I've been home for a week or so now, and already the time that we were away is beginning to feel like a dream. The house was not empty while we were gone, yet things are pretty much where we left them, which is sort of nice but a little eerie at the same time. A book that I read more than two years ago remains in the place where I set it when I had finished with it. Other things have changed, and mostly for the better. Projects that I had begun before leaving Millinocket have been completed, and probably better than I would have done had it been left to me. The backyard is more orderly than it was when I lived here before, and probably easier to maintain in the winter. Some of my favorite trees have been cut down, but that's okay; trees are trees, and I don't want anyone accusing me of being a tree hugger. Trees are a renewable resource, and if they were truly worth keeping they'll grow back.
The house was inhabited while we were away, but much of it has not been lived in for the past couple of years, so it is musty. There is that, and then we have just brought a couple of years worth of stuff into a house that was already cluttered, so we're having trouble finding places to put things. Storage space has never been in abundance here, and that is one thing that hasn't improved. We've sold a few things, and if we could ever get a weekend without rain, we could perhaps get rid of some more of it.
I can't say that I have put a great deal of time into putting things away since I've been home. To be honest, I am very afraid of being broke again. With the closing of the mill, I am sure that some of you have been through it, and know that it's not a good feeling. I'll be fifty-nine years old soon, and I have never had less money than I had a few years ago, when I had to leave Millinocket. I've never been rich, but there was a long period of time in which I didn't have to look at the prices of things, this in part because I was single at the time and didn't have to account for such things but mostly because I had money in the bank.
Like many of you, I was employed in the paper industry, although my employer was Champion Paper rather than Great Northern Paper, and we made paper bags, not the paper itself. Still, it paid very well and, because I didn't drink or feel the need to drive a new and expensive car, there was money in the bank when I needed it. I was the single parent of an adopted son, so I spent my time with him and, for the most part, we didn't do a lot of things that cost barrels of money. Because Champion was very generous with holidays and vacation time, we did travel, but going to Las Vegas with a ten year-old is not my idea of a good time, so we didn't break the bank.
The reason that I mentioned that my son was adopted is that, in California, when a child is adopted, MediCal, the state's medical plan, follows into the adoption, so he came with a hundred percent medical coverage. My son was seven when I adopted him, so it's not like he didn't know, anyhow.
In 1983, Champion decided to close out its paper bag manufacturing line, putting me out of that job. However, I finished out my last day with Champion in Anaheim, California on a Friday, and the following Monday I began work with Duro Bag in Brownsville, Texas. Champion, not Duro, paid the full cost of my moving expenses, along with a sizable severance package. Between the severance package and a profit-sharing plan that I hadn't even known I was vested in, I had enough money to live for two years without working if I were so inclined.
I wasn't so inclined, so that money went in the bank while I continued working as if I didn't have it.
I worked the graveyard shift at Duro and went back to school during the day, becoming a paramedic, an EMS instructor, and one of the first EMS coordinators in the state of Texas. I left the paper industry, and worked in emergency medical services for twenty years, teaching, but also serving as director of a couple of ambulance companies, and later accepting a position as the program chairman of the emergency medical technology program at Texas State Technical College's Harlingen and McAllen campuses.
While teaching, I learned to program, writing computer tutorials for emergency medical service training and some related topics, such as firefighting and medical terminology. Sold as shareware, with no overhead, I did pretty well with that for awhile. I tired of teaching at about the time that the Microsoft Windows operating system was beginning to replace DOS-based systems, so I resigned and took a year off while trying to teach myself to program in some other computer languages. I enjoyed some moderate success as far as the learning curve went, but by then there was more competition in the market, and I wasn't able to keep up with it.
Shutting myself away behind a computer, at least I hadn't spent all of my money. I took what was left and invested, with a friend of mine, into a private ambulance company, which we co-owned and operated for about six years. Rather than making our fortunes, we were just able to pay our bills, but it was fun, and I have no regrets.
I married in 2000, and I was clear going into the marriage that Michelle didn't want to remain in Texas. I no longer had a $60,000 nest egg in the bank but I wasn't broke, and Michelle was doing very well with her online business, so we began considering where we might want to live.
I first thought of moving back home to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up and still had family, but things had changed so much there from when I had last lived there. In a town where I was once related to nearly everyone I came across, I now knew very few people. There were trees where people once had farms, and golf courses where they had grown corn.
Maine has a climate very much like the UP of Michigan, only quite a bit milder. The mountains in Maine, I thought, were a nice plus. Although we have mountains in the UP too, they were a couple of hundred miles north of where I grew up. We decided to drive from Texas to Maine, for the purpose of deciding where we might want to live.
Strangely enough, we never drove to Millinocket. We got a hotel in Bangor, then drove to Dover-Foxcroft, where we looked at a few houses. From there, we drove through Brownville on Route 11 for quite a few miles, but not as far as South Twin Lake, then turned around thinking there couldn't possibly be anything further down that road. The next day, we took I-95 to Houlton, which I loved, then worked our way over to Fort Kent, Wallagrass, and Soldier Pond, which is where I wanted to live.
Michelle wasn't too crazy about Soldier Pond. She told me that she was afraid that there wouldn't be anyplace to shop, but I believe that she didn't want to move from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where everyone spoke Spanish, to the St. John Valley, where everyone spoke French. As I remember it, she was leaning toward a house in Dover-Foxcroft, while I was holding out for Soldier Pond or Houlton, then the realtor told us about a house in Millinocket.
So here we are, back again.
I haven't come across very many people who I know here. This is mostly my fault, because I have seldom left the house. I earn my living online now, as we did when we first moved here, and I have come to be very afraid of being broke again, so I've been sitting behind my computer from fairly early in the morning until late in the evening, usually midnight or later. When I think about going for a walk, I consider that I could be earning money instead. It's not a good feeling, and it keeps me wondering what I'm earning the money for.
It's not like I see any of it or even that I want it for anything other than to be sure that we will be able to heat our house this winter, or pay the electric bill. There are not very many things that I want in life that can be bought with money, but heat and electricity are fairly high on the list, and until I can see that we have enough money to get us through at least one winter, I don't think I'll be seeing much of the Millinocket that I came back to.
I feel the same way about many of the other things that I once spent a great deal of time on. I haven't participated in the As Maine Goes forum for quite some time, and seldom even post in our own Katahdin Commons forum anymore, although I do intend to make time for that eventually. I have continued to post things that others have written for the Magic City Morning Star but seldom find time to write anything myself anymore. I don't make money from these activities and until I can feel assured that the money isn't going to dry up, I seldom feel that I can afford the time.
When I look at all of the things that our federal and state governments have been doing over the past year alone, I can appreciate the reason why it is so important for them to keep us all poor and worried. As long as people are concerned about being able to feed their families, clothe them, and keep the electricity and heat going through the winter, they won't feel as if they have the time to pay attention to what their government is doing, or to take the time to consider what they might be able to do about it. Our freedoms are eroding faster than our economy and, while we just might be able to get some of our money back one day, the freedoms that we lose are likely to be gone forever.
I don't know with any certainty whether the current economic crisis is manufactured or, as our vice president suggested, they simply feel that it would be a shame to let a good crisis go to waste. One thing I am sure of, however, is that no one in a position to help us recover from our economic woes is going to take the necessary steps to do this as long as there are still freedoms left to be taken from us.
That is, unless they can replace one crisis with another, as they have done so skillfully over the years.