In Rhode Island: Stories From Higley Hill

Me and Dad Brattleboro, VT

I started this blog over a week ago then abandoned it. I couldn’t find my way into the story. It is something that matters to me, but it’s also difficult to articulate so why was I writing it? Would it matter to anyone else? After all, that is why we share our stories, isn’t it? To connect, to not feel alone, to understand each other.

Sunday night, after all the hate in Charlottesville, and all the anger on TV news shows – pundits fighting with each other, right wing conservatives getting upset and testy when another pundit suggested there was even a hint of their culpability in all of this – I got a text from my Dad and it brought me to tears. So here we go, let’s try this again.

~~~

I slid into the pew next to my father as the organ music reached its final crescendo. My Dad smiled and leaned over to tell me my sister Maureen and I would bring up the gifts. He pointed to a small table in the aisle between the pews.

He knows I’m not a believer. He worries about my soul but I knew he was glad to see me. He knew about the high school reunion I attended that afternoon and even though the Mass was for my mother, who passed away a year ago, there was a possibility I might not leave the party. Because that’s the kind of girl I’ve always been. Rebellious, sacrilegious, not a fan of tradition and rituals. In gratitude and love for my showing up, he was bestowing this honor upon me, the giving of the gifts.

What I thought he didn’t know was how out of place I felt in church, how uncomfortable it was for me. I immediately fretted over whether I should bring up the large crystal decanter of wine or the two gold chalices. What if I did it all wrong? What if I dropped the decanter? Was I supposed to make the sign of the cross somewhere during the giving of the gifts? Would that be before I picked them up or after I gave them to the priest? All these anxious issues swirled through my mind like a tornado.

My Dad leaned over once again and whispered, “After you hand the gifts to the priest you wait until he returns to the alter. Then you genuflect and return to your seat.”

He knew! I nodded in acknowledgement as the priest, the commentator, and two alter boys marched down the side aisle and back up the center aisle. I think one of them was carrying a cross. I forget now that it’s days later and I am writing this all down. Maybe I was remembering my mother’s funeral, the last time I was in a church.

While the priest did things on the alter, sacred things, my family and the rest of the congregation in the almost full church followed along and made the sign of the cross, kneeled, stood, and sat as we made our way through rituals that are still familiar to me. I quietly listened and observed and wondered who might have arrived at the reunion after I left. It was taking place from two to seven and I left at four-thirty. I noticed the shorter alter boy stifle a yawn.

When I was thirteen I started skipping Mass. My Dad was a commentator back then and I’d purposely attend a different mass. I’d ride my bike the two blocks to the church, place it in the bike rack where it would be visible if he happened to drive by, and instead of attending Mass, I would walk to the back of the Catholic school with a book that was hidden in my large burlap bag on which were stitched the words ‘Paris Flea Market’. This was my substitute backpack at the time. A period in my life when my musical taste had finally turned from Bobby Sherman and the Monkees to Creedance Clearwater Revival and Iron Butterfly’s In A Gadda da Vida. A time when I realized I did not believe in God. So I spent the time I was supposed to be in church hiding behind the school reading Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, and Salinger.

Sitting next to my Dad in church that day, I knew my father noticed when I didn’t cross myself or repeat the words to the prayers and responses. It has always seemed hypocritical for a non-believer like me to pretend for a day.

I wasn’t entirely listening to the sermon. So many thoughts ran through my mind. I admired the large cross. The carving of Jesus Christ was beautiful. His sinewy arms outstretched, nailed to the cross. The crown of thorns on his drooping head. The look of world weariness on his sad face. At the top of the cross were the letters IN RI. When I was younger I used to think it meant In Rhode Island.

During the sermon the priest told the congregation the Mass was dedicated to Pauline McGowan, my mother, and he also mentioned Kathleen Schusler, my cousin, best friend, former roommate, and traveling companion who passed away at the age of fifty-one from breast cancer. It was her birthday that day. She would have been sixty-one. The priest then went on to preach about peace and kindness. He called for an end to all wars. He also mentioned that civility is disappearing from our dialogue and our everyday lives. Our leaders no longer practice kindness for the poor and the less fortunate.

Then it was time for the gifts. My sister sat further down the aisle in front of me. I waited for her to lead the way. At the table I chose the wine decanter so I could hold it steady with two hands. She whispered, “You give that to the priest first.” Everyone knew I was a bumbling heathen.

When it was time to go to communion even a few relatives who are also pagans participated. I stayed in the pew. It’s always an uncomfortable moment for me, sitting there alone as if wearing a scarlet letter. A for Atheist. “Oh that, Sheila,” I imagine them thinking. “She was always the rebellious one.” And I’m quite sure they are thinking that because they’ve often said it out loud.

At the end of the Mass, the priest wrapped things up with a short message. “Respect our Lord, Jesus Christ. Go in peace.”

The organist played the final hymn and everyone picked up a hymnal and sang along. My father once again whispered out of the side of his mouth and said, “This was your mother’s favorite hymn.”

I always knew my Mom hated war and I realized my father must have requested that the mass be dedicated to the theme of peace and civility. I remembered many of the words and I did sing along this time because I believed in the message that was so very relevant at this moment in time.

The following weekend hate marched through Charlottesville, Virginia. I was reluctantly riveted to the news coverage. I was filled with dread and fear. My heart ached.

It had been a week since I’d talked to my Dad. My cell phone buzzed. A text message. My Dad has gotten better at texting. He now puts spaces between the words.

“Thanks for being at moms mass think more of you for not taking communion than some who do who shouldn’t”

I have often written about my Dad the U.S. History teacher who taught me everything I know about American history, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. I’ve shared the stories of our summer vacations visiting Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields and the homes of U.S. Presidents. I’ve also written about political conversations we’ve had.

Our personal history has not always been easy but I’ve chosen not to dwell on it. I’d rather remember the lessons he shared that had a positive effect on me. At times, he can be opinionated and is not always tolerant. We have had our differences throughout the years regarding my life choices. Some criticisms he has made have wounded me.

Years ago at a book club I attended with Kathy, the group was discussing a book about two gay men. The conversation got a little heated and we argued about Truth with a capital T. Kathy, in her usual way, said something so clear and true it stayed with me for years and finally made its way into my third novel. I gave Kathy’s words to my character Liz in a scene when she and her husband Sam visit their eldest son at college during a parent’s weekend and he tells them he is gay. His boyfriend’s parents don’t take the news very well.

“Mrs. Fairchild had lectured them that day in the brew pub about her search for Truth with a capital T. But it was Liz who had the final word that afternoon when she told Mrs. Fairchild, “Sandra, I think we all need to capitalize the word Tolerance before we can find the Truth.” ~ Life Is All This by Sheila Blanchette

