Is it possible for the best year of your life and the worst to be one and the same? I believe 2013 was that for me.
In our family we have the habit on certain holidays or other significant dates throughout the year to ask the question, “I wonder where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing next year at this time?”
With holiday traditions, things tend not to change much. For 28 years, for instance, Lisa has had a chocolate layer cake on her birthday with multi-colored sprinkles and a large number candle in the middle of the smaller candles denoting the time she’s been on the planet. This has been handy when reviewing old photos, because we can always tell during which birthday the photo in question was taken.
But this year our family has been turned upside down and inside out. After almost 34 years in the same house, we have moved. After 55 years in New Mexico, we’re moving on. Future pictures will not have the same features we’ve grown to love. New traditions will have to be forged.
We’ve essentially been homeless for the past six months. Although we own a lovely and quite (more than) adequate house in Montana, it doesn’t do us much good while we’re stuck in New Mexico. Friends and relatives alike have been exceptionally giving and gracious in helping to put a roof over our heads and a place to park our stuff until we are allowed by Mr. Boeing and the U.S. Government to get on with our lives.
In a detailed horoscope done when I was just a teenager I remember reading about myself that I would make strong friendships early in life and those relationships would endure throughout my life. That has pretty much been the case. Most of my closest friends have been around for years—in the case of Joanie, we’ve been fast friends since the age of 12. I don’t have a lot of friends but the ones in my life are incredibly important to me, and I would do anything for them. I know they feel the same about me as evidenced by the outpouring of love and support during what has been an extremely challenging time for Grant and me.
The social animal who has never met a stranger seems to have skipped a generation between my Dad and my daughter. Show up anywhere and the two of them will know the names and life story of everyone within a two mile radius.
I on the other hand tend towards being the happy hermit—someone who has low expectations of anyone who isn’t a lifetime friend and mostly a lack of desire to know anything about anyone outside my inner circle.
Since this past year was a time of extreme personal growth and change I guess the Universe decided to send me one last lesson at the end of 2013.
It all started with the little house Lisa and Matt bought late this fall. The place is almost 100 years old, and has the distinction of having once been the local post office. The most amazing thing about the house was the purchase price—an incredible $13,000—a mere pittance by today’s standards. The low price of the house was a Godsend to the kids who have had to deal with the closing of a successful business in September that had contributed significantly to their bottom line. Once the business went under, not only did the ends not meet, they were miles apart.
Enter Travis Clark. He’s the guy who introduced them. He’s also the guy who is one of the 14 residents of Brinktown, MO and who knew that the bank had owned the house next door to his for the last three years and was desperate to unload it. The fact that Matt will have a 3 ½ hour drive to work is immaterial (he only goes once a week). Did I mention the house only cost $13,000?
Speaking of low expectations, when one pays such a miserly sum for a home, one has extremely low ones. Yet the bones of the house were strong, including a new furnace and fresh paint on the exterior. The inside, however, was quite cosmetically challenged.
As 2013, the year of incredible change and upheaval drew toward the end; it became apparent that if Lisa and Matt were going to be able to move by the end of the year, Grant and I would have to make a trip to Missouri to do some work to the house for it to be reasonably functional and comfortable.
Backing up to our relationship with Travis Clark, the guy who started this whole project, we met him and his parents about fourteen years ago when we sold Travis an airplane. He was just a kid at the time–barely nineteen and still in college. Grant being Grant, he took a liking to the kid and agreed to do an annual on the airplane free of charge over the next few years. So we saw the Clark family off and on for a couple of years during that time.
We liked the elder Clarks, a humble farm family who were pleasant and charming, and who generously invited Lisa to come spend a week with them in Missouri during her 15th summer. The next year we bought the house at Bull Lake and the whole Clark family came to visit for a few days. After that it was the yearly Christmas card and occasional update from Lisa, who kept in touch with Travis.
When we started making plans to go to Brinktown, the elder Clarks immediately offered to let us stay at their farm. It did make sense, as they live only 8 miles away whereas the nearest official hotel was would be a significant daily drive. At first I resisted. I always hate to impose on people, especially those I barely know.
Yet as we drove on toward Missouri, our daughter called to say the Clarks were expecting us and gave us a number to call for specific directions.
We skidded into “town” (term used loosely) at 10:00 p.m. barely ahead of a major ice storm and just days before Christmas. Terry Clark met us at a crossroads and we followed his Ford pickup the last mile down a dirt track to the farm. After a short visit we were shown the digs that would become our home for almost three weeks—a room paneled and floored in oak and cedar with origins in the woods behind the house.
The next morning over a breakfast of fresh made cinnamon rolls, we discovered, to our surprise that this couple who is a good ten years older than us, had every intention of working alongside us to finish the repairs to the house.
Over the ensuing days the four of us, with the help of Travis’ wife, Casey, put in twelve and thirteen hour days while Lisa and Matt frantically packed their house in New Mexico in preparation for the move.
Christmas Day dawned clear and cold. It was a weird feeling to think we wouldn’t see a single relative and the only turkey we would consume would be the cold cuts on the sandwich we’d have for lunch. I had been waiting for the Clarks to mention their Christmas plans. While they had given generously of their time, I knew that Christmas Day would be solo for Grant and I as virtually everyone I know has Christmas traditions to uphold.
After the cows were fed and we were heading for the door, this generous couple informed us they would be along shortly, as there was still much to do before the kids showed up. Grant and I looked at each other, shocked. Was it even possible for someone to be that generous?
We all worked out tails off that day. There was no fancy dinner. There were no presents. There were no Christmas carols, no pie, no relatives. But I will never forget what it was like to discover the generosity of the human spirit. I’ll be forever grateful to this family that took us in during the holidays, put aside their own needs and desires, and gave so much of themselves to us and our kids.
That afternoon their younger son and his wife showed up. They were immediately put to work. When I voiced my surprise to Casey Clark, who was on “vacation” from her job as a music teacher, she said “You obviously don’t know what it is like to live here in the Ozarks.” To these people, helping folks out is just what you do.
During one of many epiphanies realized during this time, I knew this was the kind of relationships I’d yearned for. This is what finally pushed me to give up my beloved home in New Mexico, to leave old friends and precious relatives, to move to another part of the country with a culture rooted in the past, where relationships are more important than “stuff,” where your neighbors are your extended family and you pull together during tough times to help each other out. I’d had a glimpse of this way of thinking in Montana, but it took a trip to the Ozarks to drive it home to me.
Santa didn’t come to our family in the normal way this year. The gifts of Christmas 2013 were not tied up with shiny ribbons and left under the tree. But I would not trade the experience for anything.
There is still a lot to do on the little house in the Ozarks. Terry teases Tyler that he expects a lot of help on the farm this spring when calving starts. I think it is probably the single best thing that could have happened to my grandson. I feel blessed to have new “lifetime friends” to add to my inner circle. Like my Dad always said, it’s not the mileage, it’s the condition.