How do I even begin to describe the wonderful years in this house? What kind of paragraphs will I use to convey just how very much we loved living in this place?
To begin with, I’ll say that we were so happy on that island, and we didn’t want to feel that it was temporary, so we shipped our special belongings (from storage in Portales) all the way across the Pacific to make that house our home sweet home.
From 1995 to 2001, while we were in our 30s, we lived in our peach colored house, surrounded by gorgeous trees and foliage. Avocados, mangos, soursop, papayas, bananas, coconuts, bamboo, ginger, bougainvillea, gardenias… I’ll mention mangos again because we were covered over in mangos!
Eventually we both stopped teaching school, and I closed my little gift shop. We were back to the world we know so well – construction. Our three car garage was our workshop. The vehicles were only parked inside when we were weathering typhoons. The rest of the time we worked in there, mainly building cabinets. (As a post script – now that I’ve written the rest of this chapter – I think I didn’t say much at all about working hard, so I’m bopping back up to this paragraph. We worked hard! It was hot, it was grimy, and I when I pat myself on the back for how hard I’ve worked at laying tile, carrying heavy sheets of plywood, being Gary’s one and only helper much of the time… these are the days I recall!)
Those were the years we worked really hard and played really hard. Gary was in one racquetball tournament after the next, and we got to go to the World Championships in Bolivia one year. He also honed his skills as a breath-hold-diving spearfisherman, and eventually got to compete with the Guam team at the national level. We became runners. Guam had an amazing running club, and we spent countless Saturday mornings running races all over the island. We had our boat. My fingers have stopped moving over the keyboard. I’m at a loss for words. My mind meanders over the grand times, out on the sea, swimming with dolphins, watching the sunset, skimming along with the wind in our hair. What freedom!
We traveled to an array of Asian destinations, and also home to the States at least every 18 months. It’s a very long way across that ocean. The flights are fairly brutal, and so was the price tag. We’re thrilled at the handful of visits we had from family members, but have always been very sad that it was just too prohibitive for people to come visit us there.
And I have retroactive envy that social media didn’t exist. E-mail was barely coming into existence while we were in that house. I would have loved to get to share photos of my tropical yard, my special black cats, our little truck loaded down with cabinets, pretty beaches. Those were special days.
Guam is a very social community. We attended one party after another… birthdays, anniversaries, and always fiestas. One amazing memory from this house was the housewarming party “we threw”. Ha! Well, we tried to throw a party. We bought supplies for hotdogs and hamburgers to feed the multitudes. We were unabashedly going to have an American party, and not try to keep up with the elaborate events those people knew how to host. The morning of our party, rank strangers showed up with the pala palas (the canopies) and started setting them up in our driveway in case it rained. Then came the men who started setting up a make shift barbecue pit, along with a huge amount of meat. Food poured in all day while we set up for the party. (And we had tons of hotdog and hamburger leftovers for weeks!)
We loved our church, we loved our friends, we loved that house. But at some point we had to make the decision to move ourselves back to the continent. We sold the house, and packed our belongings for the voyage across the deep blue. We took one final run down our hill, along the water to the marina where we’d launched our boat so many times. Then early the next morning our friends took us to the airport. We watched out the window, tears streaming, as our emerald green island in our sapphire blue ocean slowly faded out of sight.
Talk about a blip on the radar! This house was another transition place. Our friends were returning to the island and needed their house back, and we were just getting started building our own house, so we were able to rent this place from Trans World Radio in the neighboring village of Santa Rita in the Hyundai Subdivision. Basically, we camped out there for a year. (There are no pictures of the place.)
I had decided to open a little shop selling pretty hats and cute baby clothes, all adorned with tropical flowers. The living room of that house served as my warehouse for “Hibiscus Fancy”.
Gary and I were both still teaching school, so every waking moment was spent doing that, or working at my gift shop, or building the new house. Honestly, I don’t remember cooking a meal in that kitchen. We only air-conditioned the bedroom, and to unwind at night we would take turns playing Mine Sweeper on our little computer. I think we had a bed and a computer desk at that point.
