Moving Away

by Big E

Copyright© 2010 by Big E

Romantic Story: Leaving behind a grown family A man decides to move across the country.

Tags: Fiction   True Story  

Brr - a spring chill blows down State Street. I have just a short walk to the hotel but I feel almost naked, this is the first time in years that I have ever left the office with absolutely nothing to carry home, no briefcase, no computer, all my personal things have been shipped to my new California address. Approaching the hotel the doorman greets me warmly. I proceed over to the concierge desk where David greets me.

"Good Evening, Mr. Coalmen, How was the party today?"

"It was very tiring to say the least, David. After working there for over thirty years saying goodbye is very hard; some of the people I worked with for over 20 years are so much of my life. There was a lot of kidding, and more than enough hugging, that is for sure."

"Sir, all new beginnings have to start with goodbyes."

"Very philosophical, David. David, would you let my daughter know that I'll be down in a few minutes after I freshen up."

"Yes sir, however, sir, I think you are having dinner in the Captain's Lounge, and casual dress is not permitted so perhaps you might consider adding a coat and tie for tonight."

"Thank you, David". I headed over to the bank of elevators and went up to my room.

Having a daughter working in the hotel got me a mini suite at the price of a regular room. I had moved in two weeks ago after the lease on my condo was up. Getting off the elevator I was greeted by Carl, the butler for my floor.

"Good evening, sir."

"Good evening Carl, you don't by change know what my daughter has planned, do you?"

"Sir, I just know that what you are wearing will not be suitable. John, the morning butler, made a note as to your dress upon your departure for your going away party this morning. So we took it upon ourselves to lay out something that would be more fitting the occasion. If you need me for anything else just let me know, sir."

Carl walked over to my door and opened it for me and stood back. Hanging on the outside of the closet was my best dark suit, a medium blue shirt with French cuffs, very polished shoes and a navy tie. So, I guess if I'm supposed to get all dressed up I may just as well shower and get it over with, I have an early flight tomorrow.

Thirty minutes later I was showered, shaved, and fully dressed, and walking out of my room. Carl was nowhere in sight. I almost had the same feelings as the night before I got married. My side of the family planned a dinner, since I had made it plain there was not to be a bachelor party. I knew then as I knew now that in twenty four hours I would be starting a new life. Then it was with a women I loved and now I was going away from everything I had ever known to start anew.

Getting off the elevator I crossed the lobby and I know it was not possible but it felt like every pair of eyes was glancing my way.

Walking into The Captain's Lounge I was greeted by Carl.

"Good evening, sir, my I show you to your table?"

The Captain's Lounge was about half filled with early diners. Carl was heading toward the middle, I surmised, and there at the edge of the dance floor was a table with more room around it than the others. And sitting at the table were three of the most wonderful and self-assured looking women God had put in one place at one time. But that was just my opinion.

Stephanie was wearing a red dress, Shannon was wearing light brown, and Christina was in black.

"Christina, don't you have to work tonight?" I asked.

"Daddy, Carl is covering for me tonight."

Stephanie then spoke up. "Daddy, you don't think that we would just let you leave us without having one last night with you, do you?'

"Well I was hoping to just get out of town as quickly as possible," I said.

"Daddy, there is no way in hell that we could or would let that happen. We don't know how soon we will see you again and this way we all get to see you together," Shannon said.

Christina, it seems, had planned the evening as well as the entire menu all the way down to which wines were to be served. I think she was showing me just how much she had learned in the past year. Now the fact was that she had been promoted three times from just a hostess to now the floor supervisor for food services.

I won't go into all the conversations we had, but the gist was they were sorry to see me move, they were happy with the new me, and the changes their mother had made. But most of all they were happy with themselves.

About nine, a small band started playing; if I had not been with my daughters it would have been very romantic. The band had been playing for a half hour and we were enjoying the last of the wine when Stephanie excused herself, walked to the band and spoke to the lead. Coming back she reached down and took my hand and, without much resistance on my part, took me out to the dance floor. The band started to play a very slow song and I took Stephanie in my arms and we danced just like we did at her first formal Father & Daughter Dance at the country club and just like then I could feel her trembling in my arms and her face buried in my chest. When the song had ended Shannon took my hand and the band played another slow song, Shannon was stronger as a young girl and it showed even now. Then it was Christina's turn. This time it a soft rock from way, way, back, and we danced together. Christina was the odd girl of the family, maybe being the youngest, or just her independence, she was the one I was worried for the world if she would ever let go.

