NEW CHAPTER ONE
“How will I explain this to my kids?” I asked myself over and over as Mom drove us down Highway 99 towards Newport, Oregon in a gold-colored Gremlin. She held a lit cigarette out the open car window, and her long trademark waist-length hair dyed auburn red hair blew wildly. I had just left West Germany with my three kids under five years old, $200, and seven suitcases to escape an abusive situation. It took months to make it all happen.
We crammed my whole life into my mom’s compact car. I had not seen her in at least three years when I traveled from San Francisco to Newport before we moved back to West Germany so she could see her grandkids, and I’d never driven in a car with her because she had never driven until recently. I wasn’t sure whether to be sad, excited, or terrified as I glanced at my three sleeping kids in the back seat, the loves of my life. I’d do anything for those kids. All I wanted was to give them a good life and be the best Mom I could be. I was still in my twenties then. I had no plan and no idea what I’d do. But for now, here I was with my 53-year-old Mom. I was not yet sure exactly how I felt about that; overwhelmed and frazzled, unsure of myself and what I had just done.
Then Mom made the widest right turn I’d ever seen anyone make on Highway 101 while still holding her cigarette. I had to look back and make sure the commotion hadn’t jostled or awakened the kids. They were still out like lights. Of course, they were after flying on four different planes and several hours in airports as well.
I closed my eyes. I hadn’t slept in 24 hours and maybe if I didn’t look, Mom’s driving wouldn’t scare me so much. It took the kids and me seventeen hours and two tantrums to get from Hamburg, West Germany airport to JFK Airport, with a three-hour layover at O’Hare Airport in Chicago before finally boarding the last plane to Portland and Eugene, Oregon. Melissa, my three-year-old angel child, literally threw herself down on the ground at the airport in Chicago and said she refused to walk one more inch. I only had a stroller for two-year-old Jeremy who ran like greased lightning if I unstrapped him even for a minute. Melissa clung to her blue bag holding her beloved doll dishes even through the tantrum. Five-year-old Stevie groaned and loitered behind but kept his cool. It took quite some time for me to convince Melissa that we had to get on the other airplane and that we did not want to miss it.
On the flight to Oregon, all three of the kids wailed at the same time because they were over-tired.
“Can you get those kids to quiet down?” an irritated woman passenger in front of us said.
I shrugged, my eyes barely open. “I – I’m doing the best I can.”
A kind flight attendant hurried over. “Ma’am, this woman has traveled for almost seventeen hours with these kids. Give her a break, okay? Here’s a headset.” She handed the woman a headset.
Wow, someone stuck up for me, I thought.
A cool, salty breeze blew in through Mom’s open window and woke me up for a moment. I shivered. Mom gripped the steering wheel with both hands now. She looked more nervous without the cigarette. I looked back at my sleeping kids and worried that they might be cold, but I saw that Mom had thrown a jacket and a sweater over the kids at some point. They were fine.
Less than an hour earlier, I trudged through the gate of the tiny Eugene, Oregon airport on July 1, 1986, holding a blonde curly-haired sleeping toddler, and saw my mother for the first time in over three years. She wore a bright-colored 60s-style blouse. Her long-time old hippie friends, Jann and Bill Chrysler, whom I’d known since I was a child, stood next to her, both wearing bell-bottom jeans and leather jackets. It was after midnight, but after 17 hours of traveling with three small children, time and space didn’t exist anymore. Jeremy felt heavy, like the weight of the world, and I felt as if I was ready to pass out at any moment. But we were finally there. Jann and Bill had inspired Mom to move to Newport, and they were excited to see us as well.