Sunday, February 9, 2014

80s Bolder to Birmingham

Yes I know how to spell Boulder as in Colorado. Even though that was the place to be in the 80s, I never made it there. I was back in Birmingham, back in the Magic City, but there was little magic to be found. I was in shock when I realized I had three children under the age of five. I was in shock because I also knew that this was going to my responsibility and my responsibility alone. I tried unsuccessfully to get my in-laws to see what was happening with their son, the father of my children. He and I were really both in a downward spiral as result of previous choices and the seeming inability to reverse course in spite of best efforts. I saw the abyss and decided that I was not ready to plunge in there just yet. I still had the audacity to think I could overcome this situation, so I set out to find out how.

No coincidence that there was not much music to speak of. We had the Police, some Dire Straits, who else? It is hard to remember. The music that got through was like the flame of a small candle at midnight. There was not much money either, so it was back to creating ways to survive.

 I found some of the people who were remnants of BreadTree, the storefront food coop that had closed. We got together and started a food co-op buying club like the one in Macon.  I taught Pre-natal fitness for one of the big hospitals during my last pregnancy, and then got asked to design a Mommy and Me class based on the classes I taught in Macon. That was fun, but then that was the last baby, and then the last class. Other than that I kept various kids at my home and tried to make ends meet. I still had my dog JC from time to time, and that was a joy! I was outside a lot walking with JC, strolling kids around, going to Homewood Park and the swimming pool. We had a ping-pong table set out back and always had friends around, playing ping-pong and shooting the breeze.

Southside was still the hub of any action, but there was not much action in my world then. I remember going to a very cool Halloween party in 5 Points that just served to remind me how far removed I was from any happening scene. I was getting old, and I had 3 kids! I did love to visit the old hippie freaks on Southside that also had children. There were people carrying on- they weren't me though.

So, I got pretty desperate and started trying to find counseling, self-help, books, groups. It took awhile, but I did finally find some things that I could grab on to. I began to find strength, and to understand my self and my situation much better. Then a series of events transpired that are still hard to believe.

I decided that I was going to get a divorce and called a lawyer to discuss and set up an appointment. I had no idea how I would pay for this or how I would get by if I did file for divorce. As I hung up the phone, before my hand left the receiver (no cell phones in those days!!) the phone rang. It was a friend from Macon who called to say she had gotten a large grant and would I be interested in coming to work on the grant, and head up the project? That was the strangest experience I have ever had. It was like a call from the Universe saying yep- go ahead. I said ok.

My decision was not an easy one. I probably would not have said yes without the synchronicity to bolster me. I was giving up being home with my children, with at least the financial basics covered. I was giving up any hope of a mom and dad family dream. But I was reaching for freedom, for something better for me and the kids. This was actually saving my life.

I made my plans to move back to Macon, Georgia.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Further On Down The Line

The days spent in Macon were healing for my soul. What was missing was some stability in other affairs. Instinctively, I knew that with a baby I was more vulnerable, and had to depend on someone I found to be increasingly undependable.

What happened next was predictable- I got pregnant and had another baby. This time I was able to plan a little better, and had a beautiful birth in the birthing room at a local hospital with a lay midwife in attendance just up to the point of delivery. My son was born at sunrise on Easter morning in 1983.

Soon after that we decided to move back to Birmingham so that my husband could go back to school at UAB in engineering- I guess a last ditch effort to meet the very real challenges of two young children. It was a noble gesture, but one that was only that- a gesture.

All this in perspective of age and experience, along with the accumulated wisdom of other women who went through the 80s and the childbearing and the realities, makes for empathy. At the time, survival was the predominant mode.

The nice part about returning to Birmingham was that we lived in Homewood, in a great place for raising children. Our neighbors also had young children and the support that offered was at least equal to the support I had in Macon. My children also got to interact with grandparents and their cousins. Somehow though the melancholy of Birmingham began to creep back in, and I began to feel rather despondent. When I had my last baby, a fussy little girl, I was ready to throw in the towel.

