When we “escaped” to Texas and then “escaped” back to the Upper Peninsula

Chapter 4

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?

Ahhh, youth…

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.

Sound career advice from 1982.

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.

Map of Texas, in case you're not familiar with the state.

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.

Yes. They are green eggs. Honest.

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.

Rattlesnake skull

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.

Can't you just feel those breezes looking at this Michigan map?

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.

Go back north, young people. Go back 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.

I’ll whisper.

(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!

About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
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42 Responses to When we “escaped” to Texas and then “escaped” back to the Upper Peninsula

  1. ooh getting exciting! child being conceived even! LOL!

  2. P.j. grath says:

    You escaped Texas. Definitely! I’m so glad! Having once escaped northern New Jersey (after six long months), I have some inkling of how you felt returning to Michigan. HOME!!!

  3. Barbara says:

    What a great story!
    I had that very same copy of Parachute (and found it to be pretty much worthless.)
    We, too, made our way from Up North to Texas, but didn’t actually get to Texas (also suburban Dallas) until 1993. It was very different from what you describe! Never saw any rattlers, snaky bosses, or green eggs. We ended up back north, but would have stayed there if the fates had allowed.

    • Kathy says:

      You should have seen me, Barbara. I filled an entire notebook trying to figure out my Career. We actually didn’t end up in the Dallas area. (But that’s the secret part.) I like how you called the boss snaky. It’s interesting how we can have so many different experiences of a single state. I know folks who have hated it here.

  4. Sybil says:

    I have many negative, pre-conceived notions about Texas, you just validated them.
    Love the “returning home” winter trees shot. Isn’t it nice not to have to worry about rattlesnakes in the garden ?

    I’m enjoying your memoirs, including the juicy bits about conceiving your first-born.

    • Kathy says:

      I LOVE not have to worry about rattlesnakes!!! (Although Barry found a dead one once on Skanee Road and our kids held it on the front porch and he wrote a long column about it in the newspaper.) I am glad you are enjoying this juicy memoir. LOL!

  5. I’m just glad that you came to your senses and went back home!! ❤

  6. Elisa's Spot says:

    tittering and giggling

    I had to do one of those night-type leavings too, and for that same(and very literal here) reasons. roflmao, Maybe it’s a thing all persons must do at that age? perhaps a survey??

  7. Susan D says:

    What a great read! What adventures! Oh, I love these memoirs! I’m so glad you escaped and discovered. There are most definitely times when we escape … people, places, things. I firmly believe that these escapes save our lives. Yes!

    Thank you for these wonderful memoirs. They’re delicious!

    I spent a few years in Texas because I married a Texan. Although I fell in love with him and with some of the people I met (most of whom were native Texans), Texas was not for me … and my babies and I escaped to the promised land of California. Sigh …. and we lived, yes – we lived!!!

    • Kathy says:

      See, Susan, how many people have escape stories to share. I am glad you find the memoirs “delicious”. I am having a blast writing them. Although they may be winding down…Ordinary Life establishes itself soon. I am glad you lived, and that we have come to know one another, my friend.

  8. Heather says:

    The escape from Texas sounds like it sincerely WAS an escape! We escaped Miami, but with weeks of notice from jobs, help from a brother who flew down from Ohio, etc. It still felt (and still does!) like an escape.
    What time of year did you head back north? I think moving in the winter would be unfavorable, but returning home to those snow-coated trees! I would love it if ours looked like that right now. Looking forward to chapter 5 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      My goodness, Heather, it seems everyone has an escape story to tell! Isn’t that interesting? We headed back to Michigan in July and I think returned to the U.P. later in August. It wasn’t winter, yet, thank goodness, or we would have frozen to death. If your temp is as warm as ours today (45!!!) there probably isn’t any snow down there yet, is there?

      • Heather says:

        There is not snow, and I am downright morose about it. Perhaps that’s why I’ve had no words to share lately? Trying to keep my perspective on things; the weather folks promise snow in the next week, and since they control the weather, they would know 😉

        • Kathy says:

          Awww, Heather, gosh, you sound so much like my husband. Except he wants the cold for the ice to form for ice-fishing. I hope you get snow this week. (However, if your weather is anything like ours was yesterday–50 degrees–it might be awhile. Keep a stiff upper lip. It will be coming soon, I’m sure.)

  9. Susan Derozier says:

    Every chapter gets better Kathy. We have shared opinions about Texas and I am so glad (for our sake) that you returned to your Northern roots. ‘Can’t wait to hear more!