I went to my mother’s Mass that day not out of any religious obligations or beliefs. I am not going to have some sort of religious epiphany one day or a deathbed conversion. I went to church to honor my imperfect, very human father and in remembrance of my mother, who I also had my battles and disagreements with. I am their imperfect daughter who understands that we are all human and tolerance is something that can be learned. My father reminded me of that on a very difficult weekend in America when the lack of tolerance was on full display and the world was watching.

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let There Be Peace on Earth
The peace that was meant to be….

Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With ev’ry step I take
Let this be my solemn vow
To take each moment and live
Each moment in peace eternally
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me

~ Songwriters: Jill Jackson / Sy Miller

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Fathers and Daughters: Stories From Higley Hill My father was visiting yesterday. We watched the Red Sox double header and had dinner in Brattleboro. We talked about things like Calvin Coolidge, a blip of a president my Dad called him. He came up because he's the only president from Vermont, and you know, we were in Vermont. That led to the Tea Pot Dome scandal. It was a bribery that took place from 1921-22 during the Warren Harding presidency – a "nothing" president. The secretary of the interior leased Navy petroleum reserves at Teapot Dome in WY and 2 locations in CA to private oil companies at low rates with no competitive bids. Before Watergate it was our nation's greatest scandal. Of course that led to Trump and kept us busy while the Red Sox lost the 1st game to the Yankees 3-0. These are the kind of things I talk to my Dad about. These are the things he taught me. #resist #be##speakup #storiesfromhigleyhill #fathersanddaughters #teachyourchildrenwell #vermontlife

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Pink Collar Workers: A Working Woman’s Blues

“A writer is someone who pays attention to the world — a writer is a professional observer.” ~ Susan Sontag

Notes From A Temp Worker’s Journal

Week One
Pink and I spend our days matching invoices to backup paperwork and clip them together. Then we collate by remit number and once that is finished we take the paper clips off.

We bring the large stack of paper to the copy machine. My back appreciates this little bit of exercise because I have the worst seat in the room and my desk has a small refrigerator beneath it so I can’t slide my shitty chair beneath the desk. There is something about doing nothing really physical at all that is hurting and straining my back. By late afternoon on Thursday the pain is real. I begin to wonder if I have undetected bone cancer or Lyme disease. Or maybe it’s fibromyalgia.

For reasons unknown to me, over at the copy machine we make a second copy of the paperwork and also scan it to the person who generated the batch, as we call it here in this office which is like no other place I have ever worked. The reams of paper they go through is astounding. I feel my up to now, decent carbon footprint is being downgraded. I am contributing to the slaughter of thousands of trees.

When the copying and scanning is finished we return to our office to staple only one of the piles, then wrap both files, the stapled and the unstapled, with a rubber band.

Are you still with me on this or are you dozing off? Because I certainly am.

Pink is not my co-worker’s real name. I call her Pink because she is a woman of a certain age like myself and has white hair streaked with pink highlights. At sixty-four, one year away from Medicare eligibility, she was laid off from her bookkeeping job.

When applying for Affordable Healthcare in New Hampshire, the state looks at your last year’s income, which was when Pink was still working full-time so she earned a lot more money last year. Her insurance coverage was calculated to be $1200 a month, which she couldn’t afford, so she applied for early social security. In Vermont we use the estimated current year’s income but this is the way America chose to do healthcare, state by state, that is before it was then decided America wanted to repeal the whole thing. Currently the nation is in limbo and doesn’t know what it wants. When I was young my mother told me limbo was a place un-baptized babies went. I used to worry about these babies  all alone in limbo but now I worry about the babies born with preexisting conditions. And it is I who often feel alone in America.

Pink’s husband was in the hospital when I met her on my first day at work. He has diverticulitis and is older than Pink so he is covered by Medicare.

I was hired to replace Pink because she has to leave in two weeks.

“If I work past the income limit, which I reach two weeks from now, they take a dollar in tax for every two dollars I make,” she told me. “That’s what happens when you start collecting social security before the full retirement age of sixty-six and six months. But I needed the money and in hindsight I wish I’d known they were going to lay me off. I would have retired at sixty-two.”

I don’t see how it could possibly take me two weeks to learn this mind-numbing job but I don’t begrudge her the additional two paychecks she’ll earn while she trains me. We all have our goals. Mine is to earn money for advertising my upcoming fourth novel and to take the book on the road for readings and book club visits.

Almost everyone is a temp here. This is the way the company hires the majority of their employees. Pink is temping so she can take a vacation to Ireland. Her husband doesn’t want to go but that’s not holding her back.

“I’d rather go alone,” she told us. “I’ll have more fun without him. He doesn’t like to leave the house.”

Pink doesn’t have a cell phone. During our fifteen minute morning break, she uses the office phone to check on him in the hospital. On Tuesday he told her they were keeping him for another day.

“Oh good, I don’t have to make dinner. My vacation continues.”

The following day he told her they were releasing him. He had been given dietary restrictions; two weeks of no fiber, then two weeks of a high fiber diet.

“I guess we’ll have to stop at the grocery store on the way home,” Pink sighs. “And there’s probably a prescription to pick up. I don’t know what I’ll be making for dinner now.”

She shook her head and got back to flipping through a tall stack of invoices I had collated, making sure they were in numerical order. She wears a plastic thimble on her middle finger and it made a repetitive shushing noise.

Pink has been working here since January. She brought her own mousepad which has a picture of her two grandchildren printed on it. She also brought a small fan because sometimes management keeps the air-conditioning set on low. Her bottom desk drawer is filled with snacks. She arrives at work an hour before she punches in so she can read “in peace and quiet.” Otherwise her husband wants to talk and she likes quiet in the morning.

“When I clean the house on weekends I tell him if he wants to talk he needs to follow me around and keep up. I don’t have time for sitting around chatting.”

~~

It is Hump Day. Pink and I are pulled off the stapling and collating brigade to file. All the permanent employees in the Accounts Payable and Receivable departments along with Deductions are facing layoffs in October. Their jobs are being moved to the Providence office. Some of them have been offered the chance to relocate but the moving allowance is insufficient and most people have lived in this part of New Hampshire all their lives and don’t want to move to the city.

The filing area is a beehive of activity. Some people pull bills to be paid from the files. Other people, myself included, file bills to be paid at a later date. They are placed at the back of the folders. Today’s bills are an ironic joke. Stapled to the top page is a note to the vendor urging the payee to Go Paperless. It blocks the cover page with the Vendor Number which is how the filing system is organized. I had to lift the top page to find the vendor number on every invoice before I could find its file.

How many times in one blog can I repeat the words mundane and tedious without sounding repetitive and monotonous?

In the corner of one file tab, next to the vender’s name, someone had drawn a smiley face. It was a message from a former filer encouraging me to hang on.