That was the place in my life when I quit running - both from what I didn't want and toward something I wanted -and looked squarely at the facts of my life. I took inventory you might say. As hard as it was to look at the deficits and the baggage, I found I could not take another step forward without doing so. I found that I would have to have help to do this, and I reached out. This was a huge turning point in my life. That was 1985.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Happy hippie life in Macon

Reality comes in the form of a sweet little baby. I found that I loved motherhood. I had read so much about baby care, prenatal care, postnatal care and early childhood education that it was great to put all that knowledge to the test. I had the luxury of being home, not working, and being inventive enough to find ways to live to the fullest without much money.
  First came food. To find really good quality food was not easy in the early 80's. The food coop was the center of my life for many years just out of necessity. At least the people that were involved were of like mind and spirit, and there were no real hassles. Coordination and cooperation just happened, at least from my point of view. I learned a lot about how to help without having attachments. It worked out. It was convenient that the coop shed where the food was delivered, broken down by order and picked up was close by. Brown rice, huge wheels of cheese, gallons of unfiltered apple juice, spices, herbs, bulk teas, medicinals, and of course fresh tofu that I could now make myself. We even had a go at honey bees with hives- too messy for me.
  Next came fun. I started going to the YWCA for an exercise class after my daughter was born. I took her with me and the instructor noticed. She asked if I would consider teaching a class for mothers and babies and that is how my baby class was started. It was very popular and wound up getting us a story in the newspaper. I still have the very cute photo of my happy baby daughter cradled in a swing position. The moms got to talk to other moms, got a little exercise, and learned how to hold and touch their baby while having fun. I like to think that the combination of baby massage, therapeutic positioning and movement and spatial exploration that I combined in my class contributed to the development of physical, mental and emotional intelligence in my children- they all are well endowed.
  My neighbor also had a new baby son and we walked and walked with our babies on our backs in Snugglies. I never owned a baby carrier- they are vile things. Carrying a baby on your back so they can see really stimulates development of spatial awareness. They are also close to your own body, and so they feel secure. Yes- I loved every minute of all that. Life was pretty simple. The neighborhood was interesting and no one had much of anything material, but there was always music and laughter. It was so easy to be happy in Macon.
  I just finished reading Gregg Allman's autobiography and it brought back so many memories. In terms of my own survival, I was lucky to arrive in Macon after the gold rush.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

More Maconga

Macon was a very, very hot and humid town on the Ocmulgee River. In the summer the air would choke you, and it never cooled off at night. Days were longer than in Birmingham, and it stayed light until after 9. We tried to cool off in the Ocmulgee one day and found that it was like a hot tub. There was really no escape. Bill and I lived on the river for a few months and had a hellacious wedding party there. I found life at the river very lonely, however, since I was newly pregnant, had no car and was cut off from the party scene in Macon. I was also very nauseated and could not stop throwing up.

Bill liked to do weird stuff with food. He cooked a road kill raccoon one day when I was in the nausea state and was unable to get up and move around. Since he never cleaned anything up, the cooked and uneaten raccoon sat on the stove until maggots were swarming around in there. I could not even go near the kitchen, and had to beg one of my girlfriends to come over and clean up. I think I had to ask her several times, literally begging and promising to pay her if she would do it. She did, but I think that was the end of the friendship. She was kind of horrified. I should have been, but I was too sick to think about it.

Because I was so obviously miserable, Bill moved us back to town. There we lived in the most dilapidated house on the block but it was a palace to me. The neighborhood was just great. We were a block from the Big House where the Allman Brothers had lived, now a museum. There were lots of nice couples there, also with babies and young children. The school was right down the street. It was a perfect place to raise a family. Eventually Bill's brother and his wife also lived down the street.

I had come into contact with some Sufi women who were very educated regarding childbirth and early childhood education. One of the women, Rahima Baldwin, had just written a book which I loved. The other woman, Ann Frye, was a midwife. She was very professional, and I was invited to attend a couple of home births that she facilitated in Macon. Those experiences made a huge impression on me, and I started reading everything I could find about alternatives. Ann gave me some advice about how to prepare to have a healthy pregnancy and how to take care of myself. I followed her advice.

I made plans to have a home birth even though by then both Rahima and Ann had returned to parts unknown. I attended a Lamaze class and went to the Public Health Department for prenatal care. In spite of the bad start, I was actually very healthy and had a normal pregnancy. I went into labor right on time.

My friend Mary had birthed her second child at The Farm with Ina May Gaskin. She was a good childbirth coach and attendant, and was willing to help me at home. Another friend, who was somehow connected with or owned the natural foods store was also going to help me. I thought it would be like a party or celebration. I invited friends.