After the dancing I kissed each of them again and thanked them for a wonderful evening and told them how proud I was of the way they had changed and were taking care of their own futures and not just hoping that they caught the "RIGHT MAN" as their mom had encouraged them.

The ride up the elevator caused me to shed a few tears and I'm not too old or too stubborn to admit it. Getting off the elevator I was greeted by what I guess was the third shift butler. He asked if I needed anything and I shook my head no; I just was not able to speak. In my room I was finally able to let myself go and get myself ready for bed and a new day/beginning. I had a six AM wake-up, plus I had to finish my packing - not a lot of packing since all but one large suit case was shipped a few days ago.

At six AM there was a knock at my door. I answered it and John the day butler greeted me, pushing a breakfast cart right in. "Good morning, Mr. Coalmen. How was the party last night? I have taken upon myself to bring you breakfast since I know that airline breakfasts are not that good.

"Sir, while you are dressing and enjoying your breakfast I'll finish your packing. The hotel limo will be ready to take you to the airport whenever you are ready."

I am always taking care of myself as well as others, and this personalized service was just too new to me. But I guess it's part of making a change. Getting showered and dressed took just a few minutes; the breakfast was simple, tomato juice, coffee, fresh fruit, and toast. Before I had finished, John had finished all the packing, gotten everything out of the bathroom, and was putting the bag by the door.

"Sir, to expedite your check-in process I transferred all your change and keys to your carry on case. I also put your ticket and your ID together in the inside pocket of your jacket. The folding money and your wallet are in their usual pockets. Sir, if there isn't anything else, I'll take your bag down to the limo."

I took a couple of envelopes from the writing table, wrote John and Carl's names on different envelopes, put a hundred dollar bill in each, and sealed them. After taking the elevator down, there John was by the limo. He opened the door as I walked up and I extended my hand and then placed the envelopes into his side pocket as we shook hands. "Make sure Carl gets the thank you and, John, thank you for all you have done as well."

"Thank you, sir, I hope we see you again very soon."

The drive across the bay and the ferry ride got us to Logan in plenty of time, check in was a breeze and soon I was waiting to board my flight. Looking forward to see what new and wonderful things I was about to experience.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to flight 47 nonstop service to San Francisco. We will be flying at 36,000 feet and the flight should take us 7 and a half hours. The weather in San Francisco is predicted to be foggy but with minimum visibility for a standard approach. If there is a reason that we cannot land in San Francisco our alternate landing would be in Sacramento, and thank you for flying United Airlines."

"Gee, if we cannot land in San Francisco, Sacramento is where I was headed anyway," I sighed to myself. I guess I said it a little too loudly and the young woman next to me asked why I didn't take the flight directly to Sacramento that left in just a few hours.

"Well, young lady, it's like this. I'm starting anew and I want to make people think I am going to San Francisco and this would give me a better cover than heading directly to Sacramento."

"Why are you starting anew?" she asked.

Looking at her, I guessed her age to be sixteen or seventeen, with that totally clean look about her. You know, great skin, a clear complexion, long hair, and hazel eyes. I also was thinking how my daughters used to look. The three of them all looked like they came from a cookie cutter, they even tried to dress alike even though they were different ages.

I asked my seat companion, "So, young lady, are you going home to San Francisco?"

"My parents are two rows ahead of us and my brother is sitting in the last row. He's sitting back there because it's closer to the restrooms and he hates to fly and he gets motion sickness real easy. We are going to see my grandmother and my great uncle. Nana and Uncle Dan moved to the Bay Area from Los Angeles last month. We wanted to be the first to see their new place so we are taking the long Memorial Day weekend to see them."

"Well, I am moving away from a wife and what used to be three very spoiled daughters. My daughters are adults and they need to be on their own, and not living off of me or their mother. My wife, for some reason, thought that I should support them even though they are more than able to get jobs and move out on their own; they are 25, 23, and 22 years old."

"What made you decide to move out?"

"Well, in part I know that the way things were was probably more my fault than their mother's. She just liked having them at home and didn't do much to encourage them to develop into people that can stand on their own; it was the same way she was raised.