“You can do this. Remember your goals,” I reminded myself as I contemplated walking out the door.

The folks over in the filing area brought food to share. One of the most popular items was the hamburger cupcakes, which were made from yellow cake mix and cut in half with a small slice of brownie placed in the middle. Those were the plain burgers. The loaded burgers had squiggles of green, yellow, and red icing for relish, mustard, and ketchup. The young girl who made them found the recipe on Pinterest.

These are nice, honest, friendly people. Taxpayers who don’t hide their money overseas in the Cayman Islands or Russia. They help their neighbors and bring cupcakes, pizza, and Mexican seven layer dip to share with their co-workers. They ask how your Mom is doing if they know she is sick. All they expect in return is a fare wage, good schools for their kids, and affordable healthcare.

No supervisors were around. Almost all of them went to Providence to train the newbies who will be replacing my co-workers who behave like a small family sharing days of difficulty and uncertainty.

The girl who made the cupcakes told us she also works at a bowling alley a few nights a week which led to a debate on Candlepin versus Ten Pin.

“At my bowling alley, it’s only a dollar a string plus the shoe rental. If you have your own shoes, which I do, it’s a cheap night out,” the Cupcake Baker told us.

“Do you belong to a league?” someone asked.

“No, I’m not that dedicated. If I hung out there all the time I’d get fat like the other bowlers.’” .

“Nah, you can bowl it off, right?”

“i don’t think so. Bowling is not that aerobic.”

Cupcake Baker’s Mom recently read in the local paper that the owners of the bowling alley just sold the place and will probably close it and sell the land.

“They got me everywhere,” she said. “It looks like I’m losing both my jobs. My Mom’s so worried about me starving to death she’s bringing food and stocking the pantry. My boyfriend said we’re running out of room.”

I think I was meant to be here. But why? I’ve written this story before, and not just once. In my third novel, Life Is All This, the underemployed Sam Ryder was a successful salesman who has been laid off one too many times and now finds himself writing novels at a reservation desk at a Fairfield Inn during the night shift.

Five years before the 2016 election I was compelled to write my first novel, The Reverse Commute, during my four year tenure in a cubicle working for health insurance. It was my roman à clef. One of the characters, a young girl, works a cubicle job and hears of an older woman who got fired. The novel includes passages like this:

“She thought to herself, “Wow. No cause at all. An employee at will.” She became concerned about sixty year old Joan. Where would she find a job now? And what would she do for health insurance? She was sixty, she would definitely need it. She thought she’d heard COBRA was expensive. She knew from hearing her parents’ talk that Medicare wouldn’t cover them until they were sixty seven or something like that. How can a sixty year old woman who just got fired find a job in this economy? She wished it had been her instead of Joan. At least she was young and could bounce back.”

Sound familiar? There is a distinct possibility it may be my calling to bear witness to working life in America and share these stories with others.

WEEK TWO

My second week on the job was Employee Appreciation Week. Temps are included because we make up more than half the work force. On Monday we all stopped by HR to fill out a raffle ticket and receive a free beach towel. The towel had the company name on it and was rather thin so I passed on that. Tuesday was Burt’s Bees Day. We could chose one free product. I picked a pink-tinged lip balm. Wednesday we get a free lunch box, bright green and once again emblazoned with the company logo. Thursday the raffle winners were announced. Some of the prizes were a dinner at the restaurant of your choice, a Linen and Things gift certificate, or a day off from work. I thought the day off was the most valuable as the gift certificates are only worth fifty dollars but the company employees told me they won’t be allowed to take it off during the transition to Providence and after that they’ll be unemployed, so really it’s worthless. Temps were not eligible for this prize. Most people chose the scratch ticket packet. Friday a snow cone truck pulled into the parking lot and everyone got a free treat. They had ice cream too and I ordered a frozen Snickers bar.

It was also Pink’s last day, so people brought in more food. Indian cuisine for lunch was provided by Siranya, a woman who works in a cubicle just outside our door. She made chicken and rice with cardamom, basil, and ginger. There were also Dunkin’ Donuts munchkins and homemade chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting.

The smell of the Indian food reminded Pink of the Brattleboro Food Co-op which led us to a discussion of Brattleboro during the 60’s and 70’s when the hippies arrived to live in communes.

“Did you know one of the supervisors caught wind of that discussion we had over in filing the other day?” she asked. “The one about music. They said I was talking too loud about my rock ’n roll boyfriends.” Her laugh was loud and sardonic. “What rock ’n roll boyfriends, I asked?”

“That was actually me I think. I told everyone about the time Dave Matthews kissed me, remember?” I said.

I wondered what makes upper management begrudge employees camaraderie and a sense of team spirit. The work got done that day. The filing bins were empty. If this were the good old days people might march out on strike during times like these. And why they’re not is beyond me. How did we get here? People once fought and died for workers’ rights and then they gave them up so easily.

The overdose of ice cream, cupcakes, and munchkins made us punchy. Pink lost her pen then located it on my desk.

“You stole my pen,” she laughed.

“No, it was mine. Yesterday you stole it from me,” I replied.

“Well now I’ve been using a pen from home.”

“Before I stole this pen from someone in payables, I was using a pen I swiped from a Days Inn in Nevada a few months ago.”

“Another stolen pen!” Pink shouted.

The saving grace in our little office is that we have a closed door between us and management. Another woman we work with in this small office space, the permanent employee Pink and I call Alpha, opened her pocketbook and fished around for her bottle of Motrin. Pink looked up and said, “I might need one of those.”

Talks to Herself, who works on customer complaints and often does talk to herself about the irate emails she receives from customers offered Aleve. “If you prefer,” she said.

“Oh my goodness,” Pink said. “It’s true! New Hampshire is a drug infested den.”

I swirled my chair around, laughing hysterically. “Yes, we’re all drug addicts and pen thieves.”

Life has always handed me an incredible cast of characters and an unsought after opportunity to practice empathy in uneventful, commonplace, neglected corners of our world. There are no starving children here. No war torn villages or natural disasters. Just lives of quiet desperation and small moments of human dignity, humor, and kindness. Maybe that explains my current circumstance. Maybe that’s why I’m here.

TGIF.

>>> To Be Continued>>>
***And Dear Pink, if you’re out there and you’ve looked me up and read this blog, I’m writing this on Saturday and although I’m not back at work yet, I miss you already***

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A Woman of a Certain Age: Stories From Higley Hill

Books.jpg

I sometimes feel guilty now that I live in Vermont and am devoting my days to writing. My husband and I are not well-off. We do own our house, have no mortgage, and have reduced our expenses considerably but we could use some extra cash, and a lot more savings.

It hasn’t been for a lack of trying. I applied at the local coffee shop after I moved to Vermont and was spending a lot of time there because I was off the grid. I hadn’t filled out a standard job application in years. I usually just bring my resume. It took me an inordinate amount of time to fill out the form. I had to look up phone numbers in my cell phone for references. What was the street address of my college? What’s the zip code for Pompano Beach? When you graduated in 1979 does it really matter? I should have used a pencil. I had to cross out a few things.