    • Kathy says:

      The chapters get even better? Really? Thank you!! I am glad–now–that we returned to the north. Back then I was only resigned. But there were babies on the way, and that changed everything! Funny how babies have a way of doing that.

  10. Celeste says:

    OH, so funny! We have recently relocated to San Antonio from Wisconsin. It is very different here, but I do love the sun shining nearly every day! Miss that water, though.

    • Kathy says:

      Celeste, I think it is REALLY funny! It is especially funny–I still can’t get over it–that you wrote this comment just as the firstborn son made his way to Texas (San Antonio, nonetheless) for his first return visit to the Lone Star State since his conception. I’ll bet it’s nice to see that sun shining every day. Yes, very nice. Hope you continue to enjoy Texas!

  11. john says:

    That sure as heck sounds like the Texas I know. My wife spent exactly one semester at Baylor University in Waco before coming screaming back North.

  12. Brenda Hardie says:

    oooooo there’s a little of everything in this here story! 😀 Yes indeed it does sound like an escape! I have a couple “escape” stories too…not as dramatic though. Can’t wait to read the next chapter! You’ve got me on the edge of my seat 😀

    • Kathy says:

      Brenda, I am afraid that the memoirs may get a little less exciting soon. (OK, maybe I can MAKE them exciting, lol!) I am now thinking that many of us have an escape story or six. Do you think? Happy that you’re on the edge of your seat.

  13. I’m sooo glad you escaped Texas! Almost anywhere is better than here!
    But, I’m really curious what town that was, especially if it was in the Dallas area!

    THANK YOU for the beautiful snow photo! ♥

    • Kathy says:

      It wasn’t in the Dallas area, Michaela. No. Far away. Maybe. (I think I will shut up now.) I am glad you liked the beautiful snow photo. Phew, finally some snow photos!

  14. Good God, this is a great story, Kathy. I love that you moved to Texas. I love that you left Texas. I too moved to Texas, but I didn’t last because of the heat. It was dreadful! Can’t wait to read more. Have a great weekend.

    • Kathy says:

      Gosh, Kathy, we never even made it to the days of heat. Wondering what that would have been like. I am glad you are enjoying this story. Don’t know when the next installment might be…it’s not going to go on being this dramatic for long. That’s for sure. (And I hope YOUR weekend was good, too.)

  15. Karma says:

    It seems so funny to me that Texas was the place people were flocking to. I think I have a vague memory of my dad at some point in the early 80’s considering moving the family south for work, possibly to Texas, but it never happened.

    • Kathy says:

      We were all flockin’ to Texas in the early ’80s. It was THE place to be. That’s where the jobs were. (So they said.) There were so many of us northerners on the roads, you wouldn’t believe it. The Texans were probably prayin’ the Yanks would go back north. (Or maybe they liked our money.)

  16. DAwn says:

    I remember that time. I was living in Hancock, and we in the work library, had the exact same book! Glad you came back home!!

    • Kathy says:

      Wouldn’t it be funny if we had walked by each other…or we had seen one another in the library…never even thinking that there would be something called “blogging” and we’d be blogging pals in the not-so-distant future?

  17. Dana says:

    This is great! It’s my first taste of your memoir posts, and I have to say– your voice is fabulous. I can’t wait to read more! 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      Dana, I swear my voice has changed each time I write a memoir post. It’s true. I can’t seem to stay in first person. Sometimes I write in third person, and one of these days the memoirs are going to be written in the second person voice, but haven’t figured out how to do that–yet. **grin** I am glad you are enjoying and that you have said such a nice compliment!

  18. Colleen says:

    I don’t think there is anything more compelling and downright inspiring than life stories! I’m SO delighted that you’re sharing this. And yes, thinking this is true, we all have our escape stories. A universal theme…..until it’s not 🙂

    • Kathy says:

      You’ve just made me think, Colleen, of the hundreds of thousands of escape dreams I have had in my life. They mostly involved escaping from the Nazis.I am glad those dreams have mostly ended. I am glad you enjoyed this sharing.

  19. Katie says:

    I thought of rattlesnakes today as I pulled weeds from my backyard flowerbeds. I wore gloves, but was still very nervous.

    Texas is still a red state, with many counties and little cities who have somehow managed to escape the last 60 years or so. It’s unbelievable and shameful. However, I don’t live in one of those little counties or towns and prefer to think of myself as a more enlightened big city person. Also, I remind myself that I’m a transplant from California. That helps.

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