Deb’s Saturday Psychedelia – On Becoming a Hippie (Chapter 33) – Finding a New Life and Deciding to Stay
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on October 24, 2020
Although we had anticipated a rough adjustment, it turned out to be rougher than we’d hoped. It was the end of the school year, and I had made sure that Jessie and Justin were both learning along the way. They had, in fact, learned some things that most adults haven’t yet learned about navigating your way through life, especially a life with difficulties. Jes. remembers some parts of the trip vividly, but Justin was 3-years old and doesn’t actively remember much, if any of it. However, those experiences are still in there and have an effect on both of their abilities to survive when necessary. I learned along the way that surviving is quite different from living life. It’s good to have that skill when you need it.
After our incredible journey from the Pacific Coast, and our dramatic arrival in East Greenbush, New York, we settled into my parents’ basement and started looking around. My parents had been begging us to move back east and promised to help us settle. We’d been advised by two different friends in Oregon to go to upstate New York to the Albany/Saratoga Springs area. One fellow, Carlos, told us to look up his parents who were part of the PSG (Pickin’ Singin’ Gathering). Another friend kept urging us to go check out Caffe Lena, the legendary folk venue. Paul, although he disdained folk music, was intrigued, so we finally agreed to move. My family had relocated there while was still out west. We arrived not knowing anyone there except my parents and siblings. Their suburban neighborhood wasn’t our ideal location, but we were determined to make the most of it. Now, Paul was out every day looking for work while I went exploring with the kids.
When Jessie was first born, Paul and I had decided that I would stay at home and raise our children, picking up work where I could. During that time, I had driven a school bus, been a crossing guard, made macrame plant hangers for a wholesaler, done childcare, worked for a pot grower and at an herb farm. I had also given music lessons here and there and homeschooled my kids for a couple of months at a time when traveling. In Portland, while Justin was still a baby and Jessie was still not school-age, I was given the opportunity to work for the phone company. It would have been a great salary with benefits at a time when, as usual, we were struggling financially. We researched childcare, looked at the numbers and talked it over. We realized that the cost of childcare would take up almost all of the extra money I would make while our kids were being raised by someone else. Paul had a grave look on his face as he explained that, although I would be bringing in so much more money than him, if I took the job, he would never be able to do what I was doing at home. The kids would be neglected, the house would fall apart, and we would both be miserable. We understood that it would be a disaster. Paul was raised in an even more dysfunctional family than mine. He and his siblings were left to raise themselves amidst violence and total chaos. He struggled with being a parent because he had nothing to base it on. He was angry often – at the world, at life, at his job and at home. I actually loved being a stay-at-home mom, I thrived on it. I felt like I was in my element and could give rein to my creativity in new ways. I was also getting tired of the economic struggle and knew we had to get out on our own as soon as possible. Mom refused to watch my children so that I could work. It being summer, I became determined to explore my new environment. I learned about the town beach with their free swimming lessons for kids, so I headed over there at the first opportunity and signed them up. I knew that I would need activities for them and also saw this as an opportunity for me to meet other parents.
Meanwhile, I was at home with my mom and sister during the days. My sister was only six years older than Jessie, having been born when I was almost sixteen. She was incredibly jealous of Jessie and had a vindictive streak. Jessie was a spitfire when riled and wasn’t going to take it. My mother was very protective of my sister, and I was protective of my daughter. Mom and Dad had been trying for years to have another child after my brother and had dealt with a few miscarriages. When they were finally successful, Mom was almost forty, and my sister had many serious health issues. But now, in 1981, she was older, physically stable and spoiled rotten. She and Jessie started fighting the first day and fought constantly. This also meant that Jessie and I were always in trouble with Mom.
Mom and I were like oil and water. It had been that way for as long as I could remember. I know that she loved me, but I never felt as though she liked me very much. She certainly didn’t like the choices I’d made. When I was around her, I only heard complaints, some of them valid, and unwanted advice. Nothing I did was the right thing in her mind whether it was how I raised my children, who I chose to marry, the lifestyle I had chosen, or just about anything really.
