Today we shall remember our Great Escapes.
Escape is a dramatic word, isn’t it?
I suppose you are thinking: They didn’t really escape to Texas. They didn’t really escape back to the Upper Peninsula. She is using artistic license yet once again, isn’t she?
Perhaps, dear reader.
Do keep reading. I shall let you decide.
We are still back in the early 1980’s. Barry and Kathy are living in an old Finnish farm with a half-coyote dog and a shower spider named Sarah. The toilet sometimes freezes.
We’re burning wood and working at our respective jobs as a A) weekly newspaper editor and B) hospital personnel-public relations assistant with the title of “Business Manager” also overseeing the admissions department.
We’re transplants from the Tame Lower Peninsula and we’re doing a mighty fine job of fitting in the Wild Upper Peninsula. We even paid cash for 10 acres in the woods near Huron Bay.
But are we really doing fine?
Yes, my husband is doing fine. But I am not. You must remember that I am probably 22 or 23 years old. I have, like many young folks, planned a Fine Life filled with Happiness, Excitement and Eternal Peace.
Instead, I am restless. Life feels wrong. I can remember crying every weekend: No one loves me, my boss is stupid, what am I suppose to be doing in my life?
Some of us whimper when we realize our ideals refuse to match reality. Suddenly chopping wood and living in the wilderness (err….the farm) feels hollow and wrong. I buy the book “What Color is My Parachute?” which helps one determine how to find The Right Career and pour over its pages day in and day out.
My parachute feels like it’s failing. It’s a free fall into the trees of the Upper Peninsula and I am going to die from confusion…
“Let’s go make our Fortune in Texas,” I say to Barry.
You are raising your eyebrows? Texas? you think. Is she crazy?
Well, if I was crazy, so were thousands of others. People were flocking from Michigan to Texas in cars and trucks and U-Hauls in the early 1980’s. It was the Promised Land. We had black Michigan license plates. There were so many escaping Michigan’s recession they called us the “black tag” people–as in the “black plague”.
I thought–yes, if we just go to Texas, we shall Live Happily Every After.
Fortunately, I was able to convince The Husband to accompany. We held a grand rummage sale, netting $1,200. We even sold our wedding present dishes and our bed! Barry built a trailer and we loaded that and the car to the gills. We looked like the Northern Beverly Hillbillies heading south.
We drove to the Dallas suburbs where Barry’s brother lived. We parked with him while beginning our job search.
We searched. We searched some more.
Finally, the husband found work. (In those days, it was much more common for the husband to be the primary bread-winner with the wife following along. In our case, he was the “established” journalist, so we figured he had a better chance of landing a Prize Position.)
He did. A real dandy.
Here’s where I am going to get crafty and sly and omit the name of the county, the town, the boss, the job, everything.
If you decide to read on, you’ll see why.
Barry got a job as a newspaper editor. His boss was da Boss. And I mean the Boss. He owned half the town. He owned everything in the town you could imagine.
We privately called him a Southern Mafia Kingpin, Texas-style.
I landed a job as radio news reporter. (Ha! Surprised you, didn’t I?)
It involved interviewing Important Townsfolk and attending meetings and–sigh–being factual. (Come to think of it, it was my last stint in the journalism world.)
We rented a house in the country with an overgrown garden and a chicken coop. Within a day of settling in, a barefoot neighbor mama and her young boy ambled down the dirt road with an armload of chickens.
“Here’s y’alls chickens,” she said, “we saved them for y’all.”
Apparently the last occupant raised chickens, but left unexpectedly. The neighbors boarded the chickens while the house remained empty, but returned them to our coop upon our arrival.
Thus, we raised chickens.
Our chickens laid green eggs.
We ate green eggs and ham daily.
(No! Not really! But you can bet we made lots of jokes about Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss, eat your heart out.)
Okra grew chest-high in the overgrown garden. I wandered outside, surveying the vegetables. We picked some carrots, some beans. I enjoyed the feeling of dirt between my thawed-out northern toes.
Until Barry and his visiting brother found a rattlesnake skull the size of a tennis ball next to the lake less than a mile away. We were told rattlers were attracted to chicken coops and eggs.
I immediately re-discovered my errant shoes and wore them while carefully surveying every step. Less time was spent in the overgrown garden, lest rattlesnake beasts lingered among the tomatoes and okra.
Ahhh….the Texas life. I was sure I would be happy once again. Barry, however, was already pining for the northwoods. He would make random comments like, “Don’t you miss the trees? Don’t you miss the lake?” Not a novel reader, he poured through a long book about Alaska.
Well, yes. Especially the lake breezes. Having lived in Michigan all my twenty-some years, I thought everyone enjoyed lake breezes. Michigan is usually awash in lake breezes. There is the feeling of the lake in the air, even when you live inland. In Texas, I suddenly felt something was wrong. It was stultifyingly hot. In the steamy woods where we lived it rained every day at 1 p.m. And it was only May. No breezes blew anywhere.
Barry began running into some obstacles from da Boss. Da Newspaper Boss wanted things done his way, as bosses usually do. But the way Mr. Newspaper Boss and Barry saw the world was dramatically different.
Mr. Newspaper Boss did not like Barry’s feeling of equality among the races, for one thing. Barry did not look at the race of the person when he put a photograph on the front page. Mr. Boss did. He only wanted white folk on the front page.
Then we learned a sordid secret. Mr. Newspaper Boss had arranged for some legal trouble for a previous editor. Because he didn’t like him. Because he owned the town. Because he could.
Federal authorities were combing through Texas, county by county, rooting out corruption. Mr. Boss didn’t need nosy editors poking around.
“Let’s go home,” Barry said.
I remember, suddenly, feeling this deep internal knowing that–for some godforsaken reason–for some reason I didn’t even understand–we were supposed to be living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We were not supposed to be living in Texas.
We withdrew our money from the bank.
Boss-man had ties with the bank.
“Barry’s fixin’ to shuck,” he told someone.
We were nervous. We wanted to leave the green egg-laying chickens and the rattlesnakes. We wanted to “shuck” back to the north where we Yankees belonged. We wanted to get out of there right now.
We started packing early in the morning and finally the Texas pickup truck we bought off the side of the road was loaded by midnight. We jumped in and took off (after returning the chickens to our neighbors) and drove north, north, north.
OK, we stopped in a town an hour to the north.
I hesitate to tell you what happened then, but I’ve received permission from our #1 son.
Shhhh…..lean close. I’ll tell you.
(Our first child was conceived that night as we escaped Texas.)
We were celebratin’. No kiddin’!
This is the stuff of legends, isn’t it?
We tooled on back to the Lower Peninsula, where Barry helped my dad remodel apartments and I started throwing up in my mother’s large pink bowl–the same bowl she utilized during her pregnancies.
We attended a Jimmy Buffett concert and listened to Jimmy croon about his high adventures in the south.
We, on the other hand, would soon return north to our former town where Barry would resume his job at the L’Anse Sentinel.
But first we would live in a school bus in a marina…but that will be Chapter 5.
Whaddya think? Sounds like an escape to us!