Sunday, August 07, 2005

Homeless on vacation, a work in progress

The Homeless on Vacation
Peggy L. Johnson
I use to sit and watch TV with my family and see the reports about homeless people. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hate to admit it, I thought;
“Boy are they lazy. Anyone can get a job and no one has to live like that unless they choose to.”
Boy have I learned a lesson. My husband worked very hard at his job, he had 15 years seniority, pretty good for our age. One day, it happened to us. Low and behold a merger began to be in the works for his company.
Now we all remember the 1980’s, a strange decade for sure. Every big company out there found ways to cut the bottom line and merge with another. I don’t believe they took into view the lives that they would be affecting. So, we talked it over as a family, like our kids had any idea what we were talking about, and decided to take the buyout.
Most people see the money they are offered and think it will last forever, take my word for it, don’t do it unless absolutely necessary. Then again, after the adventures we’ve had if you’re a strong person, DO IT!
We used our brains, the telephone and found a wonderful piece of property to invest in. It was far away and the boys would be moving to a whole new environment. We assumed all would be well. A few months down field and we were off. What a grand thing. Our dreams were finally coming true.
Our new home was situated below a marvelous mountain range in the Rockies. A view that made you lose your breath when you seen it each morning. Life was wonderful. It was like a fairytale.
A few weeks went by and the place was finally coming together. The property sat on a major highway that lead to many little tourist traps and we opened a little store of our own. It took weeks and a lot of the money from our savings to pull it off. It was a sight to behold, beautiful. Tour buses and cars stopped day and night. We worked hard to keep it all under control.
I remember sitting there at the counter the day the man from the county showed up.
“Mam, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’ll have to close. I checked the zoning and your store is not on the list. You’ll have to go to the county seat and file for a zoning change in order to stay in business. Oh, the other thing, you’ll need to close the restrooms, unless you retile and” I remember it sounded like
Okay so we went to the county seat, did the paperwork paid the $500.00 bucks and within 3 months we were allowed to open again.
Do you have any idea what happens when no money comes in for 3 whole months?
Not only were we taking care of all the bills, we were still making payments on the property that we had moved from, while waiting for it to sell.
The money dwindled, the fears grew, the arguments began in earnest. How we managed to keep our marriage together, only God knows for sure.
We then decided that I would make a trip to the old house, check what was going on with the realtor and just get away for the week end. Husband was all for it. I loaded the boys in the van with me and away we went.
10 hours later, I remember this exactly, I pulled into our old driveway. The driveway that I had parked in for all those years. The home where my children had spent most of their lives at. The front door was open. I had the boys wait in the car and carefully opened the screen door and peered inside.
The light fixtures where gone from the front room. I headed towards the kitchen where countless meals had been made. Countless plates washed and stored. The room where our whole family had taken pleasure in the private moments shared over supper.
The kitchen sink, water heater, all gone. It was almost unbearable to walk through each room and see every fixture stripped.
I also remember the look on my boys face when they walked into the house. It was like they had seen a monster, a ghost.
I try to often erase that moment.
Over time I think its been replaced with better things. Thank the Lord.
I called the realtor, that was a waste of time. I called the police and the insurance company. My loss, too bad.
I was such an idiot at the time.
I drove back to our new house in the mountains. It was the quietest trip I ever remember having with both my boys in the car. Its pretty hard on teenagers to experience this sort of thing.
Well, the weeks rolled by and before long the savings account was about gone, we had spread ourselves way to thin.
The bank was closing in. We had a huge yard sale, made a little bit of money and decided to just cut our losses and leave. Quit claim deeds and all. It was a mess. All this time I forgot or was too involved with the mess to see what was happening to the kids.
You know I discovered a horrible thing about folks. Now don’t get me wrong, I know its not all people in general. But some are different, they flock around people having problems just like vultures, waiting to take, take, take. And they did.
We woke up early that Friday morning, loaded the van with kids, cats and what little would fit into his little truck and left. We left it all, to the vultures.
