When asked why I moved to Tacoma, Washington, when I was 21 and left Minnesota where I grew up, I usually respond by saying I did not like the cold weather. While that answer is true, there is more to this story than simply wanting to live in a warmer climate. Something happened that motivated me to come to that decision.
I was living in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I rented a room from Mrs. Ella Duesterhoeft. She was a wonderful landlady–just like a grandmother to me, so I was happy and content living there for a few years.
Ella’s neighbor, Mrs. Bridger, was a lifelong friend, and she often came over to visit. On nice days, Ella and Mrs. Bridger sat on the long porch in front of Ella’s big old house and they often reminisced about their past. As these two old ladies rocked back and forth telling stories about their past, the writer in me would sit on the steps and listen because I thought some of their stories were rather interesting.
As I listened, it occurred to me that Mrs. Bridger’s entire life was determined by other people because she had not made any decisions of her own. She talked about having several opportunities to go on various adventures throughout her youth, but she never did go because she always worried it might be a mistake. Now she wondered if it would have been a fun experience or not. Now she wondered what it would have been like. At 18 her husband asked her to marry him but she thought she might be more in love with another man so she didn’t know what to do. She could not make up her mind which man to marry because she was so afraid of making a mistake. So she even allowed her mother and other family members to tell her which man to marry. “Marry Kenny,” they said, and so she did. Now she wondered what life might have been like if she had married the other man.
Suddenly, I had a moment of epiphany. Mrs. Bridger was so afraid of making a mistake that she ended up making the biggest mistake of all–she failed to make any of her own decisions. She did not know what might have been because she failed to take an active role in her own life. It struck me how very sad it was that near the end of her life, she now wondered if something would have been good or bad. Instead of making life happen, she just let life happen to her.
I decided I never wanted to be a little old lady in a rocking chair reminiscing about my past and not knowing what might have been. I thought taking chances of making some wrong decisions would be far better than not knowing if it would have been a mistake or not.
When I’m an old lady rocking back and forth reminiscing about my life, I want to say, “I had a chance to do this, and I did it, and that was such a wonderful and exciting experience. I had a chance to do that and did it, and oh my goodness it was such a bad mistake. Good or bad, I just wanted to know. I did not want to let life happen to me. I wanted to make my life happen. I wanted to make my own decisions and take an active role in my own life. Therefore, I asked myself, “Am I just letting life happen to me? If I were to change anything about my life right now, what would I change?”
My answer: I would move to a warmer climate. If I took an active role in making my own life decisions, I knew I would not be living in Minnesota just because I was born and raised in this freezing cold place with such long, hard winters. I did not like the cold and I did not like the snow. My next question was, “If I moved out of Minnesota, where would I want to go?” I remember seeing the Seattle Space Needle in my eighth-grade geography book and I always wanted to see it. I also remember seeing pictures of Mount Rainier, and I always wanted to see that, too. I had a second cousin living in Tacoma, and she invited me to come out for a visit. Instead, I decided right then and there that I should buy a one-way ticket and move here instead.
The next day I started to pack my bags and gave my two-week notice at work. When I told my older brother (the one I call Bernie in my book), he said, “It’s not safe for you to move clean across the country to a strange city all by yourself. Did you know that’s about 2,000 miles away?” I said, “Yeah, I know, so the weather should be different there.” It is–we get rain instead of snow. Then he asked how much money I had to take with me. I said, $150.00 He said, “You are going to need more than that because you don’t even have a job yet. I said, “I type 100 words per minute, so it should not take me very long to find a job. I’ll just apply everywhere that has a typewriter.” Bernie said, that cold take a while, so I’m sending you another $200.00.” Boy, was I ever glad my brother sent me more money because it took longer for me to get a job than I thought it would. At the time, there was a Boeing strike and the job market was really scarce. In fact, the job market was so tight, I ended up going to an employment agency to get my first job, which didn’t last long. That’s another story in itself.
The employment agency sent me to a mortgage bank and I got hired to type mortgage papers. What I did not know, because I was so young and naive, the manager who hired me was drunk. Two weeks later she called my supervisor in her office and asked, “Who is that girl?” My supervisor said, “That’s Barbara, don’t you remember? You hired her two weeks ago.” The manager said, “Oh, my goodness! I have a problem because I have one employee too many.” Then she asked, “How is she doing?” My supervisor said, “She’s doing great! She’s getting a lot done and seldom makes an error.” The manager said, “Well, since she was the last person I hired, I will have to let her go.” My supervisor came back and told me what happened and what to expect. She said I was one of her best workers and she didn’t think it was fair. I said, “Oh, don’t worry! I’ll just show her this family photo on my desk and give her a sob story. I’ll tell her I was saving my money because I wanted to buy my mother an automatic washer for Christmas because she scrubbed all her clothes on a washboard until her fingers bled. It might not work, but at least I will make her feel badly about it.” My supervisor laughed and did not think I would do it, but that’s exactly what I did.
When the manager called me in, I grabbed my family photo of 13 children and I gave her the best sob story ever. To my surprise, I made the manager feel worse than I thought she would. She said, “Now I wish I could keep you. I’ll tell you what. Just go to lunch and I’ll see what I can do.” When I went to lunch at my favorite little cafe to get an egg salad sandwich, I asked the waitress if she knew of any jobs. She said, “As a matter of fact, I do. A fellow from Richards Commercial Photography Studio was just in here and he said they are looking for a “Girl Friday” to do clerical work in the office. They are just around the corner and if you go over there right now, you might be able to get an interview. So I ran out, applied for the job at the studio, and got hired on the spot. How I did that is another long story that I think I included in my book.
Then I returned to the mortgage bank to finish the day. As soon as I returned, the manager called me back into her office. She said, “I have good news for you. I found a vacancy in another department, so you can stay.” Oh great, now I had two jobs and I had to decide which job to take. I thought if I took the job at the mortgage bank, the manager might get drunk again and forget she hired me back. I also knew if I kept that job, which I got through an employment agency, I would have to pay a huge fee. On the other hand, if I took the job at the photography studio (which I got on my own), I would not have to pay the employment agency. So I explained to the manager that I had already found another job during lunch and added, “Would you please do me a favor and fire me again, so I don’t have to pay the employment agency?” She said, “Sure, just tell me what you want me to say.” All within one lunch hour, I had a job, then no job, then two jobs, then one job again. In other words, I got fired twice and hired twice in one hour.
Nearly two years after I moved to Tacoma, I met and married a Tacoma native. We met when he tripped in front of me at the roller skating rink and I fell on top of him. We got married at the U.S. Naval station in San Diego, Calif. After getting married to the Navy, I ended up living in several other states up and down the East Coast–Virginia, Maine (where my husband worked on a ship in dry dock), Rhode Island and Florida. It was an interesting experience to be a military spouse and live in so many different states, but I was glad we came back to Tacoma, Washington, before my 12-year marriage suddenly ended. I knew this was the best place for me to live and I’ve been here ever since.
I love the Pacific Northwest, and it is not surprising that a recent study showed that out of all 50 states Washington is now rated the Number 1 best state to live in. New Hampshire is No. 2 and Minnesota is No. 3.
Another reason it was a good idea for me to move away from Minnesota is because I think it helped me to “find myself,” better deal with my own issues of childhood abuse, and figure out how I would heal my own inner wounds. That might have been more difficult if I was also dealing with the abuse of my siblings at the same time. I wanted to become my own person, discover and develop my own talents and skills, and I believe I have been able to do that–all because I listened to two old ladies reminisce.