"Do you really want to hear all about this? Wouldn't you rather watch the movie or play a video game?"

"No! I feel that we were seated together for a reason and when fate moves we should not get in the way. So why not start at the beginning and please don't feel rushed since we have over four hours together as seatmates."

So I started my story.

I guess what you are really wondering is how I got to the point of ending a marriage and things like that.

I'm not to use to having too many conversations with such a mature young lady so forgive me if I gloss over some things. I guess I'll start with what I thought the end would be like.

I can't put an exact day or time when I started to notice just how badly I felt at the way I was being treated as a husband and father. So I'll give you an example of one of the first times I took notice of just how my daughters acted versus what I would now call "NORMAL" actions of kids. It was just over 2 years ago and the company I worked for had one of those days where you are supposed to build your relationship with your job and your children by bringing them to work with you for the day. I worked at a rather large office area as the supervisor of 32 clerks and customer service personal. About half of my people brought at least one if not two of the children to work that day. To say I was a bit worried would be a understatement; I was petrified. All I had to relate to were my daughters and how they viewed the world as just a place that was there to serve them.

I came to work very early so that I could get my work going and to be too busy to have to deal with all the children that were supposed to be coming in. About an hour into the regular work day I looked out my office window and saw a teenage girl walking around with her arms full of paper that appeared to have come out of the main office printer/copier. She was headed for Vanessa's desk, one of the newer clerks, I could see. She slowly and very carefully put the stack of printout down. Then she took and separated all the printouts by what I guessed was their divider page and asked her mother who each of the people were that she had printouts for. Within 20 minutes she had them all divided and delivered. She then headed back to the printer and got a couple more and distributed them as well. She never got flustered, just did the job and not a sound or complaint from her.

This just amazed me, that a young teenage person would just jump in with just a little direction and start working, never a complaint, never a mutter under her breath, just working and knowing that there was NO money in it for her. Now not all the kids were that involved and helping out, but there were a couple. I didn't spend all day just watching but I was very cognizant of all that was happening especially since this was a direct conflict with what I had perceived as the way teenagers acted in the work place.

That night at dinner I was telling my wife and the girls about the way a few of the employees' children had acted during the day. My oldest made the comment, "If they weren't being paid why did they do anything other than just sit and watch?" I don't feel all that comfortable going on and on about my lazy and self-centered children. But you can get the gist of what I am talking about.

My seatmate said, "I can understand how that would have given you something to think about. I know that we have things that we have always had to do around the house and then there are extra things that we do but those we get paid for, but not the regular stuff."

I nodded in approval, then went on with my story.

On the following Monday there was going to be one thing I wanted to do to make a change in the office. But first I asked Vanessa, the mother of the young lady, if her daughter had plans for the summer, or was just going to hang out as my daughters had always done.

"She has no plans," Vanessa told me, "but she is hoping to find something to at least give her some money for clothes in the fall. And since she is going to be a senior there are a lot of extra things to pay for".

Being that I am the boss I told her to ask if she would like to work here and if so have her daughter report to HR the afternoon of her last day of school and to fill out paper work to be a full time employee for the summer and, if she wanted, part time when school started in the fall. Her job would be to do all the leg work for everyone. It would be a lot cheaper and more productive to have her doing all the leg work rather than paying the regular office workers to just stand around waiting for print jobs and doing scanning. She would not be anyone's personal gofer. I'd pay her $10.00 per hour and give her forty hours a week during the summer and we would work out her hours after school started. By hiring Blanca, by the end of summer the backlog of things needing to be done was almost gone. Most years there was an even larger backup come September; the main office even noticed and the entire department got praising comments in the company newsletter. When school started the office people took it upon themselves to give her a back to school party.

About the time Blanca was going to start back to school I was getting to be a bit tired of all the bickering that was going on at home; the bickering was in the form of my daughters complaining that they needed larger allowances. I asked them why they didn't go out and get jobs to support yourselves like most young women do?

"But Daddy, Mommy told us that we didn't have to work, that you would support us until we got married," Stephanie, the oldest one, said.

That statement just about made me toss my cookies. The gall of them to think that I was their lifetime benefactor and even more was the fact that their mother had told them that without even asking me how I felt about taking care of them until they were old maids. With that kind of attitude no man in his right mind was going to want to marry them, I thought.