Truly, we were pouring ourselves into building our next home. Gary is always up to a challenge, and I’ve always marveled at his determination to figure out how to get over the next hurdle. Building a “concrete bunker” in a typhoon and earthquake zone meant tons of concrete below ground before even considering any concrete above ground.
He designed our pretty place, fitting it beautifully onto our hillside lot, engineering underground drainage systems to deal with the amazing amounts of rainfall.
This was one hectic year. As has often times been the theme in our lives… we were quite tired all the time… but very excited!
One day you might be cheering for your middle school soccer team and end up meeting the parents of a player who will turn out to be very good friends, and the chance meeting could end up changing the path of your life. Isn’t that just how it happens?
So it was that we met the family that was headed to the States for a year, and needed someone to rent their house in the village of Agat. And that’s how we came to stay in Joan and Graham’s house on Round Table, which was actually San Antonio de Padua Circle. This brought us to a little church in the village where we found such cherished friendships. And it brought us to the village where we purchased a beautiful piece of property to build our house… but goodness sakes, I’m getting ahead of myself!
Our second year on Guam we continued teaching at Piti Middle School, just down the road. We bought a boat. Oh and this… we got a call one day from a man saying we didn’t know him, but he knew of us, because his mother lived in Portales, and while he was lamenting on the phone with her that he couldn’t find good help for his construction business, she told him about us moving over there. What a small world. We did lots of work with this man and his brother-in-law. Gary still played racquetball all the time. And this was the year we fell in love with international travel. We went to Bali and we went to Hong Kong, and I’d say this is when we acquired the unquenchable desire to see new places, eat exotic food, and experience different cultures.
The simple McKee Craft boat became one of our all-time favorite possessions. Over the years Gary did so much spearfishing out of that boat, and we took so many sunset cruises. We loved living right on the coast in that little village, and we knew we wanted to stay around for awhile, so along with owning a boat, we decided to become land owners.
I’ve often looked back on this year and its turn of events. We had already looked at another house to rent in a different village, and were making plans to move there. But a friendly conversation at a Saturday morning soccer game took us in a totally different direction. I’m sure the other path would have been very lovely… but I will always be so thankful for this turning point.
I think we were just about as surprised as the next guy, that after two years back in Portales following our three years of teaching on St. Thomas, we were on a plane with a few possessions, winging our way to another tropical island. We had met with the teaching recruiters in Vegas, and we’d decided to at least take a couple of years to just relax a bit while we made some decisions about the direction we wanted to take with our lives. So in 1992 we stepped onto the Pacific island of Guam and instantly felt at home. I will always remember it as a night-and-day-difference from moving to the Caribbean.
We were picked up at the airport by the principal from the middle school where we would both teach. We were housed in a nice hotel while we found a place to live. We survived our first major typhoon in that hotel the second week we were there! Omar was devastating to the island, and we prepared mentally for the horrific aftermath we expected. But the island rallied together to put everything back in place, and not one instance of looting was reported. We had found paradise.
We moved into a nice little apartment in Green Park Condos in the village of Mangilao. Learning to pronounce this name was the first in a long list of Chamorro names and words we would come to know and love. (It’s ma-NEE-lao by the way.)
Guam took 5 direct eye-passages out of 7 typhoon hits that year, and we weathered the storms in our second floor apartment. The patience and resiliency of the people who live on that island… truly amazing. It was a really wonderful year of teaching school, driving all over that island in a little red truck learning our way around, and spending lots of time at The Cliff where Gary played racquetball and I did step-aerobics.
The beauty of the island, the crystal clear water, the myriad of cultures all blending so nicely, the amazing food… we were in love with this place. At the end of the school year we were happy to stay on the island, but we were making our way to another shore and a new village to call home.
