Single Parenting and Busking
Shortly after this difficult birth, Paul found out that his dad was dying of cancer. He’d always had a stormy relationship with his dad and wanted to try to have a better ending, so he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for a month and a half to be with him in his final days. Justin was only a month old and already very attached to me. The absence of his dad solidified that attachment, as I quickly became more of a supermom than I already was. We still had no car and very little money, so taxis were out of the question, and everything was just too cumbersome for a bus. Because of the cloth diapers I was using, it was impossible for me to lug both children and huge loads of laundry to the laundromat more than a mile away, so I washed our clothes in the bathtub, boiled the diapers on the stove and, because it was winter in the rainy Northwest, hung everything to dry in the living room. I had a Tupperware device that looked like a plunger with multiple cups that had holes in them for hand washing clothes. That helped, but it was an endless job. I felt like a pioneer woman. After three or four weeks of this, my parents, who rarely helped out, finally took pity on me and sent money for disposable diapers which helped a lot. Now I only had to worry about the muddy clothes from playing outside in mud instead of the snow I’d been used to.
Meanwhile, I was still recovering from the bruised ribs that occurred during my pregnancy and now had massive back pain. I found out years later that the back pain was due to that same pregnancy. Not only did it bruise my ribs, but my scoliosis, which had been managed earlier in my life had started progressing again. But for now, I was a single mom with two kids to care for, and I had to just push through the pain, though there were days when I struggled to even get out of bed and had to depend on Jessie to mostly care for herself. Justin was a clingy baby, so it was easiest to wear him all the time in spite of the discomfort. I wore him while I did my house cleaning and cooking and while I spent much needed time with his sister. I would shower as quickly as I could while he lay in his crib screaming and refusing to be entertained by his sister. When Paul finally returned, Justin didn’t even remember him and was very shy, refusing to be held by his own dad.
Grocery shopping was easier because there was a little Chinese grocery store just a couple of blocks away that was an easy walk. They had great produce, and I could buy tofu, which I had recently discovered, in bulk from the back room. I would go knock on the window and hold up one finger or two. The worker would bring it out to me with a big grin, obviously thrilled that a Caucasian was buying tofu. Once, in very broken English, a woman asked me how I cooked it. She was stunned when I told her I used it in spaghetti sauce and said she would try it. One day, I stuck Justin in the front pack and put on my framed backpack to go buy some food. As usual, I bought more than anticipated and had a full heavy pack on my back. As we were walking along, Jessie saw a flower and insisted that I lean down to smell it. As she reached for me to push me further down, I lost my balance and fell onto my back. I quickly realized that I couldn’t get up from this position. The pack was so heavy that I also couldn’t roll over. I was stuck like a turtle on its back. Jessie tried to push and pull me to no avail. I had no idea what to do and felt like a complete fool, plus it was very uncomfortable. We were on a shortcut that was a dead-end road with very little foot traffic. After what seemed like an eternity but was just under an hour, someone came walking by, and Jessie ran up to him asking if he could please help her mama, which he did. Thankfully, I never saw him again.
Once the weather turned nicer, we got to know our neighbors and really enjoyed their company. Before that, I felt very isolated and had started plunging into depression again. The constant gray skies and rain didn't help either. Now, I saw the neighbors every day. I also could go out walking in a more pleasant environment without the cold rain and sometimes icy conditions. There were children on either side of us that were similar in age to my kids, and they got to be great friends. There were Jerry and Stephen on one side and Shard, Baird and Lucy on the other. Stephen and Lucy were both babies, and Jerry was Jessie’s age. Shard and Baird were older, but Baird and Jessie enjoyed playing together. One day, the two of them came racing into the house. Jessie was always a big talker. She even talked in her sleep so much that it often kept me awake until I got used to it. This day, she rambled on frenetically, jumping up and down and waving her arms. I couldn’t understand a word she said and kept trying to get her to slow down. Every once in a while, she would run back and forth until she was out of breath then start up again. Eventually, I found out that she was telling me about this great snack they just had … coffee beans!!! They had gotten into the jar of whole beans when no one was looking and had a feast. Their pockets were even full of them. She did this once more with a neighbor across the street, only this time they ate a bottle of children’s vitamins.
The other thing that changed, once the weather got nicer, is that we went back to busking. We had done it in California and occasionally on our way across the country. In Portland, there was a weekly market, “Saturday Market.” We soon became fixtures there along with many other buskers. We brought the kids along and made it a family outing. Justin was sitting up now and would sit in the guitar case playing with the money. He never ate it but often threw it back out at people. This was a great hook, and folks often put even more in. Jessie was also getting older and wore her flowing long hippie skirts, dancing around while we played and sang, drawing a crowd with her cuteness. We met the most amazing characters there. There was Tom Noddy the Bubble Man and Artis the Spoon Man. They spent summers in the Northwest and winters in Florida, making a good living performing on the streets. They’ve both been on television numerous times, and you can find them online. Artis taught Jessie her very first string figure, even before she learned Cat's Cradle. There were jugglers and magicians, there and was always a hammered dulcimer player who drew the biggest crowds playing the same four or five tunes over and over again. There was also a hippie woman walking around with a basket on her head that held pot cookies. Most of the kids didn’t realize what they were and often followed her around begging for a cookie, but she had her standards and only sold to those she knew were cool. All of the performers knew each other, and we were quickly invited into the “inner sanctum” – the smoking room in the back of an open warehouse.
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