The Labor Day weekend was coming up and I had laid out in my mind just how I was going to have to re-educate my family if it was at all possible. I told my wife that I had to go down to Mississippi to our plant there over the Labor Day weekend but that she and the girls should still go on the trip that they had been planning to Los Angeles anyways. Well, the ladies fell for it hook, line and sinker. On Friday morning before taking them to the airport I called the two credit card companies that I had cards with and told them that the cards had been stolen and that they were to cancel all the cards and send me new ones. I then went down to the bank. which was in the same building I worked in, and told them the same thing, and to cancel all the debit cards. They were to only re-issue one card and that was to me, and to not allow any money transfers to any other accounts. I further gave them instructions on new accounts and to hold on to the new cards and checks until I returned in a week. I then went home and took the "ladies" to the airport. I dropped them off at the airport and bade them a fine vacation. Their flight would arrive at LAX late in the day so I knew that after such a long flight they would just check in to the hotel and start their "VACATION" the next morning. I knew from past VACATIONS that they would only take a few things with them since to them the word vacation meant "SHOPPING". At about five AM I called my wife's phone and left a message and explaining what had happened with the credit cards as well as the debit cards, and that until the "NEW" cards are issued they should just enjoy their vacation.

What did this accomplish, you might be wondering? Well the hotel just used the credit card as a guarantee of payment but they did not charge the card, that left my wife and the three girls in Los Angeles with only the cash they had in their hands and NO Access to any more money or access to any credit cards. And with it being just a VACATION they then could relax all day at the pool and order room service.

As for me, I did go to Biloxi, Mississippi, and I went out every day on a fishing boat; didn't do any fishing just enjoyed the fresh sea air. I left my cell phone off as well as not logging on to my computer until Wednesday evening.

To say my wife and girls were upset would be a horrendous understatement. There were over thirty messages on my phone and at least a hundred email messages as well. To summarize all of them without going into much detail, they were not happy vacationers!

I played the poor husband part to the max telling them that my phone didn't work out on the oil platform where I was working. I told them I would call the hotel and settle the bill using my company credit card and to get their flight out on Thursday afternoon and that I would see them at home on Friday evening.

Friday evening was more like BLACK Friday. Before I even got in the door I was besieged for money and they were not too nice about it. It was, "Daddy, give me $500," and then the next one wanted $600, and then the oldest just said "Daddy, give me all the cash you have now!" and with each request/demand I gave the same answer, "We'll talk after dinner".

Now my wife was a bit more coy. All she said was, "Where are "MY" new credit cards and where is the "new" checkbook?" And I gave her the same answer as I gave my daughters, "We'll talk after dinner".

Dinner was not a very warm meal. Oh, the food was hot but the cold looks and the sullen faces just made me even more resolved to teach them all a lesson in "Money Management 101". As we finished dinner I told them that I had a few things to do in my office and I didn't want to be disturbed and when I was done they should all meet me in the living room. I then stood up and walked out and went in to my home office where I shut the door and locked it. A few minutes later I heard someone trying to open the door and I just told whoever it was, "Just wait and I'll be out later on." And did I make them wait.

It took me three hours to get everything all set, new bank cards, new check books, as well as a printed outline of the "NEW MONEY management plan". Here is what I told them:

"The three of you girls are all of legal age now and you are going to have to work if you want any money, as of today you are free to take care of yourself as best as you can. You all are old enough to stand on your own and even though you might not feel able I have all the confidence in the world in you. I will, for the next month, put $50.00 a week into your new checking accounts. You are free to apply for any credit cards you wish, but you will be financially responsible to make the payments to cover all that you charge on them.

"Next, you will move out of this house and into your own place within six months. During that time you will still be able to eat and sleep here; however you will be responsible to do your own cleaning and you will keep your rooms tidy as well."

About then they all started yelling, including their mother. I sat there very passively letting them vent all they wanted. It took them at least fifteen minutes to calm down. I then looked at their mother and said, "You will do nothing to help these ungrateful young women; you have done nothing to prepare them to live on their own, so I guess this will be a learning time for you as well. And here is how you will learn. First, you will go out and get your own bank account, one that I am not connected to in any way; second you will get your own credit cards just like the girls. I will give you $100.00 a week for as long as we stay married. I will pay all the bills and I will do all the food shopping.

