatbelt regulations, and the older cars had no seatbelts at all. So, the kids were in the back, cozied up in blankets on the bed while we drove along. I stopped on the side of the road to get out and mail a letter, but when I got back in, the bus wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. We were pretty far from home, too far to walk with two kids and all of my groceries. I sat there for a few minutes trying to come up with a plan when I saw a group of husky young men coming down the street. They looked like they might be college students, maybe even football players. After instructing Jessie to stay put, Justin was already asleep in the back, I jumped out, explained the situation and asked if they would push so that I could jump start the bus. They agreed.
I got back in and, as we got rolling along, I popped the clutch. Nothing happened. I popped it again, and again, and again. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working until I finally realized that I had forgotten to turn the key. Those poor guys pushed for blocks before I finally got it going. I was embarrassed at having made that mistake and didn’t want to stop, so I waved out the window and shouted my thanks. They waved back; a bit more than I had expected. They were still waving when I turned the corner heading for home. Once they were out of sight, I started laughing and telling Jessie what had just happened. When she didn’t respond, I figured she had fallen asleep in the big pile of blankets with her brother. I pulled up to our house, unloaded the groceries then went out to retrieve my kids. Uh-oh, there was only one child there. Somehow, I had left Jessie behind.
Luckily, the bus started right back up and, sure enough, when I got back to the spot where the bus had originally stopped, there was Jessie hanging out with these guys and having a great time. They were very sweet and assured me that they not only understood it was just a simple mistake, but they had really enjoyed my daughter. Apparently, Jessie had climbed out when I was talking to them and followed them down the street, block after block. They knew I would be back, and she wasn’t worried at all. To Jessie, it was another grand adventure. To me, it was horrifying. After that, I always checked for both kids before driving away. Paul used to tease me about my paranoia, but he didn’t have the same experiences that I did. I had taught my kids to be independent and now had to suffer the consequences.
It was fun having the bus to drive for a while, but Amber needed her vehicle. It was time for her to figure out how to manage this car. One day, I left the kids with Paul and took her out for what was to be her last lesson. She was so timid about using the clutch, I wasn’t sure she would ever learn. I tried to get her to hold the car with the clutch on a slight slope before taking her on a bigger hill. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t get it. I even tried having her listen to the sound of the gears as a way of knowing when to shift. Finally, out of desperation and frustration, I stopped the bus at a stop sign on a steep hill and got out. Amber looked at me in horror. I hadn’t pulled over but stopped in the driving lane. As she rolled down the window, I told her that I was finished teaching her. It was time to sink or swim. At the rate she was going, she would never get her car home. I knew she could do it. Amber is one of the most capable people I’ve ever known, so I didn’t understand what the problem was. I started walking away. She called to me, but I didn’t even look back. A couple of cars honked their horns then went around her. She finally got into the driver’s seat and successfully pulled away without even a single buck. Luckily for me, she let me back in and took me home.
Then, on December 8th, 1980, I was listening to the radio and heard that John Lennon had been shot. I just sat down and cried. The year 1980 had been a rough one. There were still good things happening, especially on the musical front with the music changing and growing. Although we were still into The Grateful Dead, now I was listening to David Bowie, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, Devo, and so many more. But it still felt as though my whole world was falling apart. Our neighbors on one side had moved away, and I missed them terribly. The neighbors on the other side were planning a move, too. The mountain was still spewing ash now and then, and we were entering our rainy season, which meant dismal depressing days where my kids went out to play in the mud day after day, unlike other places where they play in the snow during the winter. Paul was hating his job again and was probably going to walk out any day, as he so often did, leaving us even poorer than we already were. Politically and socially, things were taking a conservative turn for the worse. Ronald Reagan had won the presidential election in November. There was an Iran/Iraq war going on and Iranians were still holding fifty-two Americans hostage. Serial killings seemed commonplace, and now John Lennon was dead. It was time for a change. When the going got tough, Paul and I always got going … somewhere new. Our old neighbors had moved to the coast and had a friend nearby who was looking for someone to rent his house indefinitely for the same rent we were currently paying. although I would be sad to leave the house that my son was born in, it seemed like a no-brainer to us, and we started making our plans.
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