When you relocate often, you learn to set roots quickly and those roots are deep. The strongest ones are the ones grown during hard times or just big changes. When I lived in California. I was in my early 20s. I had arrived by hitchhiking across the country, gotten married and had my first child, and all within a year and a half. It’s difficult to navigate those events without friends and associates. Although we depended a lot on our core relationship, we always made those other connections quickly, thanks to Paul’s skill in that area. After another year and a half of living in Connecticut, we moved back to the west coast to Oregon for a few years and had another child, many wonderful adventures and made three more major moves before deciding to move our growing family to upstate New York. We made close friends in every place at life-changing times. I’ve never been particularly good about writing letters or making phone calls. Unfortunately for my friendships, I tend to live in the present, except for looking back these days and chronicling my life. As a result, like so many gypsies of that time, I lost some folks along the way, having no idea where they ended up. But I never forget those important people, and this was an opportunity to see many of the ones we still had contact with.
I often wondered how it was for my children, going back and seeing people that knew you when you were younger, but you may not even recognize them. My son was only two and a half when we left Oregon. He was now more than twice that age. My daughter was older and still remembered a lot. Paul and I remembered. It was wonderful and challenging. I guess it’s true that you can never really go back. Everything had moved on without us. We knew that it would, but we didn’t realize how intense it would feel. Our closest friends were happy to see us and catch up both in Portland and on the Pacific Coast. The community on the coast was small. Some of those friends had moved away and others had come in. The Riverhouse, where we had hosted Open Mics every Friday night, had new people working and the owner had become bitter and had sketchy vibes. We had also arrived at the beginning of July when the Oregon Country Fair was happening.
The Oregon Country Fair (OCF) is an annual event that has been going on since 1969. I have only been to couple of them. It’s my favorite hippie gathering. Today, the attendance is usually about forty-five thousand people. It’s an environmentally friendly extravaganza with live music everywhere and more than nine hundred artisans or food sellers who build large removable structures to live and work in for a couple of weeks. Although the fair itself is only three days, the village is erected earlier and stays up longer. It has been a large part of the counter-culture movement for many decades. The formal part of the fair is pretty wild, pushing at the boundaries, but the after dark scene is indescribable. Anything and everything goes.
Amber had been along on the ride for many of our major events from California on. We had made the effort to stay connected. It was always wonderful and refreshing to see her and her two daughters. She was still living on Mount Adams, taking jobs where she could get them and eventually making tempeh for a man who would later make his fortune with it. We spent a couple of days with her then because she was one of long-term and loyal employees of the tempeh company, she was working the fair. So, when it was time to head back to New York, we decided to go to the fair on our way home. It would be fun, and some of the friends we hadn’t seen yet would be there. Sure enough, we ran into our old neighbors from Portland who had initiated our move to the coast. They were there with their two sons and daughter. The younger son was a couple of years older than Jessie and, when she was five, turned her on to coffee beans as a snack. He was a lovable troublemaker. I have always loved the troublemakers because I understand them. I always know where I stand with them. Some kids are sneaky, leaving you always guessing. Some kids are so sweet you don’t trust them. Baird was genuine, and I could tell that there was mutual appreciation. Late in the afternoon, Baird came running up to me and handed me a beautiful silk scarf. I was so touched. Then, it hit me. “Baird,” I said, “did you steal this?” he gave me a sheepish grin then looked away. I insisted that he return it. I hope that he did. I know that I cherished the thought and effort.
When it was time for the gates to close, Amber managed to sneak us through the dragnet so that we could enjoy the party. Unfortunately, we were exhausted with two kids and no place to crash except in our car. Paul was reaching the end of his rope, Justin was starting to drag, and we were all ready to head home. We said goodbye and started on our journey back home to “the only Stephentown on earth.” The next day, Justin found some dimes and put them into the slots of the tone drum I had bought there. Try as I might, I could never get them out and think of that day every time I play it.
I think that because the drive home was uneventful, maybe even boring, that exhaustion that we started to feel at the fair just grew. It was feeling to not have to worry about money for the first time ever. We ate out and stayed in motels on the way back. It was still a good trip and rare for Paul and me not to argue about anything. We were both feeling good. Then, just outside of Amsterdam, New York, we both started feeling anxious. We later noticed that we often experienced that feeling on that stretch of road. I was driving and was feeling tense, so I turned the volume on the radio down. Paul angrily turned it back up, even louder now. I asked him to turn it down because it was stressing me out while I drove. I don’t remember clearly what happened except that there was a lot of yelling and turning the knob on the radio until suddenly, Paul started hitting me. He had never done anything like that before. I was driving sixty miles an hour down the highway and lost control of the car, spinning once and weaving back and forth across the lanes until I was finally able to pull over onto the shoulder.
I jumped out of the car and went around to the back. Jessie was hysterically crying. Justin had passed out, probably the smartest thing. I dragged them both out of the car and stood there, shaking and wondering what to do next. Paul also immediately got out and apologized explaining that it was all my fault, but he was sorry for the way he had reacted. If I had just left the radio alone, it would have been fine. I didn’t say a word. I didn’t look at him. I just stood there holding my children, shaking and thinking, wondering if I should hitchhike with them back home or maybe to my parents’ home. Crying, he finally convinced me to get back in the car and drive home. I had refused to let him drive us. I didn’t speak to him for three days then told him that unless he was willing to go to marriage counseling or his own counseling, I wanted to separate. He was adamantly against any kind of therapy and chose to move out of our new home, leaving me with two children in a mobile home that we had just moved into that was forty-five minutes from my job and their school. The only person I had any connection to in this town was our young bass player, John.
Paul agreed to wait until fall to move out since we hadn’t really even moved in completely. There was unpacking and repairs to be done. We knew nothing about owning a home, especially a mobile home. We were still working on the driveway. There were soft spots where we didn’t have enough crushed stone. We had put up a rickety front stoop with steps going up to the door and had installed the septic system. We’d bought the place dirt cheap because it needed a lot of work to make it livable. There was no skirting which keeps everything from freezing, so Paul arranged to work with a friend putting that in before he left. Neither of them had ever done any construction work and put the two by fours up with eight feet between them, forgetting that you have to have a place to nail them in. Now there was a gap in each section. I didn’t realize that he also hadn’t gotten enough insulation for the inside. He had read or been told that you needed venting anyway, we put heat tape on all the pipes and hoped for the best.
Paul was angry and bitter and wanted me to just forgive and forget. Things before the trip had been getting worse and worse between us with constant fighting. I still loved him but couldn’t live that way anymore. Sadly, when I told Jessie that Paul was moving out, her response was, “What took you so long?” I was floored. I have no idea if I even responded. I was like a zombie those days. I was working at The Free School making little money and giving music lessons where and when I could. We had a band together that was playing out at most of the local clubs. I had two children that I was solely responsible for and was scared to death. I’d fallen into that trap that many women fall into. At least for now, I could depend on Paul sharing the money he had inherited. He was always generous in that way with me and everyone. But he refused to see his kids. He moved into a friend’s apartment, started drinking and doing hard drugs, and he didn’t want them to see him like that. They, especially Justin, didn’t understand.