One Friday night in December a friend and I decided to try the local fish fry at the American Legion. It was a local legend. We had to search for a parking place--the place was packed. Instead of standing in line to wait for a table we gave the lady our names and headed for the bar for two reasons--to find a place to sit down and to get a start on our drinking.
Behind the bar was a poster with a few pictures on it and a big sign: "80 acre Idaho farm lottery". Below that, in smaller print it said "One thousand dollars per ticket. Only one hundred tickets will be sold."
I called over the bartender. "Is that sign for real?", pointing at the poster I'd been reading. He nodded. "Yep. An old timer from around here moved to his family farm near Moscow. He didn't have any kids so when he kicked off he willed the place to the Legion post. We had no use for it, so we decided to sell tickets for the place to pad our Christmas fund." He reached under the bar and pulled out a steno pad. "The last six tickets are still open."
I thought fast. I easily had that grand in the bank that I could afford to gamble and lose. Besides, if I did win and things didn't work out I could flip the place for a ready-made retirement fund. It only made sense. I hauled out my check book. "Put me down for a ticket, would ya?" I wrote out a check to the American Legion Post 504 in Batavia, Illinois. I handed him my check and driver's license. He asked, "You a member here?"
"Nope. Never felt the need."
He asked another one. "You a vet?"
I replied, "Yep. Army, back before Desert Storm. I never made it overseas so the VFW won't touch me."
"Gimme a check for fifty bucks and you're a member. It's because the drawing is only open to post members."
Hell, in for a penny, in for a pound. I wrote out another check and handed it over. He grinned and shook my hand. "Welcome to the post. We'd appreciate it if you showed up with your DD-214 to show the secretary that you're not blowin' hot air. The drawin's gonna be on the Saturday before Christmas, a week from tomorrow."
Fred and I clinked glasses and I had a sip of beer. I know that I was grinning like crazy. Pretty soon our names were called. "Charlie Fisher, Fred Allen, you table is ready."
All I can say is that their fish fry lived up to its reputation. It was a serve-yourself setup. I had deep-fried haddock, baked whitefish, vinegar coleslaw and mashed potatoes with garlic butter. It was a damned good feed for ten bucks excluding my bar tab.
All week long I was distracted by thoughts of that farm. I'd never been a lucky winner at anything in my life. I wondered if lady luck might stumble on the carpet and land on me this time. All I could do was to hope and dream. I went back on Tuesday after work to find out just where the farm was. I wrote down the map coordinates and went home to Google it. Google Earth showed a rocky, wooded elevated valley with a stream at one end, butting up against the foot of a small mountain. It was about 13 miles East of Moscow on Felton Creek Road.
I showed up with my military separation papers on Saturday morning to both keep the post secretary happy and to validate my ticket. I had a couple beers while waiting for the 1:00 PM drawing. The place started to fill up around noon. Just before the drawing the place was too packed to move around much. I had to pee so I lost my place at the bar.
It was time for the drawing. Tension was thick in the air. Some guy I didn't know used a short ladder to climb up on top of the bar. The bartender handed him a box and said, "I hereby swear that every member that paid their fee for the farm drawing has one ticket in that box."
The guy standing on the bar gave the box a good shaking, popped off the lid and, while holding the top above his eye level, reached in and stirred the contents around. Finally he pulled out one gray ticket. The place was totally silent. He read off the name. There were groans from every man standing in the room but me. My ears were ringing. I remembered to breathe and gave a 'whoosh'. I quietly said, "I won." Then I realized what I had said. I said it a little louder. "I WON! I never Christly win anything, but I won! Hooooleeee shit! Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip!" Several guys grinned as they watched me jump up and down. One said to the other, "Either he won or somebody dropped a lit cigarette down his shorts." I ordered a beer and slugged it down. I heard, "Nope, he won all right. He didn't pour it down the crack of his ass."
I spent the afternoon signing papers. Part of the transfer contract specified that the property couldn't be sold for ten years. I was okay with that. Then I read the last rider. I had to live on the property. By the time I was done I was the proud owner of a house and the land it sat on, including mineral rights so nobody could force me off of it.