This house was a huge part of our lives, even though we only lived there a little over a year. It was the first house Gary ever built. Although he’d spent his life working in all aspects of the building trade, this was his first project from the ground up. And I have to include a side note about this. If you know Gary, you know he’s intent upon setting and reaching goals. So, early on he set a goal that he’d build his first house when he was 22 years old. I think he was 28 when he completed this house, and I’ve always thought it was pretty ridiculous that he never really forgave himself for falling behind schedule. (Ha! I think he eventually did. To know that man is to love him!)
Before we left St. Thomas, he bought a book called “Cutting in Roofs”. I think that was the catchy title. I loved watching him frame that house. Meanwhile, I was painting up tiles and finding a place to fire them for my custom kitchen backsplash. I wanted gingerbread on the porch, so Gary made me do the cutting.
We were ready to become builders in Portales, and we were just thrilled to host an open house one Sunday afternoon, greeting friends and family who came by to help us celebrate.
It was such a pretty house on Cherry Street. Gary loved his woodworking, and he had a great time building a beautiful fireplace and custom windows. The carpet was soft peach, and the whole house seemed like a dream to me.
We bought pretty new furniture from my grandparents, we had the perfect Christmas tree, I worked and worked in the yard trying to transform the pasture into lush grass, we put up a sweet picket fence to frame the whole project.
Hmmmm… seems like we were all set to start our “real career”. But Gary was building a house for the placement director at ENMU, and she knew how he loved to talk about the island life, and one day she showed up at her project and told Gary she had just received something at her office that he might be interested in. Guam was hiring teachers.
Well… obviously… that’s another chapter.
It’s funny… I drive by this house in Portales almost daily, but it’s one of those small blips on the radar, and I usually don’t think to glance in that direction. It was a year of transition not only for us, but also for my mom. We had just moved back from St. Thomas, and she was dreaming up her move to Taos, so the nice little red brick house on Abilene was temporary for all three of us.
We were instantly back into whatever remodeling work we could take on while Gary got his first general contractor’s license. I may have never laughed as much in my life as I did one night in that house while making a phone call to one of our employees. Earlier in the day we’d almost knocked out a wall at the wrong address when we realized something didn’t seem quite right. We skedaddled next door in a hurry to begin demolition work in the right place. That evening, in my best ‘old lady’ voice, I called to tell the guy I’d just found his driver’s license in my house and couldn’t imagine how it got there. Ha! I used to love to make prank calls back in the old days before Caller ID. (And I’ll go to my grave with the secret knowledge of whose house we were in when we almost made that ridiculous mistake! They obviously weren’t home that day when we let ourselves in to get to work.)
Another fun memory of living in that house with my mother was going absolutely overboard in wrapping my Christmas presents that year. I’d had three previous years of trying to get my little ornaments wrapped and home on a plane. That year I just had a ball embellishing everything with fancy ribbons and pearls. Come to think of it, that may have been the last year I did any kind of wrapping!
I think we were all just coming and going from that house all the time, and it’s actually quite a blur. We started building a house for ourselves… and that’s the next chapter.
We found this place on St. Thomas the same way we found our four lifelong friends… through the Bible Book Nook which was owned by a Christian college that ran Bethany Publishing. The college owned the house, and the students doing their internships got to live in the apartments on the first floor. One was empty, and we had the marvelous good fortune to get to move in!
The house was up on a hillside above Lime Tree Beach, and from our balcony we could watch cruise ships coming and going. (Little did we know we’d eventually fall in love with that mode of travel! And I can’t resist adding this photo from a couple of months ago.)
We lived in a studio apartment that was smaller than our current kitchen, but it was all the space in the world we needed. Gary loved to play his trumpet in the afternoons when we’d come home from teaching school. He mowed the lawn to help pay the rent. The meal I remember cooking most in that place was sweet and sour chicken. The yard was filled with pink bougainvillea, and I found it amazing that I was surrounded by the same beautiful blossoms that had filled the indoor garden of my childhood home.
It was our wonderful home for two years. And those two years stand out with stark contrast to one another.
