Jesse and I were both born in September five years apart. Sometimes it feels like that gulf of five years made all the difference because our upbringings were so different. I was born in Washington DC when my father still held regular jobs and my mother dressed me and my older brother, Christopher, in cute matching outfits as if we were twins.
Jesse was born in Garberville, California after we’d left Oakland and begun a trip north to Seattle that took us more than a year to complete. After Jesse was born, we moved to Redcrest, California in the fall of 1970 and I went to Kindergarten on occasion. There was a small store across the street that sold grape-flavored licorice for a penny a piece. I think I might be cradling some licorice in this photo of me and Tommy in front of mom’s old Plymouth.
I have few memories of our time in Redcrest. We lived in a little motel-like cottage, one of a line of houses that faced the road. I remember four things about Redcrest: the forest behind the cottages; accidently buying a stick of black licorice when I asked for purple and having the man who ran the store refuse to give me the right flavor because I’d already touched the candy to my mouth; going to school once or twice; and learning (the hard way) that you need milk instead of water to mix up a glass of Strawberry Quik.
We left Redcrest in 1971 driving a light blue school bus that Mom tells me the state of California bought for us on the pretense that we would use it to head east to West Virginia where Chilton had the promise of a job. Instead we drove north and stopped for the summer in Takilma, Oregon just over the state line.
We camped out in Takilma for some part of the summer of 1971. Here’s what I remember about that summer: Tommy got a bee sting on his penis and I got two quarters when I lost my first tooth. Toward the end of the summer, mom and her friend Andrea packed their combined seven children into Andrea’s VW van and continued north toward Seattle, stopping in Lacey, Washington to stay with my maternal grandparents, Christine and Johnnie Hill. We stayed with my grandparents just long enough to drive my grandmother so crazy that she felt compelled to run away. (No fooling.)
We arrived in Seattle after my birthday (September 19) but before Jesse’s (September 28) so he turned one in our new home town. Mom and Andrea visited the bulletin board at the Puget Sound Consumer’s Co-op on 65th Ave in NE Seattle and found a listing for a rental house nearby, which became our first home in Seattle. The two moms and seven children, ranging in age from one (Jesse) to nine years old (Erica, Andrea’s oldest daughter) were soon joined by Chilton and Andrea’s boyfriend, Brian.
Here’s what I can remember about living in that house: Erica took some of us to visit the church down the street by promising that they would give us free candles; walking to Fairview Elementary School a few blocks away to attend 1st grade (but not very often); trying (in vain) to sound out the word “singing” when it was my turn to read aloud in school; all of us kids working together to dig a gigantic hole in the front yard although I don’t remember why; being invited to attend the birthday party of the landlady’s granddaughter at Farrell’s, which was an ice cream parlor nearby; riding loose in the back of the neighbor’s pickup truck while his son shouted for his dad to drive faster and faster so we would be lofted up into the air as he flew down the hills nearby.
Here’s what I don’t remember: Jesse.
Later, after we moved to Capitol Hill, I began to worry about protecting Jesse. By then, Jesse had learned to walk and then run, his red leather shoes squeaking with every step, and I became fixated on making our home life appear normal to anyone who might be looking. I dressed myself in tidy outfits and brushed my hair into pigtails that I told my schoolmates and teachers my mom had fixed for me. And I spent a great deal of time worrying about how I was going to take care of Jesse if and when everything went truly sideways.
Offering (for Jesse, really): a collection of photos of Jesse when he was little, including his Kindergarten picture, which features all of his baby teeth.