The day I finally went into labor we went out to the Jarrell Plantation and walked around to try to get things moving. It worked. I started having contractions on that Friday night and was still stuck at 9 centimeters by Sunday afternoon. The baby was ok, no problems with heart rate. I got very tired and dehydrated, so I decided to go to the hospital for an IV. I walked into the hospital, to the astonishment of the staff who pronounced me 91/2 centimeters dilated. The MD broke my water and I had a face-up, stubborn little girl named after her two great grandmothers. She was fine- sunny side up as they say, which accounted for the slowing in progress I had. I went on home from the hospital with that sweet little girl, and was the happiest I had ever been.

Unbelievably we were living without any air conditioning in that house. My daughter was born at the end of April, and by the end of May I could not tolerate another minute. I went to Sears and found a unit for $100.00- all I could afford- and stuck it in the window. I had to stuff towels under the door to keep the air inside cool. It was all that poor little unit could do to keep that one room halfway cool. So I managed to stay in there, keep the baby nursed and happy, and make it through that Maconga summer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


That spring in Macon-1980-was the official end of my youth. I thought that I was still in my twenties because I was not yet 30. I felt compelled to do something drastic. For the first time, I could not see what was ahead and it bothered me. I guess I wanted security or something like that. I was graduating, my biological clock was ticking, and everything was about to change.

The courtship by Bill was short and tumultuous. I was never much of a hard drinker, liked beer, and had already stopped experimenting with various substances. Been there, done that, so what. He only had a motorcycle, and we rode around town oblivious to the fact that our heroes Dwayne Allman and Berry Oakley were both killed in Macon on motorcycles. We even went to their gravesites in Rose Hill Cemetery to meditate at their memorial. We continued to hang out at the Cottage. Softball season came to a close. Bill managed to graduate, too.

We got married in Macon sometime that summer. I was determined to have all natural foods, and we found a caterer who agreed to make cakes with whole wheat flour (what was I thinking?). She agreed to do so on the condition that we bring her the flour, as she did not know how to get it. We got it from either the food coop or from the natural foods store. I had to hold a 50 pound sack of flour while riding on the back of the motorcycle to her house. Needless to say, the cake was fairly heavy, but it was passable for the wedding. I made my wedding dress for $10.00 worth of beautiful cotton linen, and did a cut work embroidery at the neckline. That was that.

Bill decided he wanted to go to the Rainbow Gathering in West Virginia. He got a car from his parents, and we went to the Three Forks of the Missouri River gathering. It was really mind blowing to see how hundreds of hippies could organize chaos, protect the water supply, engineer sanitation and feeding, provide security, and effectively handle garbage, including clean up of the site after the festival. There was so much richness there. Music, arts, healing, drumming, cooking, child care, education, color, fun and all in a beautiful mountain setting.

We did some work demolishing a barn for the man whose land was used to access the National Park where the gathering was held. Our friend stepped on a nail and had to be taken to the ER in the nearest town when his foot became infected. We rode with him to the ER since I was a nurse. On the way back, we came across a very bad accident in the middle of nowhere so we had to stop to help. The fellow had run off the rode down a very steep embankment. The nurse, me, was again summoned to help. We had to scramble down the steep wooded hillside, and then found the man was unconscious. I knew to secure his neck, and was able to do so with some effort, so that we could walk him out to a railroad bed where we handed him off to the paramedics. That was a pretty weird episode.

I did enjoy the Rainbow Gathering, and am pretty sure that that was where my daughter was conceived. Especially since I had been given a special fertility dress to wear by my friend Mary!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More About Macon

My major at Mercer University was called "Community Health Education". As I wrote before, my classes were great fun. I did a 9 month internship at the Public Health Department, because that was the only thing my advisor could think to do with me. I really did enjoy my time at the Bibb County Public Health Department. I started teaching prenatal health classes, and worked with girls and women in the birth control clinic and the school where they sent all the pregnant teens. There were no teaching materials, so I made them. There was no curriculum so I wrote it. I loved teaching nutrition. I threw out the usual food groups and did a color system that was much simpler. I tried to get the health department to get rid of the junk food vending machines. I rode my bike to school. I was all about being healthy.

One of the things that was so sweet about the prenatal clinic was the baby clothes that were made by some women in Macon. Each mother got a little knitted blanket, a onesie, a sleeper, a hat, a washcloth and towel. The clothes were an incentive to come in early for prenatal care.

