Friday, June 7, 2019

I was chasing the American Dream


I’d always planned to chase the American Dream—I’d marry a guy who’d earn more money next year than this year. And more money each year after that. And we’d get a bigger, nicer house every so often. And increasingly nice furniture and carpets. New cars, too.

And I expected we’d continue our pursuit of happiness—which the Declaration of Independence says is our right. I assumed gaining more and better possessions would lead to that happiness.

Abundance. Upward mobility. Living the good life. When I was a kid and a young wife and mother, that’s what I assumed would be mine.

And I wasn’t alone. In The American Dream: A Cultural History, Lawrence R. Samuel observes that “. . . the American Dream . . . is thoroughly woven into the fabric of everyday life. It plays a vital, active role in who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”

I still remember the house my family moved into when I was about three years old. My dad had finished his duties in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and, thanks to the GI Bill, my parents bought one of the many new houses popping up.

Our house was tiny, but it was new and in an all-new neighborhood in suburban Spokane, Washington. It had one bathroom (tub, no shower) and two bedrooms (smaller than many of today’s closets), one of which my two little brothers and I shared. The living room measured about thirteen feet long and nine feet wide. A small kitchen also served as our only place to eat. But life was good.

A few years later, my dad’s employer transferred him across the state to a tall office building in downtown Seattle. He and Mom were all a-twitter because he’d be wearing suits to work every day. Our family was moving up in the world.

We moved to Seattle’s far northern suburbs (now a city named Shoreline) and bought a house larger than our previous one. This one had three bedrooms—I no longer had to share one with my little brothers. Two bedrooms were tiny, but the master bedroom was a decent size, unlike the one in Spokane. We had one bathroom (tub, no shower), a small kitchen, and our eating space was off the kitchen in one corner of the living room. Yes, indeed, we had moved up in the world.

A year or so after our move, our thickly-forested neighborhood was deforested, and hundreds of new homes popped up—houses a bit bigger and nicer than ours. But my parents spruced ours up here and there as they could afford—they added a shower head to our bathtub (showers seemed to be a status symbol for families who had taken only baths for centuries) and, years later, built a dining room off the back of the house. Yep—we were moving up in the world.

Because of the American Dream, I assumed my husband, Dave, and I would start small and move to increasingly nicer houses. Indeed, we did start small—living in a pathetic little place as newlyweds, later moving to a new-ish apartment at Richmond Beach, Washington, and then into a two-bedroom house on a large wooded lot. 

In 1974, Dave and I bought a house in Edmonds, Washington, an attractive and comfortable town bordering our hometown of Shoreline. Our kids, Matt and Karen, each had their own bedrooms. Dave and I had a half-bath off our bedroom (which neither my parents nor Dave’s had) and in the hallway, we had a full bathroom with an impressive shower. Moving up, indeed.

And we had a fireplace—that was another notable amenity that my parents’ house didn’t have. And it gets better: We had a sliding glass door off of our dining nook. We had definitely moved up in the world.

But I did have dreams of replacing the turquoise rug one day—soon, I hoped. It was in good condition but didn’t match anything we owned.

And I hoped to spruce up the dark-stained kitchen cupboards.

And it would be nice if we could change the master half-bath into a full bath.

And I had dreams of making the kitchen and dining nook just a bit larger by adding on to the back of the house.

I figured this house would suit us well for years to come. I was really happy—until . . . .

Until that fateful February day in 1975 when:

My husband, Dave, burst through the front door of our home and, with a boyish grin and outstretched arms, announced, “We’re moving to Lomalinda! I’m going to teach there!”
 A few seconds passed before I could wheeze in enough air to speak. “Where is Lomalinda?”
 “Colombia, South America!”
 I collapsed to the floor.
 I’d always expected we’d live a normal, predictable, all-American life but, without warning, my husband declared he had other ideas. (from Chapter 1, Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir) 

Any day now you should be able to buy Please, God, Don’t Make Me Go: A Foot-Dragger’s Memoir as an ebook, and it’s now available in paperback through your favorite independent bookseller, or the following:

Barnes and Noble (10% off with their promo code; 15% off for new customers)
Indigo (Canada) 

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