Several months before we made the move from city to country I had my right ankle rebuilt and was laid up for quite a spell. I’m dangerous when there is too much idle time on my hands.
City life was on my hated things list and I wanted a place in the country. My wife and I had actually been looking for rural acreage in and around our home in Bellevue, NE for a couple of years prior to that. Everything was way outside our work-a-day budget. We wanted to stay in the Midwest; the question was where could we afford to be? Back in the days before computer access and cell phones, companies did business with fliers and magazines. I latched onto several of these volumes at our local library and contacted them via snail mail. Missouri, especially the Ozarks region actually had land priced to fit our budget—of course I wouldn’t find out why until many hard licks later.
Thirty-five years old, at the time, and responsible for the well-being of a wife and growing daughter, I didn’t entertain uprooting my city-raised family and dropping them into the wilds lightly. So I did what I always do when confronted with a tough decision—my homework. That included reading everything I could get my hands on concerning actually surviving in the country and formulating a plan.
A prime concern of mine was how to make a living. As it turned out my worries were well founded.
My wife Barb was born in Missouri and spent a good deal of her youth at her folk’s summer place on the Lake of the Ozarks. She had introduced me to that part of the country back during our honeymoon in 1970 and I fell in love with the wooded hills and hollers.
One of my planning fail-safes was to be within commuting distance of a major city—in this case Springfield, Missouri. If we couldn’t find work locally then we would just have to commute. Bearing that in mind we only looked for land within approx. sixty miles of the city. As it turned out, I would end up spending two-and-a-half hours a day for the better part of fifteen years running up and down the highway to work in Springfield. During a number of those years Barb shared the ride and also worked in the city. It was a 110 mile round trip, five days a week.
But that part of our story didn’t start until around 1990.
We started our the first year on-the-land with me working to make a couple of ancient trailers livable for temporary housing until I could start building the new house (that hiatus would turn out to be five very long—very hard—years, when our ability to hang on to the dream was severely tested) and Barb still in Omaha holding down a job with the phone company and trying to get a transfer to Springfield. She actually did swing a transfer to Kansas City about three hours north of the homestead and was able to stay with her folks there for a time and visit me on the weekends.
Through that first spring and summer that first year and on into the fall, I looked everywhere locally for employment and came up nada. Well, I actually did land one job, repairing electric motors and equipment in a small shop (a job I’d done in Omaha NE after getting out of the Navy), for a week as I recall. I made the mistake of asking the proprietor if he would please hold out social security taxes. That level of bureaucratic involvement scared him so badly that he let me go.
Near the end of the summer, my intrepid bride made the decision to send our daughter to live with me while I put the last livability touches on our homestead. I would enroll our six-year-old in school locally and Barb would give two weeks notice. She had decided that we were going to make it come heck or high water. I wasn’t so sure. Talk about grit—this gal has some!
By the time Barb made the final move, money was getting extremely tight and the dream was close to going up in smoke.
In chapter five we’ll look at some of the ways folks do make a living in the country.