Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


A valuable lesson at Christmas...

Posted 12/17/19 (Tue)

Back in September, my wife and I went to a wedding in Lake Elsinore, Calif. As she was getting ready I told her it was exactly how I remembered it 43 years ago.

Unfortunately, that trip in 1977 wasn’t as joyous as the one we took in September. Numerous indicators suggested we not go and when we got there, situations presented themselves that told us we shouldn’t have been there. 

It was nearly Christmas 1977 and because you couldn’t hardly buy a job, my brother and I concocted this outrageous idea of traveling out to California for the holidays, then finding work there.

We decided we would take my car, a 1970 Ford Torino, a car that looked like it came right out of the projects. We didn’t have any money, so we borrowed $100 from a good friend of our parents, Pearl Cowles, and we were off.

We decided to travel south instead of west because we didn’t want to have to go over the mountains as weather situations can be nasty in the higher elevations. So, we went south. We didn’t get very far into South Dakota and we began to smell anti freeze. A check under the hood showed a leaky hose.

That got repaired and after a near miss with a snow plow near the Nebraska border, everything went well and we drove until Dalhart, Texas. Since we only started with $100, we rented a cheap hotel room. And what do you think was the first thing we saw when we walked in the door? Cockroaches went scurrying for cover when the lights were turned on.

That was our Christmas Eve, watching TV in a cheap hotel room. No gifts, no good meal, no conversation with family, just a bed that was off the floor enough so the cockroaches couldn’t get there.

From there it was west to Winslow, Ariz. It was Christmas Day and it was surprising how many people were moving about that day, which, incidentally, was cold and damp, as I recall. Because it was Christmas, and we were in Arizona, we had a good meal and a traditional shot of tequila. But before leaving town, we had to do the touristy thing and stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, from the song “Take It Easy,” made famous by the Eagles.

Just like Dalhart the night before, there was no conversation with family, no goodies to raid from the kitchen and no holiday music other than that in downtown Winslow.

OK! We were on our way to California and we were already running dangerously low on money, and back then, there were no credit cards to make it easy. Gas, two nights in hotel rooms, a nice meal and a minor car repair were taking their toll on our wallets.

When we finally got to Lake Elsinore, we had run out of money and it was a day after Christmas. No money to get clothes pressed for a job interview, no money to eat a decent meal, no money to stay in hotels.

There was only one thing to do, swallow our pride and phone home. We did. Our parents wired us the same amount of money, $100 to get home. And we turned around and headed back. And because money was as tight as we now knew, we drove straight through.

Somewhere in Nebraska I fell asleep at the wheel in the middle of the night. My brother woke up and pulled us back on the road. He drove the rest of the way, which was 47 hours straight from Lake Elsinore to Linton, where he had an apartment.

Fast forward to Christmas 2006. Financially, I was a lot better off, but was away from family during a military deployment to U.S. Central Command. It brought back a lot of the memories from our doomed trip west 29 years earlier.

I had money to spend, I had a Christmas tree in my apartment, I knew plenty of people in Tampa and the Army was taking good care of me, but the one issue remained, I was away from family and even though the circumstances were completely different, it was as lonely as it was in 1977 leading up to Christmas when my wife and daughter came for a visit.

Those were the only two years in my life I’ve been away from home on Christmas and the one thing that resonated was being away from family. There’s something about being together at Christmas that makes the holiday even more magical than we perceive it to be.

Time is precious, the Holidays are precious and family is precious. Only two times away from home in a span of 60 years and it boils down to this. Nothing, I mean absolutely nothing can replace being home for Christmas.

When we got back to North Dakota in 1977, we put everything aside, working odd jobs until we had paid the $200 back to Pearl and our parents. It was quite a lesson.