The director of the facility was nice enough- she was a middle aged woman with an MPH named Jackie. She was always going on about fluoridation. She had campaigns for everything. For my senior project, she asked me to organize and direct a health fair. Boy, was I excited about that! I was going to include all the new and wonderful alternatives I had been learning about. She told me to have the first meeting, and gave me the names of people in the community to contact. She made a point of saying that NO chiropractors were to be invited to participate. Hmm, I thought. This could be tricky. But happily I realized that as long as I excluded chiropractors (to keep the MDs happy), I could include any other weirdness that I wanted. So of course I invited Mary to set up a display of wheat grass, tofu, soysage, and various herbs and potions. It was wonderful.

During that Spring, I started playing softball for the Cottage Cheese. We had so much fun at practice. Games not so much. I played first base because I was tall. I had played a lot of ball as a kid so I did enjoy playing. I was not a great player but at least I knew all the rules of the game and could hit the ball. I wish I was a real writer and could say more about the women on that team. We were all the most rowdy women that hung out at the Cottage in the 25-28 age group. I really like those girls- they were tough and fun. They knew how to have a good time and they did not take anything seriously. Our coach was the typical movie plot drunk who was washed up from some former seemingly legitimate gig, and ended up coaching a bunch of barmaids.

A fellow named Bill had been in my Existentialism and Phenomenology class earlier in the year. He saw me at one of the games and I guess decided to pursue me. I remember vividly the day after one of our games, I saw him come walking up in the parking lot of our apartment building. He said he wanted to borrow something. He came in and wouldn't leave.

At the time, Phil and I had a roommate named Kerry who was a wonderful friend of Phil's. Kerry was very gifted artistically and we always got along great. We made some beautiful cards by carving a design Kerry did and then stamping the paper. I loved that. I remember Kerry and Phil's reaction to Bill breaking up our happy home. They were not impressed. I was about to graduate and had no clue what to do next. Bill filled the void with the magic words: Children!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Georgia on my Mind- 1978-1980

So we started a little community on Arlington Avenue in Macon. Our house was divided into the bottom half- one apartment, and the top half- two apartments. Our upstairs neighbor was a very well educated fellow from New York who was studying the historical aspects of Macon. He got very excited, for example, when he "discovered" an old mill in Juliette (where some of the Fried Green Tomatoes movie was filmed) that had lots of grits bags lying around. To John they were like finding buried treasure. He shared my love of all things romantic and Macon/Middle Georgia. Macon is also close to Atlanta, on I-75, and thus was not really off the beaten path. I met so many interesting people there, who were far and away more worldly than most of the people I grew up with in Alabama.

Phil and I hung out at The Cottage a lot. We went to Atlanta to see Bob Marley at the Fox. We went to hear Barry Commoner speak at Emory about energy solutions. We started an anti-nuclear group. We ate at the H and H and were treated like part of the family. I enjoyed the pace and relaxation in Macon, and left behind all the uptightness and uncertainties of Birmingham. I met a very unusual teacher named Al who was head of the sociology department at Mercer. His classes were unusual as well. Since I was doing a self designed major, and had really completed all the heavy courses at UAB, I was free to dabble in whatever interested me. All the classes I took were top notch. Only Bob Penny's English class at UAB could compare.

Al's class was a community sociology class, and the assignments involved doing something in the community. I chose a class where I would learn to make tofu at the home of Mary and Pat. Mary and Pat were true hippies and their home and lifestyle were amazing. Pat was a jewelry maker and junk collector. Mary knew everything there was to know about organic and whole foods, herbs, vegetarianism, alternative medicine, etc. I learned how to make tofu in their kitchen and still make the barbecue tofu that Mary used to take to pot lucks. Later I joined the food co-op and pursued a full education in healthy alternatives. I felt like I was in graduate school, and indeed I really was. I loved the philosophy classes, the excellent psychology classes and the lack of repressive moralizing by the faculty. Here people seemed genuinely interested in the pursuit of education. What a concept!

Life was so easy in Macon. Phil and I did not have much money, but we had great friends, lots to do, and no real obstacles to achieving our goals. He did well at Mercer Law School, and I did well at Mercer. I was not allowed to graduate Magna Cum Laude even though I had a 4.0 grade average because I had transferred from UAB.

What happened? Well, as best I can tell, my resolve to drink less fell by the wayside, I began to see that graduation was approaching, and I met someone. It all started with the women's softball team- The Cottage Cheese. And that, is a whole other story.