October 3th: California Road Trip -Introduction
In August of 2017 Betsy and I took what I called a "Quick Trip to the Rocky Mountain Region".
Towards the latter end of that trip, on August the 10th, we rolled into Montrose CO and checked into the Briarwood Inns.
That evening I flipped on the TV knowing I would see nothing but the usual crap that is so reflective of what passes for culture in the good old USA. But I got a surprise.
As I was surfing the channels a familiar face came across the screen - the handsome face of one Sidney Poitier. Bonus!! "To Sir with Love" was showing and was only minutes into the movie.
"To Sir with Love" was one of a number of movies my mom (Jane) and I went to see when I was a teenager. That was in 1967, now 51 years ago. My mom really loved Sidney Poitier and he was one of her numerous celebrity crushes.
Sidney Poitier as Christian Roberts in "To Sir With Love".
My mom and I both loved the movie and over the years had watched it again and again. For me it was always fun to watch.
And so here I am in Montrose Colorado watching it again.
As the tear-jerking ending wrapped up and the theme song was playing I turned to Betsy and said:
"I can't wait to tell mom we saw it!"
The next day I got a phone message from my brother William telling me mom had passed away during the night.
I have wondered numerous times: Was mom alive as I watched the movie? I will never know and I will never have the pleasure of telling her I saw one of our favorite movies.
And so it goes...
This year, 2018, marked the first anniversary of her death. Her ashes are buried near the garden of the Morgantown house where she and my sister resided.
Before my mom entered the earth, my sister Susan saved me a small vial of her ashes for me. And now mom will be going with me to San Francisco to make her final visit.
Why San Francisco? That is a long story.
Here is part of that story.
The Great Escape
In 1968 in order to get away from George, her abusive husband and out of a totally failed marriage my mom came up with a plan to get as far away from her husband and Morgantown WV as she possibly could.
She decided on San Francisco. That was an easy decision. It was the 60s and we were Morgantown's only hippie family. My mom was a radical by the standards of the day what with taking her kids to Peace Marches in Washington DC and New York City to protest the war in Vietnam and throwing parties for WVU International Students from around the globe. Mom was different. How different I did not realize at the time. And she wanted to stay that way. But this could not happen while wearing the shackles of marriage to someone whose mantra was "Don't question authority" while my mom's was always "Question Authority". So it was time to leave all that behind in search of a life which would allow her and her children to express themselves and think as they wished. And where else but San Francisco could that dream be realized.
But how was this going to happen - get herself and her 5 kids (sister Joan stayed behind but would depart later) from Morgantown WV all the way to San Francisco? Now it's time to take a step back. Back to Wheeling WV.
As soon as my parents were married my mom got pregnant. No surprise. It was the 50s and my dad was a Catholic. It was time to start a family. And start they did. Over the next 9 years she had 6 kids and a miscarriage.
While my dad drove to work everyday to his job as naturalist at Oglebay Park, my mom was at home taking care of the kids and house.
Since she had no way to get anywhere and there was only one neighbor nearby, she was isolated and alone with no contact with other adults except when we would go to Oglebay Park for bird or nature walks with my dad and Brooks Bird Club. This seldom happened. And as kids our main contact with the outside world was going to school and the pool at Oglebay Park. I can only remember a few times when we kids would get to go to downtown Wheeling. One of the events was annual Christmas shopping and sometimes going without Grandma to the lunch counter at Woolworth's for a hot roast beef sandwich with gravy! That was a treat and a rarity.
The rest of the time we kids were there at 350 GC&P road at the Park house which was part of my dad's salary. I remember it as idyllic. Nothing to do all day but run around in the woods and play in the creek and chase butterflies in the fields. A great way to grow up for us boys.
My sisters? We did not associate with them much. I think a lot of it had to do with the age difference - my two sisters Susan and Joan were the oldest. And much later on I realized they were probably in the house helping mom with chores. I really don't know.
Moving to the Big City
After 13 years of life in Wheeling there was a big change. My dad was offered a job as State Extension Program Leader in Outdoor Recreation at West Virginia University in Morgantown and we were going to leave 350 GC&P road behind.
I remember being excited by all this but my sister Joan was not. I remember vividly the last day we were there and walking up the lane with her towards the neighbors and she suddenly burst into tears. At the time I had no idea why she was so upset. Now, thinking about it, I want to cry too.
For us kids, at least for me, moving to Morgantown was like moving to New York City. For the first time in our lives we could walk to downtown and explore all Morgantown had to offer.
Oddly enough the house we moved into - 616 8th street - was somewhat isolated like the house we lived in at Oglebay Park. There were not adjacent neighbors like one would have on a city street in a named neighborhood. There were two houses up the street from us. One was a family of Hungarian refugees who could hardly speak English and the other was a family who were what you would call red-necks. The dad was a surly, hard drinking, coon hunting coal miner and the mom was a buxom gal with two buxom daughters along with younger sibling by the name of Denny.
Ok, where the hell was I going with this? This is supposed to be about my mom. So, back to my mom.
