Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Living in an Army Tent

Today marks 31 years since we moved to Arkansas.

When I read my mom's journal about our move... it strikes me that she was just 40 years old and had 11 kids when they embarked on this adventure. Dad was 42. I'm 44 and I can't imagine doing what they did.

My Dad had been a policeman in California for, I think, 16 or 18 years when they made the decision to move. My mom, as you can probably guess, was a stay-at-home-mom. My Dad's plan was to move to Arkansas and live in a tent while he built our new house. They left all their relatives and moved to a place they knew little about and began a journey that was completely new to them.

Nine of the eleven kids made the move to Arkansas with them. My oldest sister, Cathy, was in college at the time so she stayed behind, and my brother, Jim, was over 18 and decided he wanted to stay in California. I couldn't have done that either... leave my baby behind at that age. That's Tyler's age!! Jim ended up driving himself to Arkansas that next winter (he must've run out of money).

When Dad pulled onto our property that Friday evening for the first time, he pulled in to a large empty field. We had lots of land, but no home.

When he got out of the van and stepped onto the ground, a gazillion grasshoppers went flying everywhere!! Now, we'd seen grasshoppers in California, but they were a rarity and they were green and about 3 or 4" long. These things were like a plague of locusts!! My sister (Suzanne) and I were horrified. Then Dad promptly explained to us that before going into our camper he wanted us to look on our clothes for "a little bug that has 8 legs, that's a tick".


Suz and I just started crying. So much for my pioneer spirit.

We somehow waded our way through the grasshoppers to the road, probably 50 yards away and tried to strike up a "deal" with the mountain man, Dave, to take us back to California. Dave told us to give it three months (I think that's how long he was planning on staying) and if we didn't like it by then, he'd take us back (like my parents would let me go back at 13 years old).

We parked the camper under a tree and "made camp" where we stayed for a month and half while my Dad was preparing our destination spot at "the top of the hill". During this time, we slept in the Volkswagen, the Ford van, and a few kids slept in the camper with my parents. Dave made his own lean-to. I bet we were a sight to see for drivers-by.

Up the hill, Dad built some wooden floors for two large army tents. One that would hold all our furniture and the other for us to live in. In the far end of the tent, we had beds (actually box springs and mattresses) all pushed together, and there were dressers separating the bed area from the "living" area. The front portion held our 12 ft. dining table, a wood stove, couch, and TV. (We went from June 30 - August 26 without watching TV - try that these days!)

This was our home for a year and a half.

The kids all slept in the tent, while Mom and Dad slept in the camper. We hauled our water from the "bottom of the hill" to "the top of the hill" in a huge plastic container that we'd strap to the front of the VW. And, yes, we used a porta potty.

I have naturally curly hair that requires a bit of maintenance, so every morning (at least school mornings) I would wash/wet my hair at the well at the bottom of the hill before I got on the school bus. In the winter, too! I would wet it directly from the well (talk about a head ache) and shake it out and wait for the bus with wet hair... by the time I'd get on the bus the kids used to like to feel it because it was frozen and made a cracking sound! Oh the sacrifices you make for beauty!

We used our wood stove in the winter to warm our clothes before putting them on. The top of it had a diamond shape pattern to it... and it wasn't unusual when I'd be sitting in class later and look down at my shirt and find a natural argyle pattern "burnt" into the front of my sweater. I had socks with the exact same pattern. Go figure.

We had some fun times in those tent days.

We killed a snake that had wrapped itself up in our hanging clothes.

Our baby sister, Kristin, fell out of the side of the tent while sleeping one night... I believe Valerie caught her by the foot before she hit anything.

I got a bit of a jolt of lightning one time standing outside during a thunderstorm.

And for some reason, we had tons of visitors who made their way up our hill!

Tomorrow marks another big event for my family...


Kelly said...

You could write a book about this!
What freaks me out a little is your mom was only a little older than me and she had 11 kids!!! I'm just now working on one! ha! I can't even begin to imagine that and THEN moving across the country to live in a tent.
P.S. I was looking at the picture of your family and you look EXACTLY like your mom in that picture.

Kristin said...

Actually...I fell out of the tent twice. The first time resulted in the scar on my chin (dad's butterfly). The second time I fell out, Val caught me by the ankle. Remember when I caught my blanket on fire because I was trying to "warm" it on the stove?