Meandering Thanksgiving Memories

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After my husband and I got married we gallivanted around for a while. We spent our first year of marriage in Knoxville, Tennessee, while Andy finished up his last year at UT. Then when our first born was only 10 days old, we moved to Alaska to be near my parents. We stayed in Alaska for a year and half then, when I was 7 months pregnant with our 2nd child, we moved to Chile to be near my husband’s parents. We stayed there 15 months then moved back to the states when his parents retired as missionaries. We arrived in Florida, bought a used car, packed all our earthly belongings, a 2 ½ yr old, 1 yr old, and our dog into a little Suburu station wagon and headed north. We found out right away that our car needed work. It overheated continually and our 10 hour drive to Knoxville, TN turned into a 24 hr drive as we crawled our way up the highway in the middle of summer, stopping every couple miles to let the car cool down before we crawled forward again. Our goal was to make it to Knoxville where we had some friends who were willing to give Andy some work and give us a temporary place to stay. We eventually made it in and enjoyed our couple weeks in Knoxville, catching up with our friends, fixing our ailing car, getting some traveling money.

After Knoxville, we headed north again, this time heading towards Green Lake, Wisconsin where we met up with Andy’s parents at the American Baptist World Missions Conference. During that time I discovered I was pregnant again. We now needed a place to hunker down while I weathered the months-long intense nausea. Andy’s parents were settling into a new home in Maine and offered for Andy to come and remodel their kitchen. We loaded up our car and headed towards Maine. We ran out of gas money just as we got to New Hampshire and so we made our way to one of Andy’s adopted Moms’ house, Lynn Yule. She was willing to let Andy do some handyman work around her house in exchange for some gas money so we could make it the rest of the way to Maine.

We spent several months in Maine with Andy’s parents while Andy built a new kitchen for his parents and I stayed close to the bathroom. Finally I started feeling better and we prepared for the future. Our plans had been to go to Kentucky to live close to my Grandparents who were having some health problems. It was where I had been born and spent some of my childhood so it seemed like as good a place as any to settle down. We bought a very old camper/trailer. It looked and felt like a miniature trailer home instead of the more modern campers, but it had a built in bathroom, beds, and a small kitchen. No living room furniture, just empty space which we later filled with a loveseat/hideabed. Andy bought an old truck (an ‘86 F250 4wd diesel) (my husband said some people would want to know) that “needed work” to haul the camper and we figured we could live in it until we got ourselves more established. We were ready to go. About a week before we had planned to leave, my grandmother wrote and asked us to not come. Life’s messy. All the reasons behind that letter really aren’t my story to tell, but we did feel a bit like the rug had been pulled out from under us.

So, we regrouped. Looked at our options. Andy’s uncle offered a job in Florida, but we didn’t know anyone there, no friends. No church. We had a place we could stay in Maine, but the job options were very limited. We could go back to Tennessee. We didn’t have any jobs or place to live there, but we had a good church family, good friends. We finally decided that Tennessee was the way to go. With the connections of friends and a church, we figured that jobs and places to lived would fall in place. We loaded up the trailer, truck ready to haul, Suburu stuffed to the gills again. It was November and I was now 5 months pregnant and would be driving from Maine to Tennessee with two little ones in the backseat, following Andy while he hauled our camper. I just have to add some pertinent information. I didn’t get my driver’s license till after my first child was born and the only driving I had done was in small, rural towns. To say I was terrified of the drive would be putting it mildly. This was before cell phones were completely dominant so we bought a set of walkie-talkies to keep in touch while we drove.

It took us 7 days to get to Tennessee. Not because we were taking our time, but rather because everything that could go wrong went wrong. Vehicles breaking down, weather breaking windows on the camper, me going left while Andy went right when we got to a confusing intersection. We spent a couple nights at a Flying J’s truck stop while Andy tried to fix problems on the truck and camper so we could keep going, and I tried to keep two small children happy in the middle of November at a truck stop.

We finally limped into Knoxville on November 12th and headed for the Volunteer Campground up on Raccoon Valley Road. We had looked it up in the yellow pages, called ahead, and they were affordable and had space. We got there on a Sunday afternoon. We pulled into a short-stay sight and Andy got us all hooked up, went to the camp store and got some food to cook for supper, then he told me he figured he would head over to our old church for the Sunday night service. Maybe he could hook up with one of his old friends and ask about jobs. I inwardly groaned at having to settle the kids in for the evening by myself, but I was grateful for his willingness to pursue work right away.  I nodded and agreed it was a good idea.

Andy came back a couple hours later and said he had spoken to his friend Tony and he would be able to head into work the next morning. It was just a temporary job, but it was something. We took it as a good omen. The temporary job ended up introducing Andy to another person who was hiring and for whom Andy ended up working for another six years.

We settled in pretty quickly. We got together with old friends and had a good time comparing our new parenting experiences. At church I got hooked up with our church’s homeschooling co-op and ended up getting some piano teaching jobs, plus a whole new group of friends. Life at the campground was fun. We were moved over to a more permanent spot and had fun meeting lots of interesting people. There was a strong sense of community, and people helped each other out.

Our finances were very tight. There was a man in our church who worked for a bread store. He had got permission from all the powers-that-be and he would bring in the old bagels that could no longer be sold and put them on a table at church where people could help themselves. Every week I would got get a couple bags and that kept us fed for lunches for the rest of the week. I figured out which grocery stores had the best deals and stretched my pennies to the breaking point. I learned how to be very creative with what I had. I couldn’t afford to buy a calendar, but I had some craft supplies so I got my two little ones to help me make a calendar page for our current month, complete with stickers and little stick drawings. During the holidays I bought a large bag of oranges and some sugar and using my saved jam jars, made orange marmalade and homemade cards for Christmas presents. Andy got some wood and made homemade wooden blocks for the kids which entertained them for hours. I would go borrow a bunch of books from the library to read out loud. We only had a tiny space to live in, but it was full of peace and fun. The kids even managed to somehow play hide-and-seek with their dad. In a camper. It helped that they were little and unobservant. 🙂 It was a difficult time, but a very rich time. Andy and I were determined to do whatever we needed to move forward and we didn’t let the hardships get us down, because that was just part of the adventure.

We got to Tennessee in November and Thanksgiving rolled around very quickly. My parents flew down from Alaska and got a room at a nearby hotel. My mom and I went shopping for the Thanksgiving dinner and I kept having to remind my mom that I only had a tiny fridge and a little stove. As it was, when it came time to cook the turkey, we had a big scare that the turkey wouldn’t fit in our mini-oven. But we finally managed to cram it in there. We had a little card table set up as our dining room table and we got some folding chairs and somehow, holding small children in our laps, we managed to squeeze around our little table and enjoy our feast. Sometime during the meal we went around and shared what we were thankful for. Family, good food, a roof over our heads, a job, new beginnings. Friends.

In retrospect I can see how that Thanksgiving kind of held to the spirit of the first Thanksgiving so many years ago. Starting over in a new place. Things aren’t super comfortable. Some mixed emotions about the places you left behind. No idea how the future is going to unfold. And taking some time to be thankful. Because there is always something to be thankful for. This Thanksgiving, fifteen years down the road, I give thanks for Tennessee and how it’s people have opened their arms to us. I give thanks for my family, a roof over my head. Jobs. Old pathways that continue to meander their way into the future. Friends.

God is good.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!