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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Homeless in Nebraska

Ten years ago today our family was homeless. In Nebraska. For five hours. Four strong men with arms as big around as the football they tossed back and forth a few times carried four filled-up file cabinets out of the basement of our Naperville house and onto an oversized moving van that was eventually stuffed absolutely to the hilt with all of our worldly possessions. My mother's cedar chest, the girls' doll houses, the ping pong table, three queen-sized hide-a-bed sofas, twenty DIY teak bookcases, seventy-five boxes of books, and a few pots and pans lined the driveway as two more men with as much mathematical as physical skill devised a way to pack it all in. I'm pretty sure my dressor made the entire 1100 mile trip upside-down. I must tell you. These men were not happy about hauling all of our stuff out to the truck. They complained every single minute. By the time they had finished, they were a regular Greek chorus: "Don't Go! Don't Go! DON'T GO!" "You can't move those beautiful girls to Littleton," they went on and on, and on. "It's not safe." We moved to Littleton Colorado a few months after Columbine. That Columbine. As Henry picked up a stack of four big blue Rubbermaid tubs filled with Polly Pockets and My Little Pony, stuffed animals and Beany Babies and Barbies, he pleaded with me, "It's not too late. You don't have to do it." Up until the last minute when they slid rakes and shovels under the barbeque grill and then set the bikes up before padlocking the heavy double doors they begged. "Please, don't move to Littleton." The great irony, to my mind, came in hearing these black men from the south side of Chicago warning us against going to the -- up until recently -- milquetoasty town of Littleton. The moving van rumbled off. We, okay, I cried. A lot. Then we all cried. I was in a state of shock. I knew it was the right thing to do but it seemed unbelievable, an out-of-body experience. We walked through the house one last time, found a forgotten baseball, hugged our beloved Linda, next door neighbor par excellence, and set off in our caravan of, oh, how cute: Caravans. Both Dodge minivans -- yes, we had two -- we likewise stuffed to the gills with computers and such and all we would need for the next week until the moving van was scheduled to unload. Heading west, one parent and one kid per car, we set out for Iowa, and Nebraska, and Colorado. There are two ways to drive west from Chicago. We took the tollway that requires an easy transition up to Interstate 80 two miles before the Mississippi River Bridge. You might think these are tedious, irrelevant details but, oh no, watch. Something's coming. The signs from I-88 to I-80 began five miles out. "INTERSTATE 80 IOWA NEBRASKA WESTBOUND EXIT RIGHT 5 MILES." Another sign reminded us at the three mile mark. And another, very big sign, a banner sign spanning the width of the highway, at the two mile mark, "EXIT RIGHT TWO MILES INTERSTATE 80 WEST MISSISSIPPI RIVER BRIDGE IOWA." I moved to the right lane. One mile, another big sign. One-half mile, another sign. And even at the quarter-mile point, another enormous sign. "NEXT RIGHT: IOWA 80 WEST." Well, duh. At the exit, another banner sign with a long arrow pointed right, "EXIT NOW I-80 IOWA." I missed the exit. Kaia looked over at me, "Mom?" Within the mile, the road petered out. Dave pulled up next to me and asked, "where are we going? Do you need to stop?" "No. I just missed the exit." "You missed it!?" "I missed it." "How do you miss that?" A very good question. We backtracked, Dave led the way, we got on the road and drove on. West. In Iowa. We had planned to drive through the night. Probably, a bad idea. We pulled over on a side street in some town in the middle of cornfields and took turns taking naps. By ten o'clock on the morning of Friday, September 10, 1999, we had made it all the way west past Grand Island and Kearny, and were almost to Gothenburg -- where my grandmother, Hannah, settled as a three-year-old, arriving with her parents and six siblings after their ocean crossing from Sweden in June of 1886. My cell phone rang. I signalled Dave to pull over. The call was from Win Wehrli, our real estate attorney in Naperville, letting us know he'd completed the closing on our old house and the money was in the bank. The girls whooped and hollered, "we're homeless! We're homeless!" What a privileged life we lead. To joke and make light of the fact. Knowing, of course, it was temporary. It took my grandmother, Hannah, days to get to Colorado from Gothenburg. We zipped through Ogallala and Big Springs and were in Denver four hours later (yes, I drive very fast! and Dave will too, to keep up), and had closed on our new home by three that afternoon. And so it is that our family came to live in Littleton. Ten years ago today. Even tho' I missed the exit. Should that have told me something?

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