Somewhere in the midst of all this confusion we met a few God sends, A old man at a lake lot, sold us an old Winnebago for pennies on the dollar, another one who offered encouragement. God sure has some wonderful, strange angels out there. Sometime that winter my oldest turned 18 and decided he had to go. That was tough for sure, he reassured me his old best friend had a place for him to come to. What did we have to offer, I let him go. Within a week he was in trouble with the law, somehow I felt it was all my fault. He survived, so did I.. He is now a medical research designer and writer, imagine that.
We drove a thousand miles that week end, bank account empty, no job one kid 6 cats to New Mexico. We camped high on a mountain and for the first time, we were completely alone. Okay, I left out a bunch of other weird things, just as well.
I found a job at a jewelry supply house and husband became a substitute teacher on the reservation, now here’s a picture for you. Three white folk, living under the water tower on the Navajo reservation, fresh from the city. When the UPS man delivered to us, that was our actual address “Winnebago under water tower.
Our neighbor was a medicine man on the Jesus Road, I swear I have never met anyone nor do I think I ever will meet a man as strong and as wonderful as he was. His lady, (It’s impolite to use their names I was informed by her) told us that we need to concentrate on what the creator has in mind for us and quit trying so hard.
Within a year or two I finally understood what she meant, we found that by saving everything we made that winter we could go to living history re enactments and people would pay us good money for the things we brought with us. The technical term was, traders. Just like Lewis and Clark, Jim Bridger and more. Names I grew to know and their personals too.
So here we were, living in an old motor home, traveling and sometimes just hoping we made enough to get to the next show. If we needed a place to park we could look for the National Forests and usually they had a campground for free.
At one of these events we ran into another Trader who told us about a show all the way down in Florida, with a few bucks and a prayer we went. It was wonderful. Scary but wonderful just the same. At least it felt wonderful at the time.
We found that at the National forest there were lots of other people in the same situation as we were. We ate a lot of those noodle dishes and to this day I still can’t bring myself to eat Tuna.
So all this time I was beginning to get it, to understand a bit more of the big picture. You are only as happy as you choose to be. Money didn’t buy happiness, but it sure bought gasoline to get you to the next one.
One Christmas Eve in this same little camping area, we found a couple, she was black and he was white. To us it made no difference at all. They were there in a small tent, she was eight months pregnant and they were very happy. We watched him everyday set out with an old 22 rifle and what he shot, they ate. Usually we saw him carrying a small squirrel or two, that was about it. When they would visit our camp site I never once heard them complain. Imagine that, happy with a dead squirrel or two. All this time I thought we were destitute homeless broke.
The two young people had both left high paying jobs in the automobile industry to be together and by the grace of God were here at the campground. By now the joke around these little campgrounds were, “We’re not homeless, we’re on vacation.”
Now this type of campground is not the type with electric, water, sewers, no this was primitive camping. Roughing it, make a fire, cook the food, haul your water for quarter mile. Camping.
Christmas eve will be one I will remember forever, we packed paper bags with all the extra food we could, others donated too. Our son, thinking he was still a ninja at times, crept though the palmettos that night and placed the bags carefully near their tent.
If they knew it was us that did it, they never mentioned. A gift is a gift.
We never saw them again and somehow I know they are fine. I know in my heart than when they finally did call their parents they were welcomed with open arms. Grandparents do that.
So now, where am I, oh yeah.
We wintered there that year and that year only. That was ninety-three, Storm of the Century, hurricanes, snow, just plan yucky! Our boy bought his first car and left. I was devastated.
We must’ve done good parenting, he beat us to the next event a thousand miles away. Thank you God for being the passenger in that van of his. He now is a satellite tech, three wonderful kids and a wife that loves camping. They met at one of the events we did so long ago, or was it yesterday.
I still say that prayer.
We finally made enough money to buy a little place in Texas, I hated it. Spent ten years there, grew a business from nothing and I do mean nothing to one I sold and headed back to the woods again. I know we can‘t go back, who would want to. But if I ever hear anyone make horrid remarks about a homeless person, you can be sure I will speak up. I will tell them to remember.
Walk a mile in their shoes, then judge.
Just a thought, a blast from my past.
so what do you think, shorter or longer or let it go.

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