I didn’t get the job. I’m not sure if it was due to my sloppy application or they considered me overqualified. Or under-qualified. I don’t know how to operate those hi-tech cappuccino machines. But I didn’t mention that, and I am a quick learner.

My hairdresser told me about a man who owns several rental properties in town. She gave him my phone number and we set up a time to meet. He looked like Hemingway and we wasted a lot of time talking about his sailing trips throughout the Caribbean. When he finally got around to telling  me he’d had five bookkeepers in eight years he was losing me, but then he said he was willing to pay me ten dollars an hour.

When you get to be a woman of a certain age you can pretty much say whatever you want so I replied, “Well, that explains why you can’t keep a bookkeeper.” He laughed. I held firm at twenty five an hour. I later heard from several people in town that he is a slumlord and known for his bad temper. Having graduated from college in 1979 I am old enough to regret the fact I will never get that afternoon back.

This is not the first time this has happened to me. When I lived in New Hampshire, I met with a man who imported old floor boards from Holland, refurbished them, and sold them to clients like Restoration Hardware and Anthroplogie stores. The boards were all over his house, leaning against the walls and the sofa and the dishwasher in the kitchen. He told me he could only pay me eight dollars an hour.

“We’re talking about your money,” I said, outraged. “I’ll be taking care of your finances. My sixteen year old daughter works at Panera and makes nine dollars an hour. I’d rather get a job there. It’s less responsibility.”

I’ve worked at so many jobs and had so many bookkeeping clients I can barely keep track of them all. I started working at twelve, six days a week, delivering newspapers on my bike. In high school I ran the brake at the kiddy roller coaster at Rocky Point Amusement Park, worked my way up from usher to box office at the Warwick Cinema where The Sound of Music played for a year, and served burgers and fries at Howdy Beef ’n Burger.

Recently I saw a job opening for a four day consumer survey at a local gas station right here in Wilmington, Vermont. I would be asking customers questions about purchasing food items while in the gas station – slices of pizza, pre-packaged sandwiches, steamed hotdogs, and Green Mountain coffee.

In the cover letter I sent, I played up my experience one summer after junior year in college working for a market research company. Yes, as I’ve mentioned, I graduated in ’79 so this would be the summer of ’78 but it’s still relevant, right? I had experience approaching strangers in shopping malls and offering free samples if they answered a few questions about shampoo and razor blades and other consumer goods. Sometimes I worked in the office and made phone calls. On one big project, I went door to door trying to get people to give me forty-five minutes of their time to answer questions about the Providence Journal. You wouldn’t believe how many people said yes, even if I rang their bell at dinner time. One night an older gentleman asked if I wanted some beef stew. Jimmy Carter was president back then, and the nation was experiencing a gas shortage, leading to long lines at the pumps and irate motorists. Only on designated days could you buy gas depending on whether the last number on your license plate was odd or even. People had strong opinions about the news coverage and they were more than willing to answer my questions regarding the Providence Journal, particularly if they pertained to the op-ed page. We didn’t have Facebook back then where we could bitch every day.

The marketing guy for the gas station survey called me and told me I had the job. Score! The following day he called back to tell me the gas station canceled the survey. Bummer! I was really looking forward to the work, if only for the stories I would hear. I have a series of Stories about Gas Stations on my blog. It’s amazing how many ideas you can come up with while filling your gas tank or buying coffee at 7-11. Or maybe this is just me.

A few months ago I applied for a job at the Chamber of Commerce. They needed someone to answer emails and promote the town of Wilmington on their social media sites. Come on now, I am highly qualified for that type of work. Look at me, I’m everywhere! Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The want ad said experience with WordPress would be a plus. Hell yeah, I’m typing this blog right now on WordPress!

I not only emailed my resume through the job site Indeed, I also delivered it in person and pitched myself to a receptionist behind a tall counter. I never heard from them. Whatever happened to the days when you got rejection letters and taped them to your dormitory wall? Yes, again, that was 1979. Those days of common decency and respect are long gone. Just another discarded common courtesy. And why is that? It’s easier nowadays, just plug in the applicant’s name and shoot off a form rejection email.

But then again, just look at our president.

I wasn’t surprised by the Chamber of Commerce rejection. It’s one of those jobs where you need to know someone. Once, during a fourteen month layoff, I worked at the Exeter town hall as the tax collector for six weeks. I sat behind one of those old-fashioned bank teller windows with the metal bars. I enjoyed chatting with so many of my friends and neighbors and they were all surprised to see me there.

The people I worked with weren’t as friendly but I didn’t really have much contact with them, until a woman told me she wasn’t going to pay her real estate tax unless her assessment was adjusted. She felt it was too high.

“Let me get someone who can help you,” I said.

I knocked on the assessor’s door and told her about the problem. She stepped back from me with her hands up, as if I had the bubonic plague or was looking for a fist fight, and said, “That’s your job, not mine.”

My job? I was the tax collector, a temporary one at that, and I had been on the job for a mere two hours and was still learning the computer system. I didn’t know anything about assessments and it said right there on her door, Town Assessor. I went back to my bank teller’s cage and told the woman to knock on the assessor’s door. “She’s here today. She’s in her office,” I said.

I worked my butt off for six weeks, came back from a 4th of July weekend on Cape Cod to work on the 6th – the day taxes were due – although we had been invited to spend the whole week, and on the 7th the town administrator told me they had hired someone else. At the end of the day, a woman who worked with building permits and had a sign on her desk that said “Crying children will be beaten” told me a police officer’s wife was offered the job but they didn’t want to start her until after the tax rush because she had no bookkeeping or office experience.

I really wanted that job. It was close to home, had great health insurance benefits, and a pension, and I had been been laid off for twelve months, making COBRA health insurance payments to the tune of $1250 a month while looking for full time employment with benefits.

I recently went through the query process for my finished fourth novel, searching for a literary agent who might get me a traditional publisher. Seventy-five percent of the agents I contacted do not send rejection letters. Instead they say you will hear from them only if they are interested in seeing more of your novel. It seems arrogant to me but I gave it until the 4th of July, which was three months from the time I sent the queries. After all, I graduated from college in 1979. What am I going to do, wait ’til I’m seventy? When I can self-publish?

Through the magic of social media I know a blogger who is friends with a published writer I follow who is extremely well-connected in the New York literary world and the Ivy League buddy system. She breezed through the doors of traditional publishing. Now her friend, the blogger, has been picked up by the writer’s agent. Apparently traditional publishing is like those cushy town jobs. It’s not what you know but who you know. But when you reach a certain age, you already know that.

As Sam Ryder says in my 3rd novel, Life Is All This, “Fuck the man.”