"All of you have cars and they are leased. I will continue the leases for the rest of their terms, however you will have to pay for the gas. When the leases are up the cars will be turned in unless you are able to buy them. After they are turned in you are on your own as to transportation and insurance."

They started to talk again and I just told them to be quiet since I wasn't done. I told them in six months the house was to be sold since there was no need for all the extra bedrooms. I was leasing a smaller one bedroom condo close to my work.

My wife started yelling that she was not moving into the city away from all her "Friends". I told her that that was fine with me, but she then would have to find a place to live on her own. I also told her that the house was not in her name, but it was listed as being owned by a corporation, that she was not part owner and thereby had no say in its liquidation or sale.

I stood up and I told all of them that their new checkbooks were on the table and that I was going to bed and I would see them in the morning. I looked at my wife and said, "I think that you should move into the spare bedroom until we settle this."

I left early Saturday morning to get away from the bickering and fighting that I had heard the night before and I just knew that it was going to start again when they all got up.

I guess they thought I was kidding about their money because when the month was out I stopped making transfers into their accounts and within a few days I saw in the mail notices from the bank that their accounts were overdrawn. They all came to me and wanted to know why they were not getting money and why was the bank demanding that they cover their overdrafts as well as the bank fees. I just reminded them that their month was up and there was not going to be any more money. During this time my wife had been staying in the spare bedroom and she was being very quiet. I knew from our attorney that she was trying to find a way to get to the money I had invested into the "personal family company". She found out that it was an independent company and she had no rights to it and that I was just a hired person and that the company was owned by another company in the Caribbean. (Thanks to my company's lawyers talking over lunch I knew how to hide the ownership.)

After the money stopped and the bank notices starting to arrive, the three girls all headed in different directions to solve their lack of financial solvency. They all did go out looking but the big issue was a total lack of experience. After a couple of weeks the oldest one, Stephanie, got a job as a convention hostess. That's one of those women that stand around and look pretty and point to things on display, like cars, appliances and even wood floors. It took Shannon, the middle one, three months and she got a job in the same building my company offices are as a receptionist. And finally Christina got a job in a restaurant as a hostess. Now none of these paid a whole lot of money but they were trying and I had to give them that.

When Christmas came around they only had two more months of living at home and I was getting a bit worried. On the Monday before Christmas I asked them to meet me in my office after dinner. I told their mother that the conversation was going to be just them and she was not invited. (I'll tell you more about how she was doing in a minute.)

I told them, "Sit down and keep quiet until I have finished. In a few months you will all have to be out of this house since it is in escrow even now. I am not a total ass as you might be thinking and since I can see that you all have gotten out there and at least gotten a start on taking care of yourselves, this is what I am going to do. I will pay the first two months' rent on a single new place that you girls pick out but you must make sure it's one that you will be able to afford afterwards. You all have your own bedroom furniture so that isn't an issue. I will go out and get you a living room set after you move in. See, I am not such an ogre, am I?

"You all three have birthdays in February so I will get each of you a little compact car as a birthday present. You are not to tell your mother about any of this since as adults it is between just us and no one else. Now go to bed or whatever and I'll see you later on." And with that they all left my office very quietly. I then called in my wife who was just sitting in the living room reading.

I motioned her into my office and said "Sit down, dear, and let's talk. Over the past four months we have not really talked so why don't you tell me what your fears are about the coming changes."

"I am so angry at you for all the crap you have put me through since Labor Day weekend, and you have been only thinking of yourself. I don't know what has come over you; I just hope you have not lost your mind.

"I don't want to move, I'm afraid that you'll leave me, as well as not leaving me any money," she said with tears in her eyes.

"Over the past few months I have tried repeatedly to explain why I was so upset over the way you have treated me as well as the way you have shown the girls how a woman should be, and if they are ever going to be able to take care of themselves, the way you have done would make them total failures. Now they have jobs and are slowly learning to take responsibility for their actions.

"Aside from that, here is a proposal that I want you to consider.