Well, shit. I'd have to tell my boss about it. I asked for the poster that originally got me into this and got it. I rolled it up and secured it with a rubber band. My boss would never believe me without some sort of proof.
I had hopes that the place was livable. I didn't want to pour a lot of money into fixing it up if I didn't have to.
I'd have to get out of my apartment and move to Idaho, then find another damned job. I purely despised job hunting.
Thank God I had over ten thousand in the bank. I also had a good-running Chevy pickup that could handle the weather in Northern Illinois. According to Wikipedia the climate was similar to what I was used to, if not more temperate (higher lows, lower highs) even though the place was over 2000 feet above sea level.
Terry, my boss, didn't want to believe me until I pulled out that poster and showed him the deed. Then he about crapped his pants. I let him know that I'd still be around for a while. I had to give four month's notice to get out of my apartment with my skin intact.
I hit the road on April 28. My apartment was clean as a whistle so I didn't have to pay any cleaning penalties. I handed over the air conditioner fob, my parking sticker and all my keys. I had a 14-foot double axle covered trailer hooked up to the back of my pickup. I'd eaten down my larder of canned goods to save weight. Still, I was glad that the trailer had a double axle. I wouldn't be running any races or doing much over the speed limit while towing that thing. My silverado would eat me alive at the gas pump.
I lived pretty cheap during those four months. The only extravagance I bought into was a big screen GPS and I had the driver's seat changed out for one that reclined. (The pickup had a club cab. It gave me a place to keep my groceries and laundry dry when the weather horked up.)
It took me six days of slow interstate travel to get to Moscow. I showered and ate at truck stops. I slept in the truck. I had vowed to be Mr. Frugal until I saw what I was getting into and I was solidly into a new job.
Once I hit town I picked up two twenty pound sacks of potatoes, forty pounds of rice, twenty pounds of sugar, twenty pounds of salt, four boxes of tea, fifty pounds of flour, four jars of yeast, five big jars of peanut butter, eight jars of grape jam and twenty pounds of butter in jars--Ghee.
My key chain grew to five keys--one for the padlock on the trailer, my truck key, the key for the padlock on the chain at the front gate, the house key and a padlock key for the pole barn. The overhead pic from Google Earth showed a long house, a longer pole barn within a short walking distance and two smaller out-buildings.
My GPS led me right to the gate. I unlocked the chain and left it open next to one pole. It looked like newer work. There wasn't much rust on the pipes and they were made of unpainted steel. I crossed a cattle barrier at the fence line (It's made of several four or six inch pipes buried side by side across the road. Cattle won't cross them as it hurts their feet.) and drove up the lane. There weren't any downed trees or overgrowth blocking the lane which eased some of my initial fears.
An electrical service line followed the lane back over a rise and to the a pole where it split to the various buildings. Two big breaker panels were fastened to the pole, shielded by a dog-house. The bungalow was boarded up with sheets of plywood nailed over the doors and windows. The roof looked okay as I could see no missing or torn shingles.
I wasn't prepared for the board-up. Still, I had a lug wrench and I saw a pile of firewood. A little tossing around got me a two-inch stick to use as a fulcrum. I pried the cover off of the door, then each window as I walked around the house. I took the time to stack up the plywood sheets nail-side to nail-side before confronting what was inside.
The house was dry! I was impressed! Supposedly the previous owner had died over two years before. My luck was batting 1000. I walked from room to room, checking the place out and opening the windows to let out the stuffy air. I was very happy with my initial impressions. I'd not have to pour a bucket of money into the place which gave me some breathing room before I really had to find a job.
The kitchen was empty. It had been professionally cleaned. The fridge and freezer were empty as well, left open and packed with wadded-up newspapers, an old trick to keep refrigerators in storage from smelling like hell. There was an older gas range--a Roper, the same kind we owned when I was a kid. I remembered getting the shit shocked out of myself while bellying up against it while trying to operate the oven timer. I'd want to re-wire the thing before plugging it in. I was handy that way, being an electrician.
.... There is more of this story ...