On one of my recent road trips this spring, I met a woman at a bar in the Phoenix airport. I had a three hour layover so I had time for nachos and a margarita. She was my age, lived in Phoenix, and was flying to Sacramento to help her aging parents. Her name was Marcia and she told me her mother had Alzheimer’s so I shared some of my mother’s stories. I also told her about the inn Rich and I managed in Connecticut.

“Although we were disappointed and angry about the way we were treated by the inn’s owner and how it all went down, I believe it was meant to be. The job brought us back to New England and we left the inn just as my mother was failing,” I told the woman from Phoenix.

“But all of that is over now. It’s been a year since we left the inn and I haven’t found work, if we don’t count the hours I spend writing. It’s not that I haven’t been looking for a job. Just before I left for this trip I applied for a job at a farm stand set in the middle of a large apple orchard. I was very excited about it because it seemed like a fun place to work and it’s seasonal so it wouldn’t really interfere with my writing. I told the owner all about my social media skills, my bookkeeping experience, and the five years I spent working as a sales rep for speciality food sales in supermarkets. She seemed really excited and told me I could help her with so many things, from setting up displays to doing payroll. And she told me she hadn’t posted on her Facebook page in months. I told her I’d be happy to help with all of that but it’s been over a week and I haven’t heard from her.”

Marcia grabbed my arm and said, “It’s age discrimination, you know. I’m having the same problem.”

She was laid off from a job as an office manager at a doctor’s office and had been looking for another job for over a year now.

“You’d think the medical field would have lots of jobs,” I said.

“Yes, you would. And they do. But I’m a woman of a certain age. They don’t want to hire women our age. But now, after talking to you, I’m thinking it’s meant to be. You know, now that my parents’ need me.”

“That could be true,” I said, not really believing the bullshit pep talk I had given her about leaving the inn at the so-called right time and how it was meant to be. We both ordered another margarita and continued along the vein of convincing ourselves it might not be our age. It might be fate.

On Monday I have an interview at a temp agency in Keene, NH. I have a lot of marketing plans for my new book including taking the book on the road and meeting with book clubs. I need the funds.

I’ll also be needing your help. Obviously I want you to buy the book when it comes out. If anyone is interested in hosting a book club or a reading sometime in the fall please contact me at sheilablanchettetheauthor@gmail.com

You may be surprised at how far I will travel, or maybe not if you regularly read my blogs. I am a road warrior.

I also will need those all important Amazon and Goodreads reviews from you. I can never emphasize enough how important they are to the success of a book. And if you enjoyed my previous books and haven’t written a review yet, by all means get on there and write one!

Thanks for your support over the past few years. More is on the way. Stay tuned.

“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” ~ Rumi

 

 

 

From The Road: Flying Coast to Coast

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguarding, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us” ~ John Steinbeck

In Flight

I met Pat in the Los Angeles airport but I forgot to share the story. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it often. I think about it almost every day, especially when I’m listening to music and suddenly get the urge to tap dance.

While waiting for my delayed flight to Detroit I bought coffee and a blueberry muffin at Starbucks, then luckily found an empty seat in the crowded terminal full of irate travelers. LAX was in the midst of a major construction project repairing runways and most flights leaving the airport had been delayed. Little did I know this was about to set off a domino effect that would ripple across the country.

Pat was sitting next to me. She looked to be about my age, petite with shoulder length shiny silver hair. We wasted no time striking up a conversation. I told her about my flight out of Reno and the frenzy here in L.A. to get another flight after I was bumped from standby on my scheduled flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.

Pat had been visiting her son in LA so this was her first flight of the day. Her son is a struggling screenwriter married to a dancer. She was flying home to Tiverton, RI via Detroit then on to the Providence airport, which is really in Warwick. That was also the route I was now traveling.

We talked about our kids and our work. Pat owns a dance studio in Tiverton, RI. She plans to work for a few more years before she retires. She also has a daughter who is moving from L.A. to Maine. Pat’s retirement plan is to sell her old house in Rhode Island and spend summers in Maine with her daughter and winters in California with her son, although her kids don’t know this yet.

“They’ll be on board with it,” she said.

Then she told me the loveliest story. Years ago an older man called and asked if she offered individual tap dance classes. He was in his late seventies and told her he had just one problem. He couldn’t get around without his walker.

“I need to hold on to something when I’m tapping,” he said.

“I have a ballet barre,” she told him. “I think we could make that work.”

The tap dancer is now in his eighties. He spends winters on the Gulf Coast of Florida and  summers in Rhode Island where he still tap dances with Pat several times a week. Each winter he flies her to Florida and puts her up in his guest house where every day for two weeks they tap dance together.

There was something about Pat’s story and our time together on an otherwise difficult day of travel,  a day that would most likely stress and piss off most people, that made the airport anxiety disappear for the both of us.

An hour later, when we finally boarded the plane, we were quite sure we were going to miss our connection in Detroit so we made plans to share a drink.

Sometime around 10:30 p.m. we landed in the Motor City, and yes, we did miss our flight. Delta provided us with a free night at a hotel. The airport was quiet; the bars were all closed. Pat and I decided we would check in and then go out for a drink. We were hoping our hotel had a bar. Pat got a room at the Sheraton. I got a room at the Days Inn. Both disappointed, we made plans to meet in the morning.

In the Days Inn van, fifteen tired travelers bonded in anger and frustration. A young man was supposed to be at a funeral at ten the next morning in Brattleboro, Vermont.

“I’m driving through Brattleboro tomorrow. I can give you a ride,” I told him. It was one of those days and one of those situations when generosity rises to the occasion. Unfortunately, the funeral was at ten a.m. and he was flying to Hartford and I was flying to Providence. Everyone in the van tried to work out the logistics. Could he change his flight to Providence?

“I’ll still miss the funeral, ” he said.

A few people mentioned he might be able to attend the reception afterward.

“I’m just going to get on another plane and fly home. What a waste of time and money,” he said, dejected. We all encouraged him to try to get a reimbursement for the flight.

Another man had asked for a free rental car in exchange for the night at a hotel in Detroit. His son was graduating from Howard University in DC the next morning. He said he could drive all night and make it in time for the ceremony. Delta said no. No car.

Now the van was getting rowdy. Everyone was swearing about the airlines. “They treat us like shit,” someone said.

Again we all encouraged the upset Dad to get a refund, although everyone understood that would be a poor substitute for missing a graduation and a funeral.

The Days Inn lounge was supposed to stay open until midnight but it had closed at 11:30.  I went to bed and fell fast asleep.

The next morning the flight out of Detroit went smoothly. It was a brand new day with no delays or hassles.  Pat had told me a friend was picking her up at the airport and they could give me a ride to my daughter’s apartment in Providence. He was waiting for us in the terminal and warned me his car had a strong doggie odor. I pulled out my phone and showed him a picture of my daughter and her dog.