The first year memories are delightful. We were teaching school and repairing furniture as before. Our good friends managed the beautiful Botany Bay Estate, so we all had amazing times together in that private sanctuary. Our landlord was a breath-hold diver, and he taught Gary all about spear-fishing and lobstering. It became his absolute favorite sport of all time. More family came to visit.
We were 25 years old, both teaching at the same middle school. As a second year teacher, Gary fell into the position of being the chairman of his department and only taught 3 woodworking classes a day. I was teaching math. It was a wonderful year, and we had the tiger by the tail.
The second year memories take a turn in a different direction. Hurricane Hugo hit the Virgin Islands with terrible fury early in the school year. It was devastating. The storm itself was the most frightening 24 hours we’d ever encountered. In the middle of the night the plywood shutters we’d bolted all over the house were ripped off. We could hear furniture thrashing about above us, and sure enough, the roof had been torn off the large house that was the second floor. Well, I could write a lengthy report on the storm (and I did at the time), but it’s enough to stay that the destruction was horrific for us and for our friends and for our school. We went weeks and weeks and weeks without electricity or running water. Lawlessness ran rampant on the island for a time. Teaching school was torture. I know we had some good days that year… but it goes down in the history books as very, very difficult. I’m proud that we stayed and honored our contracts.
When that grueling school year came to a close, we were ready to head home to Portales. Truly, at that point, we thought we’d had our grand adventure, and it was time to come settle into our “real life”. I have to laugh. Real life is obviously whatever it is you happen to be doing on any given day!
Actually, the second home was a condo at Sapphire Beach, but it was a tiny handful of months, so it’s getting tossed in with “Ruth Hodge’s Place”.
Keep in mind that we landed on the island of St. Thomas back in the day when the internet didn’t exist, and if you looked something up in an encyclopedia, it might very well have been 10 years out of date. So we went with our fistful of dollars knowing the island was 13 miles long and 4 miles wide. Surely one could ride bikes to get started. Ha! As the plane landed our first words were “We’re gonna need a car!”
Our house payment in Portales had been $145 a month, and we landed in the Virgin Islands to find that rent was going to be closer to $1000 a month. (And this wasn’t for the luxury spots… just some old apartment to share with geckos and roaches.) Our teaching salaries were laughable, and our first Sunday at church the preacher told us that sometimes new teachers had to wait months for their first paycheck, so the church could help us if we got in a bind. Welcome to paradise!
Thankfully we found this condo on Sapphire Beach where we could stay until tourist season kicked into high gear in November. It’s a gorgeous beach, and when St. Thomas fits into our travel plans, we always have to take some time to stand on that sand and reminisce about the kids who rolled into that spot when they fell off the proverbial turnip truck in the 80s.
The principal at the school where Gary taught had a sister-in-law (Ruth) who was just getting a brand new apartment finished up, and we got to be the very first tenants. It would eventually have a second story, but at that point it was a lovely one bedroom spot with a big porch and a big cistern. So that’s where we learned the valuable lesson of water conservation. It rarely rained, and since the only water coming into those faucets came from the cistern… you learned pretty quickly about short showers and necessity flushing!
So that was home-sweet-home for a year. We bought parakeets to help me get over my deathly fear of birds. We drove an old beater car up and down those steep and winding roads. To supplement our meager paychecks we went to work for a high end furniture store repairing damaged pieces and hanging blinds. One of our favorite lifelong memories is from the very first set of vertical blinds we hung, struggling with the instructions and the trick of drilling into concrete walls to make it all happen. As we were finally loading our little tool box at the end of the day, the owner had stuck a $20 tip in there to surprise us. We were so honored!
We ate a lot of burritos and jalapeno chips in that house. Family and friends came to visit. Communicating was a trick. No phone lines in that area.. but wait.. when a boy from church needed math tutoring, and I couldn’t give his mom a phone number to reach me, and she happened to work for the phone company, phone lines magically became available on that hillside. (Oh good grief. The memories. It was not an easy place to live.) Our thanks again to all the family members who paid for the collect calls we made on Sunday afternoons from the cruise ship shopping center payphone. Every month I wrote out a letter on carbon paper, then cranked out copies on an old mimeograph machine and mailed out an update of our adventures.
