When I trudged into that shabby little one-bedroom apartment in Newport, Oregon in June 1986, holding Jeremy who was just barely two and still in diapers, usually so light but he felt heavy while fast asleep slumped in my arms, I felt a strange, weird sense of freedom – here I was saddled with three young children, ages 2, 3 and 5 – and for now, we were stuck living in this small apartment that my mother and her friends had lovingly decorated for us – it was a tiny one-bedroom apartment with ugly brown linoleum floors – the bedroom was small – there was a crib with the side down and a bunk bed, top and bottom, for the three kids. My double bed was out in the living room covered with a beautiful bedspread all different shades of blues and torquoises, like the ocean we now lived so close to…there was a tiny child-sized wooden table with three small chairs for the kids and a cart table covered with a yellow plastic tablecloth in the small kitchen with the ancient stove and refrigerator – with plastic lawn chairs used as makeshift chairs.
I gratefully plopped down on the double bed in the living room still holding on to Jeremy. My mother held Melissa, who was still wide awake and looking around with her saucer-like gray blue eyes, still clutching the blue tote bag with her beloved doll dishes that she’d carried for 17 hours – all the way from Hamburg, West Germany to Newport, Oregon – it was a journey that seemed to take a lifetime and a day, but only took 17 hours and a couple of tantrums that didn’t occur until we hit O’Hare Airport in Chicago where we had a three hour layover. That’s where Melissa threw herself down on the floor in the middle of the airport with people passing by in all different directions – and she refused to walk one step further. Poor Melissa – she was only three after all, and two-year-old Jeremy needed to be in the stroller at all times, strapped in so that he couldn’t break loose because if he ran away, no one would ever catch him.
So, the journey was over and here we were in Newport, Oregon – life would be a struggle – and I had these three little kids. I breathed a great sigh of relief and lay down on the bed for a moment while my mom put Melissa down, who was still wide awake and Stevie bounced on the bed which woke Jeremy up and soon the three of them were running around in circles because in Germany, it was already the next morning and they had no idea that it was really 2:00 a.m.
Even my mother looked wide awake – We hadn’t seen her in a couple of years, perhaps it had been three.
“I’m going to make some tea for us,” Mom announced, heading for the old stove which already had a teapot on it – we always had teapots growing up, I thought – this looked exactly like the one that always sat on our stove when I grew up in San Francisco – a silver teapot with a black handle and it blew like a whistle when the water boiled. Tea was the answer to all of our ailments or issues – tea and toast. if we weren’t feeling well, that’s what we drank – hot tea with lots of sugar in it. If we were down and out, there was always a cup of tea.
Sitting on the bed and watching my mom fill the tea kettle, I had to smile as I remembered. Mom had even gone so far as to get one of those special filter things for tea leaves – and she had bought a brown bag filled with orange spice tea leaves that smelled heavenly when she opened up the bag.
We both sat at the makeshift table in the kitchen while the kids jumped on the bed and “exerted their energy,” as my mother laughingly said – we sipped on hot, orange spice tea – super spicy just the way I always loved it.
The reality of the situation hadn’t sunk in yet – I was a single mom with three kids – I had no job and very little money, and I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do. But for now, at this moment, sipping on hot orange spice tea with my mother, I felt weirdly free.