“Don’t worry about it. I was traveling for a week, from Lake Tahoe to Colorado, with Athena, the boxer,” I said.

He took my overnight travel bag and put it in the trunk.  “You managed to travel a whole week with this little bag?” he asked.

“I travel light,” I said. “It’s all in how you fold and roll.”

I literally felt as light as my bag when I hopped in the back seat of the old car with two new friends I barely knew. I had been on the road for almost a month. This nomadic existence created a sense of living in the present that I enjoyed. Aware of the moments of my life as I lived them, it was a case of here and now.

Driving through traffic, we laughed as we told Pat’s friend about our airport hassles. We made it sound like a grand adventure, and in a way it was. We also compared notes on the Providence restaurant scene, the serenity of Vermont, and the Rhode Island beaches. I told them about the cop in Battle Mountain, Nevada and my two days traveling alone across the deserts of Utah and Nevada to return the rental car to Reno because I didn’t want to pay the surcharge for dropping the car off in Denver.

The ride went much too fast but I have Pat’s phone number and I plan to meet up with her soon. As I hugged the two of them on the sidewalk outside my daughter’s apartment, I felt like the world was good and kind, despite the daily news.

I felt like I was twenty-five not sixty. I felt alive. I felt like I could do anything, knowing that whatever happened, whatever hassles and problems I came across on the road of life, I could manage, on my own, keeping my wits about me, making friends, and rolling along with the endless numbered days ahead.

No one was home at the apartment. My daughter and her boyfriend were gone for the day, but I had a key and let myself in. I gathered the things I had left in the guest bedroom. I found ice coffee in the fridge and helped myself to a tall cold glass.

I opened my lap top and found Fred Astaire on You Tube then moved to the almost empty room between the kitchen and the living room where I pushed the yoga mats aside, and tap danced before heading home to Vermont.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time and Memory: Stories From Higley Hill

The only things that are important in life are the things you remember ~ Jean Renoir

old Vegas photo 2

Rich and I on a cross-country road trip 1985 or ’86 Las Vegas, NV

Last weekend my friend, fellow writer, and amazing editor Connie and I attended a discussion on memoir with Dani Shapiro, Andre Dubus, and Ann Hood. It was held at the beautiful Providence Athenaeum and was an inspiring literary afternoon.

The following night, back home in Vermont, one of Rich’s older brothers, Tom, called to tell us he was driving north from South Carolina and needed directions to our new house. He was only twenty miles away, down the road in Brattleboro.

Tom is famous for dropping in unexpectedly. He would sneak up through the backyard at our house in New Hampshire and knock on the deck door, shouting “Hallooo!”, scaring the shit out of me. But in his defense, we didn’t have doorbells and we still don’t have them at our house in Vermont.

Our kitchen is in the process of a slow moving renovation. The china hutch and various other items are crowded into the guest room. That night we were without a stove. Luckily, I had defrosted four burgers we could cook on the outdoor grill. I threw together a salad, microwaved leftover brown rice, and opened a bottle of wine.

We showed Tom around the property and shared stories about how we discovered the house, the reconstruction of the collapsing foundation, and the ingenuity of the former owner Mr. Compoletero, whom we affectionately refer to as Compo.

Rich has an annoying habit of interrupting me when he thinks I’m not telling a story accurately. He remembers things differently and almost always thinks his version of the story is the correct one. He was annoying me that night, so when dinner was ready I told him I wanted to share two stories from the literary discussion I had attended the day before.

“And please don’t interrupt, “ I told him. “It’s fascinating and it’s something you need to think about.”

The first story regarding the personal nature of memory and its inadequacies was shared by Dani Shapiro, the author of the newly released memoir Hourglass: Time. Memory. Marriage.

Years ago her parents had been in a terrible car accident. Her father didn’t survive. The first time she wrote about the real life event it was included in a work of fiction. She described the phone call she received, the clothes she was wearing, the hospital room where she sat by her mother’s bedside. Her father had passed away and his body was in another room. When her uncle arrived he asked, “Where is your father?”

Ms. Shapiro had been estranged from her parents at the time of the accident. She was raised an Orthodox Jew and religious tradition requires someone stay beside the deceased from the time they pass away until they are buried. Her immediate reaction was that she had failed her father once again.

Years later Shapiro wrote a memoir, Slow Motion, about that time in her life. She rewrote the story of the accident without referring back to her earlier writing. When she had finished, she compared the two versions. Everything was the same; the clothes she was wearing, the hospital room, the phone call. The only thing that was different was that it was her stepsister who arrived at the hospital and asked where their father was. Shapiro’s reaction was exactly the same. She felt she had once again failed her father by leaving him alone.

James Salter once said, “We know that most great novels and stories come not from things that are entirely invented, but from perfect knowledge and close observation. To say they are made up is an injustice in describing them. I sometimes say that I don’t make up anything—obviously, that’s not true. But I am usually uninterested in writers who say that everything comes out of the imagination. I would rather be in a room with someone who is telling me the story of his life, which may be exaggerated and even have lies in it, but I want to hear the true story, essentially.”

Shapiro has never asked her stepsister which version was true. She can’t explain why she remembered it one way and years later another. From my perspective, she seemed to be saying the important take away for her was that she had failed her father. That is the essential truth she remembers. That is her story.

Andre Dubus, the author of House of Sand and Fog, then shared a story of the night he hosted a dinner party for two sisters. At the end of the evening, while he was washing the dishes, he overhead the sisters discussing their memories of their father. Always the writer, Dubus stopped cleaning to eavesdrop on the conversation.

One of the sisters complained about how their father never loved them. The other sister disagreed. Andre knew their Dad. He was a man who ran his own business, worked 60-70 hours a week, sent his daughters to private high schools and good colleges. Why would he have done those things if he didn’t love his daughters? But one daughter saw it differently. She remembered the dinners he missed, the school activities he never attended, the hours spent away from home.

Dubus noted the difference between fact and truth. The facts reveal that a father worked hard to give his daughters a better life, but one of his daughter’s truth was that he was never there to share the things she wanted and needed from her father. The moments she felt represented love.

In Richard Ford’s memoir, Between Us, a story about his parents, he writes this: “I can recognize now that life is short and has inadequacies, that once again it requires crucial avoidances as well as filling-ins to be acceptable. Most everything but love goes away.”

But even love is open to interpretation if we consider the story Dubus shared. In the age of alternate facts and fake news how do we interpret this? Why do we remember some things and not others? How can siblings grow up together and have completely different childhood memories?

I don’t think Rich understood the story I told at dinner was related to him. I went on to tell another story that he interrupted with one of his own “facts”. Tom was clearly listening. He said, “Dad always used to do that to Mom. One night Uncle “So and So” (I have already forgotten which uncle) said, “Let her tell the story, Dick.”

