Many years ago my little family embarked on what seemed like a journey of epic proportions. Native Texans, who’d never even had a proper interstate vacation, we found ourselves in the midst of a major move to North Dakota.
Studly had gotten the first of several important promotions in his career. To move up with his company we literally had to move “up.” It was a big deal for us, and an opportunity to make our lives better, so in spite of the heartache of leaving our families back in Texas we embraced this move to the unknown.
That’s not to say that there weren’t tears. Our eight year-old daughter cried for at least the first two hours of the 13 hour drive. I cried almost that long. We waited for Christmas break to make our move so the kids could start a new semester in Linton, North Dakota. The gray December skies outside our car matched our moods.
Studly who had been living in North Dakota for the better part of two months, had flown home to Amarillo to drive with us to our new home. Our belongings were following in a moving truck. There were four humans–Studly, our son J, daughter A, and me in our small car, along with one medium sized hyperactive dog and a doped up cat. Surprisingly we traveled well as a group, stopping only for meals and potty breaks, and we made good time.
Somewhere in the sand hills of Nebraska we decided to look for a place to stay for the night. We were north of North Platte and south of Ogallala on highway 87 when I spotted a sign advertising a motel eight miles off the main highway. Studly pointed the car west and soon we were pulling into the parking lot of an old fashioned motor court, the Shady Lady Motel, with a sign in the front window that read, “Where Strangers Become Friends.”
The name of the motel and the sign should have been enough to make us think twice about staying the night, but we were exhausted so Studly went ahead and rented a room. We stayed exactly three minutes. Nothing about the room made us want to stay–not the cobwebs in the corners or the mouse droppings on the floor or the weird toilet/shower combination situated next to the ancient television set. I insisted that Studly march right back into the office and check us out. For once he listened to me and we got back on the road.
Less than 30 miles from the Shady Lady we came upon the Thunderbird motel at a major crossroads. To the west lay Ogallala, Nebraska, and to the north lay Pierre, South Dakota. The Thunderbird was a clean, inexpensive, welcoming oasis on our journey. The pets were more than happy to get out of the car and soon snuggled together in one of the rooms–a phenomenon that would never occur again, but the cat was still stoned on tranquilizers, and the dog was just goofy.
After a good night’s rest we headed toward Pierre. At this point, Studly began lecturing us on the dangers of living in North Dakota. His two month long experience in the great white north had apparently qualified him as an expert on extreme winter living. He warned the kids about attempting to walk home from school. He lectured me about driving on icy roads. He lectured the pets about taking too long to do their business. By the time we hit the South Dakota line the kids and I were scared to death of frostbite, hypothermia, and snowmobiles, not necessarily in that order.
Studly stopped at an army/navy surplus store in Pierre (rhymes with “beer”) so we could purchase winter hats, gloves, and coats. Newly armed, we felt confident that we could survive even the worst winter in North Dakota.
Of course, that winter turned out to be one of the mildest on record for North Dakota, but it was great for helping us acclimate.
The months right after our move were picture perfect. Studly had found us a beautiful home to rent on the banks of Beaver Creek (crick to the native North Dakotans). Our children became very close friends out of necessity. I wasn’t working or going to school, so for once I got to be the mom who had chocolate chip cookies baked just in time for the school bus to deliver the kids home every afternoon. Yes, we missed the folks back in Texas, but it finally felt like we were living our own lives, like we’d cut the apron strings and ventured out into the wonderful, wide world. Those were very good days. Cold, but good.