My first few jobs took place in the 80’s, a time when everybody in our family and circle of friends was either broke or had just bought their tickets. My parents had a good run when the Estherville beef-packing plant was open, with my mom slicing and dicing the cows and my dad hauling them off in his eighteen-wheeler. Still, they were not immune to a failing economy, and right around the time I started job number four my parents’ money troubles got the best of them, and they lost our house on South 10th Street. We were doomed to be renters, again. The house we moved into on North 8th Street would be the fifteenth place we’d set up residence in our short lifetime. Lisa and I were well-seasoned movers by then, and generally looked forward to once more reassembling our belongings.
To me, it seemed we were always moving, always hurrying, always packing up and getting the hell out of somewhere fast. I look back and wonder if the kinetic fallout of such urgent change was among the reasons I continually hurled myself from job to job. It is fitting, I suppose, to enumerate the many places we lay our heads and greeted the day, if only to illluminate the reality that whether you are an adult or a child, life has the ability to just drag you along behind it. Sometimes by holding your hand, and sometimes by clutching onto your hair while you play dead.
That being said; Where we lived and a wee bit of how . . .
Lisa and my first home was near a United States Army facility in Kaiserslaughtern, Germany, the second in Vogelweh, Germany, followed by several towns in Pennsylvania: first Hulmeville and Bristol, then, when Mom divorced our father and hooked up with a new guy, we moved in with the new guy’s mother in Langhorne, and later into a two-family in Plumsteadville. Leaving Pennsylvania, we spent a short stint with our maternal grandma in Bordentown, New Jersey. In the midst of all this, my mother began having fainting spells and was prone to blacking out at work.
After one of these fainting spells a coworker stood over her. With his thin face, plank straight hair and scraggly beard, she thought she had died and was lying before Christ (Seriously, he totally looked like Jesus). He turned out to be her savior nonetheless, volunteering to take her to the hospital and then—after a whirlwind courtship—asking her to move to Iowa once he got settled there with his parents and six younger siblings (See Prologue). Most 18-year-old men would run screaming from a 24-year-old divorcée with two small children. But this scrawny hero was destined to be our Dad.
Then came Iowa, but not before Lisa and I were sent into foster care where we remained for a year, from Christmas through Christmas, while Mom detoxed and spent some time in the clinker. Does it really matter why? Let’s just say she couldn’t vote anymore.
After arriving safely in the Midwest, we first stayed with our new father’s family in Estherville, Iowa. We only stayed with them a few months, but Lisa and I would spend many summers on their farm, building forts, riding horses, playing Land of the Lost, and exploring the mysterious miles of forest in their backyard. Our first official home in Iowa was on South 9th Street, the second a house near the City Swimming Pool, after that a place on North 6th Street, then on to a glorious farm in Dunnell, MN, where Lisa and I played hard and sleuthed through the dozen empty barn buildings and acres of gooseberry bushes and mulberry trees.
In the third grade, my parents picked us up again and returned to Estherville, Iowa and moved into a run down two-bedroom on South 2nd Avenue. It had a big yard and was close to school, and the brick garage had cool nooks for Lisa to hide her cigarettes. It was really a dump, but it felt like home during family epidemics of chicken pox and scabies, and it was the last place my parents rented before buying their very first home located just around the corner—the one on South 10th Street that they’d just given back to the back to the bank.