Well, anyway.. we spent time in that house talking each other into finishing out the school year. We had a count-down calendar of when we could finally leave the rock. We did our best to enjoy the beautiful beaches. And then, at the end of that school year we were becoming friends with some couples our age through the Bible Book Nook… a bookstore we enjoyed going to. It really seemed like such a shame to leave the island when we were finally learning our way around and finally making some real friends. So we signed teaching contracts for another year, we headed home to Portales to shingle roofs for the summer and be with our families, then we flew back down to the Virgin Islands to live in our next home for two more years.
We’re digging footings on another new house next week. It’s a common occurrence in our construction world… but every few years there’s extra excitement over the deal because it’s a house for us. And that’s the case this time. It’s another chapter in our lives. And it seems all the chapters can be summed up in the homes where they took place.
So chapter one is “612”. (Obviously named for its address.) Our very first humble abode. We were teenagers, but ever so practical. Before we got married, Gary had the idea that we should buy a house and fix it up. Both of us still lived with our parents, and the idea of paying rent was brand new. Just seemed absurd to do that when we could own a home. So we searched around and found this little mess for less than $20,000. Convincing the loan officer at the bank that we were 100% positive we were going to get married, he let us buy the house, and we set out to turn it into a sweet little cottage.
My favorite part of the loan story is that we just about swore we would NEVER buy another house because the paperwork was just overwhelming. Ha!
Six months later the house had undergone a delightful transformation. Friends and family joined us in our enthusiasm to have it ready to move into. I dare not even begin the list of people who shared in our labor of love because I’ll leave people out. Inside and out we had so much support! Thank you, all over again, to the amazing people in our lives who have been part of our story.
It was a tiny little place. Two little bedrooms and one little bathroom. But that first Christmas I invited everyone from all the families to come over for a party… and they all came. We just packed everyone into that house. And surely the big crowd helped with the temperature inside, because the only way to ever be truly warm in the winter was to stand right in front of the single panel heater.
We finished college in that house. We had an old “step van” sitting out in front always – which mortified me with its looks, but it held all the flooring tools that kept us in money. Our other cars were always coming and going to our various jobs. I taught in Clovis. Gary worked for the Portales schools. I worked at the Hallmark store, Gary worked for another contractor. When we weren’t working at work, we were working on the house.
We built fences, we built patios, we planted trees, we refinished the wood flooring, we knocked out the front and put in a bay window, we were forever tearing out another old thing and putting in new things. One spring break during college when everyone was heading off for warmer weather, we spent the week adding siding up in the gables to give the house a fresh new look. Oh my goodness. It was never-ending. But we had an absolute ball.
One day we took a phone call in that house. Gary stood in the kitchen on that line, and I stood in the bedroom on the other phone, and we looked at each other with jaws dropped as the woman on the other end of the line offered us teaching jobs in the Virgin Islands.
So we had a garage sale and were astonished at what can be accumulated in four short years. We sold the black and white television set that we’d carried back and forth between the living room and the bedroom all those years, and we sold the house. We put some things in storage, packed about 6 suitcases – if I remember correctly – and we moved off to St. Thomas to begin another chapter.
The first day of this lovely Caribbean cruise began with my waking thought – “Which hotel am I in?”
We’d just spent the four previous days enjoying a sweet variety of Florida sunsets. Miami from my cousin’s glorious balcony, St. Pete’s Beach talking business, and Naples dreaming of the future. Friday night’s sunset was to be spent sailing out of Ft. Lauderdale, but our ship sat in port seven extra, long hours while we waited for stranded passengers to arrive late at night.