A couple of days after we had arrived, after complaining that our cat was annoying her by walking across the piano keys, located with us in the basement and which we thought was very cool, she showed me a puddle she had found by furnace in the garage. We checked the furnace for leaks but soon realized it was urine. I cleaned it up but the next day it was back. We asked the kids if they knew anything about it. Jessie didn’t know anything, but Justin explained that it was “the bear.” My mom replied that the bear had better cut it out or he’d have to leave, glaring at me as she said it.
One of the conditions for us moving in, a condition that was stated the day after we arrived, was that I was not allowed to cook in the kitchen but that we would have to eat meals with them. Mom hated that Jessie and I were vegetarians. She was determined that she would break us of that silly notion. They ate all processed foods, vegetables that were frozen or from cans and lots of red meat. I had been baking my own whole grain bread, growing fresh vegetables, picking fruits from the Hood River Valley orchards, making jellies, jams and canning applesauce and other fruit. It didn’t matter how much I argued, she had an explanation for everything. There wasn’t enough room in the refrigerator or the cabinets for another family’s food. She didn’t like other people using her appliances. I would be in her way, even if I did my cooking opposite hers. The list went on until I finally realized that I had no choice. We were already here and would have to try to make the best of it.
My parents had assured us that there would be plenty of good paying work available, but Paul was not having any luck finding it. Tensions in the house were growing the longer we stayed, and I knew I had to take the kids out of the house every day or someone would lose it. Paul and I were not doing so well either. After all of the adrenaline from the cross-country saga, this was more than anti-climactic. There were four of us living in one room with a large heating vent in the ceiling amplifying every conversation throughout the house, not to mention any potential nighttime activities. We fought now in vicious hushed tones. Something had to give soon.
Finally, the swim lessons at the town beach started up. I drove the kids to their first lesson and sat on the sand glumly looking around at all of the suburban housewives staring at me in an unfriendly way when a woman walked up and introduced herself as Linda Baker. She said that she’d noticed me drive up in my hippie van with the Indian print curtains in the windows and wondered if I’d like to go sit in the bus with her for a smoke. Wow! What a blessing. We got high together every Monday through Friday while my kids were occupied with their lessons and spent most of the summer hanging out and getting to know each other. These were the high points of my week.
When she found out that my name was Cavanaugh, she asked if I was related to Dick Kavanaugh, who was a good friend of hers. I replied that we weren’t related, and she suggested that I should meet him because she was sure I would really like him. She must have sensed something because many years later I would finally meet him and end up in a long-term relationship with him. She often invited us to come jam at her house nearby, but the jams at her house were folk music, and Paul had a preconceived notion that folk music was boring. He had always been jealous of my music and ability to make money with it, and things were already tense between us, so I never managed to make it to any of her jams.
One evening, Paul and I went for a walk and talked about the need to move on. This just wasn’t working. My family was impossible to live with and were actively aggressive toward Paul. He had finally found a job, so we could start saving up some money to make another new start somewhere else. That night, we told the kids what we were planning. Jessie threw a fit. She refused to move again. She wanted to have extended family and wanted to settle somewhere. In spite of her troubles with my sister, she was determined to stay with Grandma and Grandpa if we insisted on moving again. We looked at each other, sighed and reluctantly agreed to stay. That next morning, my mom informed me that since Paul was now working, they would charge us room and board. We realized that this was only fair. We had been there for the whole summer, but it was making moving out next to impossible. I was also pretty sure that they had overheard us talking to the kids the night before and wanted to keep us local.
We needed to get on with our lives and our music, make new friends and settle in. We knew that we couldn’t do that in East Greenbush and wanted to move to Albany. We weren’t sure anymore how to do that successfully, and now there was school to think about. I broke down and registered Jessie in the East Greenbush public school. Everything was a huge culture shock to us. I worried that Jessie might have a difficult time fitting in. Up to now, she’d lived a gypsy life full of adventure, surrounded by street musicians and circus performers. She’d been uprooted over and over again and was struggling with making friends in this foreign land. I hoped that school would help. We also answered an ad in the local entertainment newspaper, Metroland, and started a rock and roll band. The drummer and bass player both had kids similar ages to ours and things started looking up. At least now we could get out of the house with the kids for band practice in Schenectady a couple of times a week. We all became fast friends, relieving a lot of the pressure on us and enabling us to hang on a little longer. Soon, Cosmo Rock started getting gigs at local bars and festivals and hanging out together with our families.