I almost forgot to write about one last thing that we needed to do before leaving the West Coast. Remember our cat Autumn who’d had her first litter of kittens behind my chair on the night of Justin’s concussion? Before we could get her spayed, she had another litter of kittens. As soon as they were weaned, we took her in for her surgery but still needed to find homes for the kittens. We packed them into a box and headed for Portland’s Saturday Market where we had originally gotten her. We had so many good memories of playing there and wanted a final goodbye. It turned out to be the hottest day of the year, an unusual occurrence for springtime. The poor kittens were getting overheated in the covered box, so we opened the lid to give them air. They started scrambling all over the car. The kids were in the back seat trying to hold them in, but it wasn’t working. We finally pulled off the road to stop at a park for lunch and to let me get into the back seat for damage control. When we opened the doors, as carefully as we could, to get out, so did the kittens. There were five kittens running all over the park. As soon as we captured one and put it back in the car, another one would escape. It was crazy! After chasing them for over an hour, Paul was all for letting them fend for themselves and going back home. Both kids and I were not okay with that, so we continued to chase them around, finally giving up after another hour or so and heading to town with only two of the original five. I felt terrible, but what could we do? We couldn’t even see the other three anymore. We got to Saturday Market just as it was closing down for the day and did manage to give the two kittens away then turned around and went back home. What a fiasco!
Having made the decision to move back east to live in my parents’ basement in upstate New York until we could get a place of our own, I was filled with trepidation. I knew we were making a good to move, but my parents and I had never gotten along, and they hated Paul. I never understood why considering that he literally saved me from eventually overdosing on speed at the beginning of our relationship, giving me an ultimatum – be with him or keep shooting up. Of course, my parents only saw his long hair and radical politics, which actually were less radical than my own. I knew that the living arrangements would not be easy and hoped we could settle quickly into our own home. I didn’t realize at the time how difficult it would turn out to be, or for how long.
We had our VW bus all prepped for travel. I had 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 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. We left in late April and planned to travel for a week. We didn’t consider the fact that we were traveling in a VW bus loaded down with all of our possessions, two children, two adults and a cat over a couple of different sets of mountains.
The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. The first leg of our journey took us southeast toward Salt Lake City. We were almost at the top of Donner’s Pass on I-80 in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when our bus just stopped. We could see the summit. It was so close, but we just couldn’t get there. We jumped out of the bus 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 two wheels of the fly wheel were 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 that Jim had given me as we were leaving. We pounded a few of the largest ones in there, but it still wasn’t quite enough. A year earlier, our left rear wheel had come off our Plymouth Valiant and passed us on the left as we rode over a narrow bridge with a logging truck headed our way. I don’t know how he did it, but Paul managed to steer the car straight as our back end was up in the air and all of us held our breaths. After chasing the tire into a corn field, he put it back on and tightened the lug nuts as tight as he could. Not long after that, Paul repaired the brakes and had one small piece left over on that same wheel. We worked on those brakes together a few more times and still couldn’t figure out where it went, so he finally threw it in the toolbox, hoping for the best. The brakes worked fine after that, and now that old leftover brake part fit perfectly with the nails into the leftover space in the flywheel. That repair took us all the way to Ohio … but not without too many stops along the way.
Although we thought we had fixed it, the car now only ran during the daytime. Once we turned on the headlights, it would totally drain the battery, so we slept the first night in the bus. We also stopped more frequently than anticipated to let the kids run around. And I did make them run – literally. Every stop, we ran circles around each other and all around the rest areas. By the time we stopped running, they were happy to sit back down in the bus. The next day, we drove into Salt Lake City just as night was falling. We turned on the headlights 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. We did have money, but we had a long way to go. We hadn’t budgeted in car repairs and had hoped to only take a week to make the journey. It already looked like it was going to take much longer than anticipated, so we needed to conserve our resources. We thought , if it was too much money, maybe they would take pity on us and let us sleep in our bus in the parking lot.
The attendant took one look at us with our long hair, hippie van with curtains in the window and our kids trailing along behind us and 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. He pleaded with us! When he offered to trade us a room for a few joints, we finally took pity on him. We gave him more than he asked for since we had gotten paid for our work harvesting in weed and had more than enough for ourselves. He 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 well, in weed of course. We even sold him some of our quite large stash and went on our way. We still had a long way to go.
Looking back at it now, we must have been crazy carrying all that weed in our vehicle with our two kids. But things were very different back then, and it never occurred to us that we were taking a big risk. Also, we didn’t know anyone where we were landing and knew we’d need our stash to survive my family.