A quiet and somber mood filled our luxury liner as we learned that a shooting had taken place at the airport… the airport most of us had flown into either hours or days earlier. Life becomes more fragile in those horrible moments when you realize you’ve narrowly escaped any tragedy. At once you are thrilled to be alive to choose items from a gourmet menu, at the same time feeling extremely guilty that you’re doing so while others are mourning the senseless killing of a loved one.
Yes, life is fragile. Life is precious. I’ll cherish the moments and make fresh goals to stay calm when meaningless unpleasantries come my way.
So the morning began with a smile when I realized I wasn’t in a hotel. I was floating along on the ocean, and the familiar movement of the ship made me feel right at home.
I’ve stepped back into the fantasy world I love. Eggs Florentine and good coffee for breakfast, a table for two reserved for the coming dinners, a new sun hat purchased at the deck sale. And then, because I’m just impetuous like this, I’ve taken my little hair trimming scissors that always travel with me, and I’ve cut the netted layers of a floor length gown and turned it into a tea length dress. Turns out, there are only two formal nights on this voyage, and I was expecting three. But I still needed something dressy for a nice dinner tomorrow night. Netting doesn’t need to be hemmed, and I think I did okay with my alteration job and will pull it off! One formal gown toned down a bit… check!
A leisurely afternoon to prepare for tonight’s gala, and I will have whiled away at day at sea. Oh my goodness… people sometimes ask me what in the world I do every day when I’m cruising. This. This is what I do. And I’m sitting here with a smile as I type the story… and a heart filled with gratitude that I’m given another day to breathe the ocean air.
Pie in the sky, baby. Pie in the sky.
This shall be my final wish for the wish list.
Circumstances and hard work have brought some mighty exciting adventures my way. We’ve hiked to amazing destinations, rubbed shoulders with some dignitaries, dined on foie gras, sailed the high seas. I’ve loved every minute.
But grand as some events have been, I’d say I’ve had equal rushes of adrenaline and butterflies in the stomach brought about by over-the-top dreams and schemes. I’ve reached for that brass ring so many times my fingers are longer than necessary. And my hopes have been dashed more than once. But I wouldn’t change it.
Reach for those stars. Apply for the job. Invest in the start up. Work toward the college degree. Ask him out to dinner. Make the move.
So… I wish you a rose bush to care for, a stray pet to love, special first moments to witness, and finally, I wish you a farfetched dream that might just come true.
This summer I was blessed with two very special “firsts”. They were sweet scenarios. Little spaces in time that I hope to remember always. Since they were so special, I want to put moments like this on my wish list for a happy and fulfilled life. I wish you the joy of first moments.
In June we were dashing about trying to accomplish a mountain of work. And in the busy schedule of things to get done, we needed to make the three hour drive to take a niece to meet another niece to keep everything on the calendar held together. We threw tents and sleeping bags into the truck and headed to Ruidoso. (I throw in all this mundane information, reminding myself how easy it would have been to have completely missed the grand event.)
Little girls were giggling and making s’mores, and that was delightful. But here’s the moment that held me spellbound. My fourteen year old niece and I were sharing a tent. She’s a big city girl, and although she’s been to the mountains, this camping experience was a first. She and I decided we’d crawl out of the tent late at night to make one final pit stop. As we got the door zipped behind us and stood up, she flung her head back and stared at the stars in awe. Oh my goodness!
We just stood there drinking in the view. A black velvet sky with huge bright diamonds shining down upon us. You don’t get that in Houston, Texas. Watching her be amazed was heavenly!
My other “first” took place in Alaska. We were privileged to go on a family cruise this summer, a first for some – including our great-nephew. He’s a little five year old gentleman who was enchanted with ballroom dancing after dinner. Every evening we had our dance, and made our plans to do it again the following night. I’ll never forget our very first waltz, his charming smile, his plans to wear a nice shirt for the occasion, and his sweet tiny feet stepping one-two-three, one-two-three while the band played “Could I Have This Dance”.
Friends, this is life. These are the things worth doing before our days are done. Go ahead and make your grand plans for the “before I die list”… but remember that these simple pleasures are the very best!