~~~

I recently wrote a blog on my first Mother’s Day without my mother. I had to dig deep to come up with memories of her before Alzheimer’s and illness erased the mother I once knew. There were also the years my parents lived in Florida. I too had moved away from home shortly after graduating from college and I wasn’t as close to my parents as my siblings were. Long ago childhood memories were lost in the fog of time and distance.

~~~

The other day I heard the news of Gregg Allman’s passing. It shook me up. The Allman Brothers Band are very much a part of the soundtrack to the chapters of my life titled My Marriage.

Rich and I met at a bar, the Tam O’Shanter, across the street from my apartment in Boston. An Allman Brothers cover band was playing that night. Years later we eloped. Four months after we got hitched, we had a party in the backyard of our old house built in 1728 along the Squamscott River in New Hampshire. We danced to Revival. I was two months pregnant with my oldest daughter.

Years before, when we were first dating, we saw Gregg play at the Paradise in Boston. It was during a time in his career when he was in a slump. He was playing small clubs. There was no rock ’n roll tour bus. At the end of the night he and Dangerous Dan Toler exited out the front door along with their fans and climbed into a Ford Pinto. That little story ended up in my novel Life is All This. My main character Sam Ryder’s internet moniker is @MidnightRyder. His motto is “trying to make a living and doing the best I can.”

I’m sharing this story because it’s another example of the elasticity of time and memory. Joan Didion once said, “I write entirely to find out what I am thinking.” Dani Shapiro says  that when writing she focuses on “the soft, pulsing thing that is true.”

Often when I write a blog it rambles and circles back and forth, searching for the truth and coming to some sort of conclusion I never expected. I’m thinking out loud.

Late that night, I shared my Gregg Allman memories on Facebook and when I read it to Rich the next morning, he said, “It wasn’t a Pinto. It was a Plymouth Duster. There is no way Gregg Allman could fit into a Pinto.”

“Well yes, I remember it being difficult. Dangerous Dan got in the backseat. Gregg rode shotgun and bumped his head climbing into the Pinto. He had to twist those long legs of his like a pretzel.”

We’ve had this argument before but this was the first time I heard this particular make and model.

“It was a Plymouth Duster. And it was tan,” Rich insisted.

Marriage is a series of compromises. Essentially, its success is based on the shared takeaways. For Rich and I it is the love of music, cooking and sharing meals, (as James Salter once noted, “life is meals”), travel, and adventure. We are risk takers and comfortable with change. Restless souls who get bored easily. But I suppose if you asked him, he might say something different.

One thing I am sure about. The make and model never change when I tell the story. The car Gregg Allman drove off in that long ago night on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston was a Pinto.

A Blue Pinto.

“For it is, always is, however we may say it was.” – Thomas Mann

Suggested Memoir Reading:

Richard Ford: Between Us

Dani Shapiro: Hourglass

Andre Dubus: Townie

James Salter: Burning the Days

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

Jeanette Walls: The Glass Castle (see my post on how this related to a day on the road in Battle Mountain, NV and my own particular imperfections)

 

12 States, Seventeen Days, 3,100 miles on $75 A Day: How We Did It

Sometimes I look at my Instagram feed and realize people who don’t really know me must think I’m a trust fund baby or a retired Wall Street robber baron.

That is so far from the truth it isn’t even funny. It’s actually scary. If I let it be.

Rich and I turn sixty this year. I’m already there. He was a late November baby. We have a minuscule retirement. Our social security isn’t going to pay many bills.

We’ve always lived like this, paycheck to paycheck. It was never a conscious decision just a circumstance of the times we’ve lived through. He is a self-employed carpenter and house painter, I was once a self-employed bookkeeper. By the 1990’s I was forced to take a variety of jobs to obtain ever-increasing, unaffordable American health insurance. We worked long hours, fifty weeks a year.

Over the years there have been job layoffs, along with lack of work in the home improvement industry due to recessions and stock market crashes. Self-employed insurance and COBRA payment costs continued to rise and always interfered with our plans to save for retirement.

But that was then, this is now.

We currently live in a small, funky old house that we bought for cash with the equity we earned from the New Hampshire house and the improvements we made. I am sharing stories of our current minimalist home improvements on Instagram.

Since moving to Vermont I have been on the road half the time. I was able to spend much of last summer in Rhode Island with my Mom before she passed away from Alzheimer’s. I also have more time with my daughters in Providence and Lake Tahoe.

Retirement will be elusive. I’ve finished a fourth novel and I help Rich with some of his work. We’ll do this until our knees and backs give out. If my query attempt with corporate big-time publishing goes as expected, I am planning to take my self-published book on the road in the fall.

The inspiration comes from Joshua and Ryan. If you don’t know who are they are, check them out on their Instagram account and watch their documentary on Netflix. They call themselves The Minimalists. Their wisdom and advice will change your life.

~~~

Here is how Rich and I managed to spend 17 days traveling 3,100 miles through 12 states on $75 a day.

The trip was an escape from winter. Rich and I drove my 2002 Subaru. I bought this car a little over a year ago for $6000 cash. It had 40,000 miles on it. A mechanic noted the date and mileage and asked, “It’s a church car, isn’t it?”

“What?” I replied.

“You bought it from a little old lady. She only used it to go to church, am I right?”

“Why yes, I did buy it from a little old lady. You must be right.”

The trip took us from Vermont to Amelia Island and the Florida Panhandle then north through Alabama and South Georgia to the Shenandoah Mountains.

The Lodge at Shenandoah

The Lodge at Shenadoah National Park, VA

17 days. 3,100 miles. Total gas cost $313.11.

