My husband wanted, desperately, to go to college. Was at the top of his class academically and captain of our high school football team. He watched Saturday afternoon football on television for the half-time show, when they showed footage of college campuses. And he dreamed. Our community was a small coal mining and railroad town, and he was one of six children. There was no money for college and he didn’t know enough about the process to apply for a scholarship. So he went to work at a menial job, and we got married. When an older friend told him about junior colleges where he could work part time and still go to school, he leaped at the opportunity.
With my blessing, on Valentines Day (February you understand), we packed our meager belongings into the smallest U-Haul we could afford and left on a three hundred mile journey to the nearest junior college—in a big northern city.
When we left, the ground at home wore a film of snow, but the farther we went, the deeper the snow piled up. My stomach began to squirm. I’d never seen so much snow. Every mile we traveled the white stuff crept higher on the telephone poles, until we drove through vast tunnels of snow. What I was getting into?
Unloading, when we got to our tiny apartment, was a matter of wading snow above our knees. No mother to have a pot of hot soup waiting. Neither had the gas been turned on, so I couldn’t use the stove. Crucial: we had $5 and change between us for food. I didn’t panic, but anxiety gathered in my chest.
Most of that $5 went to school the next morning when I entered our daughter in the third grade (this was a long time ago!), but that left almost nothing for groceries. No generous daddy, either, to slip a twenty into my pocket. I bought a loaf of day-old bread and a box of non-fat, dry milk. The electricity had not been turned off, so until pay day, I made milk gravy in an electric popcorn popper, heated water in which to bathe in an electric coffee maker, and had an electric skillet for emergencies. My husband is a big man, and to this day I can’t imagine him bathing in eight cups of water!
That was only the beginning, and I’ll spare you the next few years. That I survived, including working full-time, is a testament to desperation and loyalty to a goal. My grandmother always said, “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” I remember thinking, if that was the case, I ought to be encased in character from my hairline to my Primrose Pink toenails. And the weather…. It snowed every Sunday up to and including Easter, that year. I learned very fast, to drive on snow and ice.
There was much to learn and no time to do it. Keeping the doors locked, I learned the hard way, was an absolute necessity. (Another story.) I drew on that moving experience when I wrote Like A River, My Love. Verity had her own problems, leaving home and going down the Ohio River with George Rogers Clark to make a new life in “the Illinois Country.” Her challenges were more physical than mine, but no less severe. I urge you to buy my novel (at a ridiculously low price) and read about Verity’s rafting life on the river: Indians, bears, vicious men, a young woman alone and vulnerable—and how she coped. Let me know what you think. I love to hear from my readers.