"You want to stay here with all your friends and I cannot fault you for that since you have been out here for so many years. I also know that image means so much to you and I really don't want you to look bad to your friends. There is a new condo project that is opening just across the road from the country club. I have looked at the units and they are nice and if we can agree on a few things I think that we'll both be happy.

"I want you to know that I take half of the responsibility for the way things have ended up being, both with the girls and with you and I. Maybe if I had not worked so much and been away from home all the time, maybe I would have noticed earlier on that the girls needed to learn more responsibility and money management.

"I want a divorce, so that I can start over, but I don't want you to feel unprotected. With that in mind I will buy you a condo, I will buy you an annuity that will give you a regular monthly tax free income. I know that you are not used to a set income but it will be a comfortable one all the same. You don't have to worry about the girls - I am not a totally insensitive bastard, I have made arrangements to help them in the interim. I will agree with any reasonable story you might come up with to tell your friends as to why we are no longer married. I will be moving out of the area, and in fact I have planned on moving all the way across the United States to California.

At first I wanted to settle out with my wife so that I didn't have to be sending her money every months. She would get to keep her beloved Volvo and I would give her a lump sum of just under a hundred thousand dollars in cash. But I knew the way she spends money and with the upkeep of the house, that she would be out of cash within two years and since she has never worked in the past twenty years she would have to sell the house then so she could live.

Now I know that my wife is safe in her new condo - she had a lot of fun making all the arrangements for the move and selling off of all the things she no longer needed or wanted. I had told her that all I wanted was my clothes and a few things out of my office and the rest I was more than happy for her to have, she was going to sell everything and put the money into a little nest egg, she told me — now that was a total change, my wife saving money? The girls loved their new apartment as well as their new cars. I told them at dinner last night that I would call them at least once a week but I was not checking up on them, just letting them know I cared.

"Well, young lady, that is how I ended up here sharing this airplane ride with you."

"What are your plans now?"

"Well, I have an address in San Francisco that is just a post office box, I also have a cell phone with a San Francisco phone number. I want people to think I'm living in the Bay Area. But I want to live up in the mountains east of Sacramento. I do like the feel of the seasons and in San Francisco I don't think I will feel the seasonal changes. I contacted a realtor in Placerville and I have taken a long term lease on a place just outside of Auburn, down next to the river, and I want to do some exploring and even do some panning for gold. I guess some people might think I am running away, but for me it's more of running into a new life."

"I can't say that I think what you are doing is a bad thing since you are still looking after your daughters and you made sure your wife was taken care of, but then I come from a family that has never had a divorce or even a separation. And I can only speak for myself and my brother, but we are totally looking forward to working and going to college."

"Ladies and Gentlemen, SFO is fogged in, all flights are being diverted, the other two Bay Area airports are full so we have been redirected to Sacramento. Upon arrival at Sacramento you will be directed to buses that will take you into SFO. If your final destination was going to be Sacramento you are free to continue with your travel plans, and thank you again for flying with us today."

"That is great; now I'll be almost 2 hours early and I'll be at my new home before dark. Young lady, it was a pleasure to share this flight with you and I hope you have a good time with your grandmother and uncle. If you or your family ever come out to California again and would like to see the Tahoe National Forest and the Sierras, here is my real address — just let me know and you all are welcome anytime."

The announcement to prepare to land was made. Looking out the window I saw all the fields of rice with Sacramento off in the distance. I would get a rental car and drive up to my new home, a home of my very own personal making, or at least as far as possible without remodeling it.

I rented a car and drove back towards Sacramento on I-5. Taking the off ramp to I-80 I headed east I knew that the drive was just going to take 45 minutes or so. Taking the Auburn exit, it took me a few minutes to find the realtor's Auburn office that had found me my new place. I got the keys and a map to guide me and soon I would be HOME.

The new home was on a cliff overlooking the river. There was a path just to the west that leads down to the river. It was a two bedroom with a large bathroom, a galley kitchen, and a living room with a stone fireplace. With the river less than a hundred feet away they didn't have far to go to collect the stones for the fireplace. The furniture was best described as right out of a western novel. Wood framing and red plaid fabric. When I was looking for a place I had asked for only ones that were completely furnished all the way down to what was needed in the kitchen. I am not the best cook but I won't starve and I'm not just talking about frozen foods. In the bedroom were five or six clothes packing boxes, three large heavy duty boxes that had my computer and a few other things that I had shipped.

