Deb’s Saturday Psychedelica – On Becoming a Hippie – Chapter 12
Written by Liam Sweeny on May 23, 2020
We were incredibly happy living in Santa Cruz. We’d finally found a place that felt like home. However, that soon changed. I’ve always had prophetic dreams. I’ve often dreamed about people’s deaths at the time that they are dying. I’ve also gotten warnings in dreams about things that were avoidable. It’s been both helpful and frightening. When I was a child, I had a recurring dream that haunted me for years, coming a few times a week. In this dream, I was cursed by an evil witch. I never knew why she cursed me, but she said that everywhere I stepped the ground would turn to quicksand. I ran through the town trying to get to my home where I thought I would be safe. As I ran and the land turned into a gloppy mess, with men, women and children sinking and screaming, people started throwing rocks at me from a distance telling me to leave town before I destroyed everything. I kept running and running to get home. When I finally got to my home, it was an apartment building I didn’t recognize and a family I didn’t know. Standing on the roof was a man holding a small child yelling at me to leave and never come back. I would wake up from this dream crying, and my mom would run in and assure me that since I didn’t recognize anyone, it had to be just my own worries creating it. I never could understand what worries would cause me to dream about quicksand, but once the dream stopped coming, I forgot about it until one night in 1976.
Our daughter was 8 months old when I had that same dream that I used to have as a child. When I woke up from that old dream in Santa Cruz, as a young mother, I realized that the people on the roof were my current family and the building was our apartment building. I immediately woke Paul and told him we had to move away. I described the dream, and although he knew I’d often had prophetic dreams, he brushed it aside and told me to go back to sleep. We liked it there, at least for now, and I must be overreacting. That morning he went out to get the newspaper and came home looking shaken and pale. On the front page of the paper was an article about what would happen in Santa Cruz if a big earthquake occurred. The neighborhood we were living in was close to the beach. It was predicted that the whole area would turn into quicksand as the ocean swelled from the quake. That was all it took to convince him to move out of California, so we decided to move to Oregon and try to get work in the orchards. That big earthquake did hit Santa Cruz many years later and destroyed a large part of the city including our neighborhood and many of our favorite spots.
In order to make this necessary move, Paul quit his job and hitchhiked north. While Paul went north, I moved out of our apartment, putting all of our possessions in storage, and moved into the local park with our friend, Amber. She had a VW bus that we slept in and lived out of, but we spent most of our time outdoors. We had agreed that Paul would make phone calls to the pay phone outside of a nearby café, The Broken Egg Omelet House, every few days to check in, letting me know about any progress he’d made and where to go when it was time for us to join him. This was well before the age of cellphones, so we set a day and time for the first call then planned the next one each time we talked.
I settled into an easy routine with Amber and little Jessie, thoroughly enjoying our gypsy lifestyle. Amber had planned a visit to Connecticut to visit family, and Jessie and I were going to travel with her, coming west again in a few weeks to meet up with Paul, hopefully giving him enough time to settle before we reunited. To make all of our grand plans actually work, these scheduled calls and the timing in general were crucial. When Paul missed a phone call a few days before we were due to leave for our trip east, I started to panic. What should we do? The calls were scheduled one at a time. We hadn’t thought about what to do if we missed one. I stayed close to the pay phone all that day and the next day. I wasn’t willing to live in the park with my baby alone and without any vehicle to sleep in but was worried about leaving on a cross-country trip without checking in with Paul first. How would I find him again when we returned? We were hanging out in the park, the day before we were supposed to leave, when a waitress came running up asking if I was Debbie Cavanaugh. Thankfully, Paul was finally calling. The pay phone was not accepting calls in, so he finally decided to try calling the café. He let me know that he’d been unable to find work, was very discouraged and was on his way back to Santa Cruz. We waited for him and all left two days later in Amber’s VW bus for the long ride back home to Connecticut.
