I started third grade with a settled feeling. My teacher from the second grade moved up to teach third grade. I had been selected for a special program that met a couple times a week and did interesting projects. I had a waver in the school library that allowed me to check out books from any area (our school library had a rule that you could only check out books from your grade level or below, but my teacher fought for a waver because I had read all of them and my reading level was several years beyond my grade level). I was in Brownies with my mom as troop co-leader. Life was good.
My parents were still attending college. I had gotten accustomed to being a latchkey kid and had a pretty set afternoon routine. We were still living in our old rent house and had been able to replace our truck. My dad had purchased an army squad tent from a military surplus store and set it up in our backyard as his art studio. We’d been in the same place for over 2 years and I was beginning to feel a sense of permanence. Little did I know what was on the horizon.
One day I came home to an envelope taped to the door. I carefully took it down and set it inside and impatiently waited for my parents to get home to find out what it was. When my mom opened the envelope she drew in her breath and shaking her head passed it to my dad, who read it and frowned. Meanwhile I waited for someone to tell me what was going on. It seems our landlord had received an offer to buy his house and he accepted. The letter said we had until the end of the month to move out. I shouted, “No! How can he do that?” “My mom shrugged and said, “It’s his house.”
We began looking for a place to move but nothing was available in our price range, so my parents hit upon a wild idea. They were in the process of buying a piece of property out in the country and had plans to build a house there. There wasn’t enough time for that of course, but they figured out a temporary measure. The next thing I knew we were packing everything and moving it onto the property, which was 7 miles outside a different town, almost an hour away.
I was devastated. I had to leave my friends and my school behind. Because of where the property was located, we weren’t in the school district of the town we were right outside. I had to ride the bus to yet another town, 20 miles from our new home. I was scrambling in school because in my old school, we were just about to learn cursive, but in my new school, they had learned it the end of the previous year. All the notes written on the board were in cursive, which I could neither read nor write.
Remember that army squad tent?
It was now our new home. It was unloaded and set up in a clearing atop a hill, with a plywood platform floor about a foot off the ground, built by my dad. We had an old-fashioned, pot-bellied, wood-burning stove for heat. We had no electricity or gas or running water. We hauled water from town in big plastic garbage cans. It was like slightly upgraded camping out. When it was warm, we showered in an area outside with an enclosure around a tree with a large juice can with holes punched in it that warm water could be poured into. The first pouring got you wet. Then you soaped up and poured another batch to rinse off. In colder weather, a metal washtub was set up by the stove and filled with water. After a month or so of cooking on an open fire outside, we added a wood-fired cook stove to the tent.
My head was reeling from all the changes, but I loved living out in the country. There was always somewhere to explore and discover and I had managed to make a few friends that lived out there too. Our property was covered in big oak trees hanging with Spanish moss, wild persimmon trees, and mesquite. Large prickly pear cactus dotted the landscape. I never knew if the rustling in the bushes was going to be an armadillo or a jackrabbit.
My parents were commuting almost an hour each way to college. I was dropped off at my bus stop at the crossroads early in the morning before the sun came up. Eventually, other kids catching the bus to the school in town would arrive, as well as the little boy who rode my bus. I felt safer then, because there were kids and parents I knew there. I was about 20 miles from school, but my bus picked up all the kids that were in the outlying areas, and I was the first one picked up, so it took over an hour to get to school.
As the year progressed, I made new friends at school, learned to decipher cursive and copy it pretty well, and grow accustomed to life in the tent. I was settling in, but constantly wondered what new adventures were lurking around the corner.