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 longest ramp I’d ever been on and was also very curvy. There was no backing up, and the next exit was much further than we anticipated. Jessie cried the whole way, certain that Autumn would be gone by the time we got back. This was the same cat that I had gotten at Saturday Market as a surprise for Jessie and the same one who had had her first litter of kittens behind my chair on the day that we had rushed Justin to the ER with a concussion after he fell off a tall slide onto asphalt. When we finally did make it back, there 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. Before reaching Ohio, however, Paul insisted on going to Peoria, Illinois because years earlier he had heard, “If you can play in Peoria, you’ve got it made.” He rather foolishly decided that this included street music and not just vaudeville, so we found a street corner, set up 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 early on in the trip 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 I’ve always tried to listen to them if they felt uncomfortable around someone.
While Paul was off doing car business, the kids got baths, I showered then actually got a nap on a real bed while the younger folks played with my kids. These young folks loved hosting us. My kids were always very friendly and adaptable to new situations. They were having a blast. 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. I learned much later how important that meal was to Jessie. Here is what she wrote to me after reading this the first time I posted it in “Memoirs from a Hippie Mama.”
“So.. The thing about the chicken and dumplings...
One thing that you haven't mentioned in all of these posts were how we kept ourselves entertained on the road. Games like I Spy, license plate games and sing-alongs. A big favorite was "She'll be coming 'round the mountain" and one of the verses was "we will a have chicken and dumplings". To me they were almost like a mythological food. Something you hear about in weird magical ways, but don't generally get to try. I'd put it in the same category as Turkish Delight from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
So "She" had finally come. Or maybe I was "She" in that moment. But it was a major moment for me. That song had been part of our soundtrack, and I finally understood it more deeply than ever before.” - Jes. Cavanaugh
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 then took a shower. After dinner Paul announced that we could now travel at night and had better hit the road. We still had a long way to go and were both burning out fast. 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 herb farm where we had the promise of work on the gas left 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, but 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 maternal uncles who had heard our story and decided to go to the pawn shop to see if he could retrieve the guitar. We assured him that way too much time had gone by. It had been many years, but he insisted. My uncle was a real character and had his share of crazy adventures. He kept telling us that it’s important to have faith because you just never know. He actually got that guitar and, before driving home to Florida, brought it up to a second cousin living in western Pennsylvania who would be going to visit in-laws in Chatham, NY. When my mother got the phone call, she went to Chatham to pick it up, and Paul was reunited with that much-loved guitar more than 10 years later. We usually had faith that things would work out, but this was a good reminder not to give up when things seem impossible.
We arrived at the herb farm and breathed a sigh of relief, forgetting for a moment that Paul and his sister were like oil and water. The visit didn’t go very well. She constantly complained about Paul to her husband, who was a quiet unassuming man. He finally went to sleep in his tree house which was a fully furnished cabin retreat ten feet in the air. We worked for a couple of days weeding the herb beds, which was back-breaking work, but in a couple of days we made enough money to go on our way. We now had enough for the rest of the trip and were even able get a motel room that night, with cash this time. It was going to be our last night on the road. Paul and I were exhausted by now, aching from bending over the gardens for days, even more stressed out than when we had arrived in Pennsylvania from dealing with Paul’s sister, and we wanted to arrive in New York well rested and freshly bathed. Plus, the kids had been real troopers on this trip, going along with all of our craziness. We wanted to give them the treat of another night in a motel room. I think the trip for them was just one big grand adventure full of games, songs and new people and places. While for us it was worry and scheming as we made our way across the continent. But now, even with the cost of the motel room, we would arrive with some money left over, or so we thought.
We woke up that morning excited, knowing that in a few hours our trip would finally be at its end. We had breakfast in the motel restaurant, confident that we would arrive in the afternoon. When we went outside to the bus, we found that one of the tires was not only flat but had big chunks of rubber out of it. We needed a whole new tire. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised us. We’d just gone over three thousand miles on that tire. But, so much for arriving in the afternoon well rested and relaxed. Now even the kids, who had been totally engaged in the trip until now, were done with this adventure. It took hours to get the new tire, but we were finally headed toward Albany, NY. We had been on the road for over three weeks.
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.
After a brief but frantic discussion, we decided to go on, as slowly as we could, using our gears to slow us down when necessary. We were so close to the end of our journey now. 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 three and a half years old, came running in the house proudly exclaiming that he had fixed the bus for us.
We dashed outside to discover that he had found a can of oil in my parents’ garage and poured it all over the engine. We stood there not knowing whether to laugh or cry. The engine in those old VW buses were in the back, easily accessible to a three-year old, especially if the hood is not attached securely, which it wasn’t. As Paul and I looked at each other, all we could do was laugh which my mom and dad couldn’t understand. But they hadn’t been on the trip with us with all of its ups and downs, and never understood me anyway. Luckily, the only harm done to the VW was the smoking as the oil burned off. It seemed an appropriate ending to that saga. Now it was time to figure out how to settle in this new area for who knew how long. And, even more importantly, how to get out of my parents’ house and into our own home as quickly as possible. It was not going to be easy living there.