Like her kids my mom could now get out and about as well. Although she seldom had access to a vehicle she could, like us, get around on foot. And get around she did! My mom was having a liberation and her free spirited and fun loving nature was about to really blossom.
After years of social isolation she was ready to enjoy herself. One of the things she did to make this happen was stop in one day at the Foreign Student Office where she met WVU Foreign Student Adviser Julian Martin. And before you know it mom had signed up to act as a host family for foreign students attending WVU. How and why all this happened I do not know. Why did she stop into Julian's office? Did she meet him prior to stopping by his office. She must have.
Anyway, the upshot is that all of a sudden my mom and all us kids were socializing with young college students from all over the world. In 1960s Morgantown this was unheard of. People would openly stare when they saw an African or "oriental" person walking down the main street of downtown.
As you can imagine, meeting someone from Kenya or Thailand or Persia was exciting and fun for all of us.
And my sisters? They were two gorgeous teens who were the center of attention at every party or get together. How they must have enjoyed that.
And my mom was not immune to the charms of some of these handsome young men either. You see, my dad was gone a lot on work related trips and as we all know "While the cat's away, the mice will play". And I will say no more about that.
The years go by in Morgantown and mom starts to become harder and harder for her husband to control. The marriage deteriorates. The kids get drawn into the fray and finally my mom has had enough. Time to leave.
Then in March of 1968 comes the Great Escape. And how exactly did my mom pull it off?
At some point she applied for a secretarial position in the Psychology department at WVU. She got the job. Now she had a modicum of financial independence. More trouble for her husband - now she has money!
Unbeknownst to me, and I assume most of my siblings, mom started squirreling away money from her meager paycheck. She had a plan. Finally, when enough money had been stashed away - she did it. She bought 6 one-way tickets to San Francisco.
Then one cold March morning everyone started out their morning as usual.
We all had breakfast, we kids walked out the door to school and then my dad headed off to work in the car.
But we had not walked much of the walk to school. According to plan we walked part way down 8th street and then hid in the bushes where we kept an eye on the street. When George (by now we all called him George) rolled by in the car we waited for a few minutes and came out of hiding. Looking down the street to make sure the coast was clear we walked back up the street to the house.
In a few minutes we were met by fellow conspirators who had the previous night collected our luggage which was tossed out the back widow of the house. Then we were on our way to the Pittsburgh airport.
When my dad got back from work that day he came home to an empty house. By that time we were all in Tucson staying with my mom's oldest sister Mildred.
We stayed there for a period of days. I am sure my mom needed to decompress and gather her wits before we started the next leg of the journey.
And then the day came. We boarded a plane with flowers in our hair and within a few hours we were at the San Francisco International airport.
Now Jane Breiding, formerly of Morgantown West Virginia, with 5 kids in tow must find us all a place to stay and food to eat. Can you imagine!?
As they say: "What was she thinking!!??"
Well, she pulled it off and we spent the next 4 years in San Francisco.
During that time period we all did a lot of growing up. But my mom? I am not so sure. She always kept that romantic, young girl outlook and optimism and free spirit. And why not? She was in San Francisco! The City of her Dreams!
And now she will be making her final trip there. In just a few days I will be standing near a precipice at Land's End watching the waves crash against the craggy rock shore line. Then, I will take a pinch, just a pinch of my mom's ashes and cast them to the wind. And over the next few days mom and I will make a few more stops and at the end of our stay she will be forever in some of her favorite places in The City of her Dreams.
So come along with mom and me and you too will see some of her favorite places as we walk and bus around San Francisco.
Below is a sampling of photos of my mom. I wish I had more. They may be out there yet.
Jane Rector Breiding in happier days.
The year was 1946. Mom and dad are on the right.
The Honeymoon at Oglebay Institute Mountain Nature Camp at Terra Alta in the mountains of West Virginia.
Joan - the first born.
My mom is shown here on the left talking to Billie Altemus. Billie was a Wheeling native and married to Bud (Don) Altemus who was also a professional Naturalist. The blur of activity is my sisters Joan on the left and Susan on the right. Brother Sutton is on my mom's lap. The Altemus family was also Catholic and also had six kids. To this day I stay in touch (when possible) with Jeff and Jon who are twins.
Here is mom with her True Love - Dale Donaldson. In the early 70s my brother William introduced them via the mail. They met, fell in love and married. The labels were written by Dale and were from one of two scrapbooks he put together celebrating their married life together.
Happy! Happy! Happy!
My cute mom. She would have been about 55 years old in the photo.
Sadly this love affair was not to last. Two years after they were married Dale died of lung cancer.
Mom and my sister Susan. See the resemblance? Suzi and mom ended up living together for many years. My sister devotedly took care of mom until her death.
Mom, Betsy and Suzi. Happy Days.
Mom at her nook. From here she read many books and wrote many letters.
My 52nd birthday present from mom. I big batch of kadoofles.
Mother's Day - 2006. For a period of years I tried to bring her flowers from our garden at 1251 Hornbeck on Mothers Day.
A big thanks to my brother William for helping me with some of the details of this story.