Driving back home we had figured out which states had better gas prices so we were wiser regarding when and where to fill up or stop and top it off. We learn as we go.

Most days we shopped at grocery stores, packed the cooler, and made sandwiches. We bought beer and wine at discount liquor stores and supermarkets. One day in Binghampton, NY we shared the footlong sub of the day at Subway. That lunch with drinks cost $7.66. Breakfast sandwiches and coffee at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Statesville, NC cost $11.90.

The first day we drove for nine hours and found ourselves at a highway rest stop with limited dining options. We chose the Ruby Tuesday and ordered entrees along with the unlimited salad bar and a drink. Wine for me, beer for Rich. Often our drink tab is more than the cost of food but we now pre-game at the hotel with our cooler full of wine and beer and keep the bar tab to one drink each. The bill came to $46.30 and although we had leftovers and ate them the next day for lunch we decided we could have just ordered the salad bar and been satisfied with that.

San Blas FL

San Blas Beach – The Panhandle, FL

When we lived in Florida, my husband loved the sandwiches they made at the Publix grocery store deli counter. A jumbo sub sliced in half and shared costs $7.30. There were lots of Publix along the route.

We do enjoy sitting at bars and meeting people. Some of my best stories come my way while sitting on a bar stool so there was a happy hour at the historic Palace Saloon in Fernandina Beach, FL where we spent $10 on draft beers.

Our friend Peter stayed with us in our hotel room on Amelia Island so he sprang for golf the next day and Rich bought a $6.00 beer in the club house. There were also beers oceanside the night we arrived on Amelia Island. Peter also picked up that tab because he was spending two nights with us. We stayed at a Residence Inn with a private bedroom, a pullout sofa in the living room, and a full kitchen where we kept leftovers, cold cuts, beer, and wine.

At a Piggly Wiggly in Apalachicola we bought cinnamon Danish and bananas and helped ourselves to the free coffee. That breakfast came to a grand total of $3.85.

There was a night of live music and dancing at the Tamara Cafe In Apalachicola along with drinks that cost $32.00. At a belated birthday dinner beachside in Panama City we ordered a dinner that started with a tuna sushi appetizer and ended with creme brulee. The entire dinner with cocktails and tip cost $83.55. At the lodge in Shenandoah National Park we had dinner accompanied by a music from a local folk singer. The meal cost $24.00.

Al fresco Panama Beach

Al fresco dining at Harpoon Willy’s ~ Panama Beach. FL

We splurged at a Publix in the Panhandle for dinner supplies for our friends at the pecan farm in South Georgia. We grilled shrimp kabobs with prosciutto, chicken with pesto, and street corn. We had stayed with them for five nights in Lake Wylie, SC and four nights at their pecan farm in Colquitt, GA. They insisted on feeding us delicious meals each night. In exchange for their generosity we helped clean up and Rich did a few home improvement projects at both houses.

We also stayed with friends in Greensboro, NC and they brought us to the Pinehurst Golf Course. We treated them to the lunch buffet in the clubhouse. That came to $112.71 for four with drinks.

Pinehurst

The putting Green at Pinehurst, NC

There were a few other nice dinners along the route at the Amelia Tavern, Apalachicola Seafood, Carey Hillard’s Fried Chicken outside Savannah, and lunch with a beer at the historic Globe Tavern in Athens, GA. We do enjoy good food and nice restaurants but we think we can refine this on future road trips.

Irish Writers Athens GA

A tribute to Irish Writers at The Globe in Athens, GA

Total food and drink bill came to $505.11 for 17 days.

A key to the affordability of our trip was friends. Out of seventeen nights on the road we spent seven nights in a hotel. The two nights at the Residence Inn didn’t cost anything because we used Marriott Points. The Motel 6 in Lexington would have cost $69 but I had Expedia points so the cost was reduced to $39.91. In Apalachicola, we spent two nights at Rancho inn, a flash from the past that brought me back to the ’60’s but it was clean and quiet and cost $207.10. The beachfront hotel with an ocean view in Panama City, FL was our only night of slumming. At $89.77, the room was clean but the bathroom was old. I thought we were going to have a deck but all we got was a clouded window with a view of the beach. I did take a sunrise walk along the shore and the place was quiet.

Panama Beach Footprints

Footprints from an early morning walk on Panama Beach, FL

The cabin in Shenandoah National Park cost $120 and was an as expected and well-loved rustic National Park lodging experience. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets of my life that night.

Skyland Sunset

Sunset at Shenandoah National Park, VA

Total lodging cost for seventeen nights: $456.78.

I guess you could say that offset some of the food expenses and gave us the luxury of dining out once in a awhile. All I can say about the lodging cost is, You’ve gotta have friends. It is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Total trip: Seventeen days. 3,100 miles. $1275.00. That comes to $75 a day.

I once backpacked through Europe for two months on $15 a day. That was in 1981. Reagan had just been inaugurated. We didn’t know where the nation’s future was headed. My college loan payment was $35 a month. My rent at my apartment in Boston that I sublet during the trip cost $220 a month including utilities. It was a rent controlled building in Brighton along the Commonwealth Avenue subway line. I didn’t own a car.

I don’t how we got from there to here. Well, yes I do, but that is not what this blog is about. I’m sharing this information to let you know you can live the life you want despite your financial situation. $75 in the year 2017 is not a bad deal.

This is today’s post from Joshua and Ryan:

“Everything is ephemeral: on a long enough timeline, everything ends. Your relationships will end. Your happiness will end. Your depression will end. Your life will end. Nothing lasts forever—not even those diamonds in the advertisement. Yet we live our lives like the best things will continue into perpetuity—like the good stuff will stick around and the bad stuff will go away once we obtain everything we want.”

I’ve been living one day at a time my whole life. It’s been a very good and interesting life filled with friends, travel, and memories. There hasn’t been a lot of money and we own no “valuable” possessions.

There is another way to live life. There is no right or wrong way to go about it. A pile of money waiting for your future is not necessarily the answer. Possessions don’t make you happy. How you spend your time and who you spend your time with is what makes you happy. Travel is my thing, yours may be something different.

Our time is now. Today. It is the only thing we have for certain.

***As some of you know, I unexpectedly traveled through five more states after I returned home. I will share the accounting for that trip, too. In total I spent a month traveling 17 states. I could never have done this a few years ago. I didn’t win the lottery. I simply ignored the onslaught of advertising and consumerism, and then pared it down even more. It is still a work in progress but there’s no looking back. Time is what it’s all about. Each precious minute. Time is now on my side.***

Do you have any travel tips for saving money? Please share them in the comments.