First off I needed to unpack the clothes and then other stuff could wait till tomorrow. I was putting away my coffee mug that I had since the girls were little. And there in the cupboard was coffee, sugar, a few spices, I looked in the refrigerator and there was milk, a few bottles of beer, and a few fresh vegetables, some lunch meats, condiments, and bread. Looking in the freezer I found hamburger patties, a bag of chicken parts and two strip steaks. This landlord was one nice person, I was thinking.

I finished my unpacking while having a mug of coffee, then I sat down and started a list of a few things I needed to do over the next week, as well as a few long term to-dos.

Raley's Supermarket was just a few miles away so I guess the first part of the list should be more food.

Look for an SUV or a four-wheel drive car.

Get a few more shirts and pants (since most of my clothes were for office work and not for working outdoors).

Get a new bank account.

Get a television (the only thing the house didn't have).

Shopping for food was not as big of a problem as I thought, for the past fifteen months I had been living in the rented condo and it was just me to think about when it came to food shopping and now it was just a matter of finding where things were in a new supermarket. All around the market were fast food places if that were to my liking. Across the freeway was a bowling center, a CVS drugstore and a K-Mart.

You can say all you want about the California look but just about every person I saw was not that slim, lean look. No, the men were full sized and that made me look skinny, the women were best described, I guess, as nicely filled out with a few curves and, yea, a few had larger curves than others. One thing, though, was they were not rushing around, not driving like they had to be some place two hours ago. At the stop signs nobody seemed to try to cut ahead and they signaled if they were going to make a turn. So my first stop was K-Mart men's clothing, then a television. Back across the freeway to Raley's Supermarket with list in hand. It took me a while since I went up and down every aisle making mental notes as to where things were.

I made a mental note that there was a shoe store in the parking lot and I knew I would be needing more than the running shoes I had.

Three hours and almost a thousand dollars later I was heading home. As I rounded the front of my new home there was a very nicely dressed woman sitting on my covered front porch. Getting out of the car I was greeted with "Good afternoon, Mr. Coalmen, how was the shopping party today?"

"Well I didn't change the economy all that much, if that's your question," I ployed.

"I saw your light on last night and I wanted to come over and meet the man who rented the place. I was the one that let the shippers put your stuff inside, they were just going to leave it out here on the porch. So I used my key to let them in, hope you didn't mind."

"You have a key to my place?"

"Yes and no, I know where the spare one is hidden in case of a problem. In fact I know where most of the spare keys are hidden in this valley; I have lived here for over fifty years."

"That is impossible - you don't look a day over forty," I said.

"Well, thank you, Mr. Coalmen, but I was born in this house and when I got married pops built the house just on the other side of the wash for me as a wedding present. Been there ever since.

"When ma and pops died I cleaned out this place and just let it sit for a few years; it was costing me money just sitting so a few years back I started renting it out. You are the first one that wanted a long lease, that's why you got such a good deal."

"So you're the one that also stocked me with the welcome gifts? Thank you."

Coming down from the porch, she said, "Let's get all this stuff inside before it starts raining." It took us three trips but we got it all inside.

"Mr. Coalmen, my name is Carrie and if you need anything else just give me a holler out the back door, the way this valley is a person can hear just about anything that is said outside all the way to the top." With that she turned and walked out shutting the screen door and then turned and said, "Be at my place about five for supper. I'll have a rack of lamb roasting."

Lamb, let alone a rack - I had not that in years, so I put away my things, tossed the new clothes into the washer, and unpacked the television. Well, there was a coax cable but no signal so I guessed that I'd have to see the cable company on Tuesday as well as the phone company. I tossed the washing into the dryer and took a shower. As I was finishing getting dressed the dryer buzzer went off, I hung up my things and started out the back door to Carrie's house. On a straight line it was less than a hundred yards, but with the valley it was more like three hundred yards. There were a few switchbacks and then you crossed the dry creek, then a few switchbacks and you were up on the other side and Carrie's porch was less than a hundred feet from the edge of the valley.

"Mr. Coalmen, thank you for coming and letting me have a chance to brush up on my kitchen skills."

"Carrie, my name is Paul; I only like to be answered to as Mr. Coalmen when a person works for me so please call me Paul."

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