Ted Harrison :: This Year a Kayak ::

Creative Non-Fiction

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am born and bred in the South and I have been fortunate to have some of my scribbling published in this journal. In the past I have written of my attempts to pick cotton on my grandfather’s farm. Some of you may also have read of this same grandfather’s acceptance of an electric water pump and running water. I won’t argue against people who think of the South as quaint. I’d rather think of the Sugh as unique–the home of some of the strangest AND some of the best people on earth.

This Year a Kayak

Last year Charlie Brown’s tree was considered an inspiration. So what if we didn’t have an eight-foot real, once-live tree? We opted for a four-foot artificial model. I said, ‘opted’ not ‘settled’. Sure our circumstances were different from those crafted by Charles Shulz Whose weren’t? More folks were a lot worse off. We were blessed. Blessed by a lot of folks. 

A warm roof over our heads. Food to eat, Reasonably good health—weather allergies don’t amount to much. We had help from friends, kinfolks and even people who didn’t know us very well. 

When the landlord sought to hike the rent by almost 40 per cent, he didn’t know it but he opened a new door.  “I don’t want to deal with rent and a landlord ever again!” The youngest daughter might overstate circumstances in the early stages, but developed a more reasoned approach later. The initial plans which might have involved criminal acts soon morphed into the search for a new home. To allow her to become a first time owner. 

I’m a widower and live with this daughter and her precious child. We are part of that “one big family hugging the ball of earth.”

Facing our task we developed a two-pronged strategy: search and pack. That provided  a further division of concerns. Price and threats. 

Let’s deal with price. If you see an area that is one of the ‘most wonderful places in all of Oz to live’, then you can bet that the Wizard’s kingdom has a price tag that is out of this world. The median priced house in our county: $470,000; 10% higher than last year.  The youngest daughter teaches third grade. Our state ranks 43rd in the country in ranking for starting salary. 

As the high-rise cliff dwellings go up in this area, one shudders to think what the millennials or Generation Z,  I call them, are paying. Average household income in our county is over $88 thousand. My youngest, her daughter and I live together and would love to become average. I love it that my status is considered ‘fixed income’. 

With in-county real estate costs bloated, our search into a surrounding county produced early paydirt: older house, nice neighborhood in a small town and a reasonable commute for the daughter and kindergarten-aged granddaughter to school. 

If the term curb appeal has become cliche, then perhaps ‘all that glitters is not gold’ is the new equal. The movie Money Pit was interesting. ‘Fixer-upper’ and ‘house flipper’ are also current terms. We won’t say that there were problems with the house, we’ll just say “Pass”

Meanwhile, our landlord who had been so kind and reasonable was now willing to ignore our attempts at contact with his threats to charge us with trespass if we didn’t move out on time. Since I have sworn I would not  question his motives, lineage or actions, I should stop here and I will.

The move-out deadline loomed. “We’ll make it,” my youngest daughter said. Her older sister pledged to help. I struggled to remain calm. 

If family are hidden treasures, our situation brought the treasures out in the open to us. 

While my parents came from large families I am an only child–ignorant of sibling dynamics. My late wife was the eldest of four children. Her extended family roots extend wide and deep. The roots nurtured by planned events around holidays and such. The crowd in a photo made at a Brunswick stew event numbered 60+. Never in my life had I witnessed such an assembly of kin.

If a friend is someone who you like and trust, then a family friend adds an additional dimension. This family of friends had already sustained me through the pain of the death of my dear wife. They had also shared the joy of our marriage; the delight at the birth of two daughters and the years ot life.

Even before I was an official kin these folks aided in the preparation of a new home for  us, the newly weds. When job situations changed this family backed us up.

This history of assistance came into play again while my youngest daughter shouldered the responsibility of the search for a new home. The question loomed. Where would we live if we didn’t find a new home immediately?

My late wife’s brother had the answer. He had kept up his former home–a well-preserved, restored structure located on a corner of the family’s tree farm. He and his wife welcomed our use. 

In short order my sisters in law pitched in with packing and assisting with the move. A niece and my older daughter took turns corralling my granddaughter. Another niece and her husband had a basement area suitable to store our furniture and other belongings. 

Thus it was that we passed Christmas and New Year’s warm, and dry and comfortable. (My two older childrens’ observance with us was postponed.)

I haven’t forgotten that the move also involved our two rescue hounds—I refuse to call them my ‘granddogs’. The interim lodging included a fenced back yard for these family members. A nephew fed the canines while we maintained our tradition of a short holiday trip to the Outer Banks. 

In this case more assistance came to us from others not kin by marriage or blood. My youngest daughter sought out our associate pastor who put her in touch with some folks with real estate experience. In short order we teamed with a realtor who began the search for a home. 

We have that home now. We are settling in. We even had the nearby kin here for a game night on a recent Saturday. The neighborhood is nice. It’s quiet. Seculid. A few young deer have strolled by. We are near a lake.

While at my age, I think twice about making long term plans, I am looking forward to Christmas here. Perhaps the tree will be a little taller. We’ll see. No matter what, the youngest daughter wants a kayak. Maybe. We’ll see about that, too. 

Perhaps she can give kayak rides to all the people we need to thank. Unless there is such a thing as a kayak cruise ship.

“Often the faces speak that words can never say.”

Carl Sandburg.