We decided to take a southern route since all three of us had arrived in California via the northern routes and wanted to see new sights. We went to The Grand Canyon, and lots of other magnificent places. This was before the days of seatbelts and car seats, so we set up a tiny play area on the floor in the back for Jessie. She was very close to walking on her own, so I felt a little guilty sticking her in a moving vehicle for days, but she actually took her first steps while we were driving down the highway. By the end of the trip, she could toddle back and forth in the bus but not on solid land, and I could see how confusing that was for her. I learned a lot during that trip about how to travel effectively with a young child. I figured out what toys were the best to keep her occupied, what foods worked, what art supplies to take along and how to make them accessible without them rolling away. We made that whirlwind trip in three days, taking turns driving and sleeping, driving all night long and living on coffee. I drew the short straw and ended up with the middle of the night shift, so for three days, I drove at night and catnapped during the day between reading and playing with our young daughter. Although I was exhausted by the end, I was young and bounced back quickly. We only had one potentially dangerous situation to handle during that trip.
We had made sure to gas up before we hit Texas and decided to take Interstate 40 across, so that we could drive all the way through that state without stopping, heading further south if we wanted after leaving Texas. It was 1976, and we knew that Texans still didn’t really like hippies very much. We made it to Oklahoma on fumes, but at least we weren’t in Texas. While Amber filled up the VW bus, Paul and I went into the truck stop to pay for the gas and get some coffee and tea. We knew we were in trouble when the noisy place went totally silent as we walked up to the counter. After taking the money for gas, the waitress refused to serve us. As Paul started to argue with her, I noticed a low rumbling and grumbling starting to grow. I pulled at his sleeve assuring him that we didn’t really need anything and insisting that we leave. As we walked out the door, we heard the jukebox start to play “Up Against the Wall Red-neck Mother.” We ran to the bus and took off in a hurry as some of the patrons ran outside watching us drive away. Thankfully, Jessie, who had been safe in the bus with Amber at the time, never had any notion of danger. I have always been pretty lucky on the road.
I’d decided not to tell my parents that we were coming. I thought it would be nice surprise. I was the one who was surprised when we arrived in Connecticut only to find out that my parents were on vacation in New Hampshire. Ugh! It didn’t take me long to get an address for the house they’d rented. I swore the neighbors, who had given me the information, to secrecy, and off we went to find them. When we got to the vacation house, no one was home. “Oh, no! What do we do now?” I suggested that we park the bus out of sight, behind the bushes and break into the house, surprising them when they came home. Paul and Amber weren’t so sure about this and even tried to talk me out of it. I love surprises, except not always when I’m on the receiving end. Eventually, despite their misgivings, they went along with it anyway. I guess I was pretty convincing, and it was my family after all. Looking back on it now, like so many other things, I realize how stupid that was. It never even occurred to me that we might have had the wrong house. It’s amazing that my parents didn’t faint or have a heart attack or something. But, they didn’t. My mom screamed, then cried. My dad shook his head in disbelief then laughed. He always loved my adventurous spirit, though he did his best to squelch it when I was younger. We had a wonderful visit and went back to our hometown with them a few days later. Paul and I immediately got a gig at a local bar, had a great turnout and, in our youthful enthusiasm, decided that this must have been our “big break.” We decided to stay and left poor Amber to make the long drive back alone. She was on unemployment and had to get back by a certain date to report to them.
My family was thrilled and helped us set up housekeeping, providing us with furniture and household goods. We had left all of those things locked up in a storage locker back in Santa Cruz, which we paid on for years to come. Obviously, in our youthful enthusiasm, we didn’t realize that there was no such thing as a “big break.” Our newfound fame slowly dissolved, leaving us back in our hometown facing all the same demons we had left. Little did we all know that eventually, our wanderlust would kick in again, though I guess Paul and I suspected as much. We weren’t really interested in settling. We were still ripe for adventure and anxious to see what the world had to offer, and the Pacific Northwest was still calling out to us. But for now, we could enjoy our old friends and family, and it was nice to share this with our daughter. So far, in her first nine months, our daughter had hung out with many different and very unique people, gone to more concerts than many adults, lived in an apartment, in a city park and in a VW bus. She had learned to walk while crossing the country in a moving vehicle and was now settling close to her grandparents, who she barely knew, and adjusting into a vastly different environment. Luckily, she was raised to be flexible and was still quite young. At not yet a year old, she had already had more experiences than many adults have in a lifetime. Although I know she doesn’t actively remember these things, they helped mold who she would become. It certainly molded me, maybe in ways I don’t even realize. If I had to choose all over again, I would make all the same choices.