Papa’s got a brand new bag

cowboy_upMike has a picture somewhere of himself standing with his sister, mom, and dad next to a sign shaped like Idaho. He is five years old and wearing the same wide grin we get from Colin when he poses for a picture. His sister is wearing short shorts and his dad has the most awesome moustache ever. His brother isn’t in the shot. He was holding the camera.

It is unofficial documentation of their emigration, forty years ago, to the place most of them have continued to live since.  Not long after, Mike’s two oldest brothers and their wives came out to join them.

Family lore has it that Mike’s dad had been coping with a whole lot of work-related stress and the resulting health impacts. He found a March 1973 edition of National Geographic with an article about a little town in the mountains, and decided he wanted to be a cowboy.

He uprooted the whole group and spirited them from extended family, Ohio’s lush farmland, and Amish country. He was looking for something else. I can imagine he had only a vague idea what that was.

He eventually did become a cowboy of sorts, as well as many other things: a backcountry ranch caretaker, a resort owner, a mayor, an orchardist.

Of course I never met the man he used to be, the man he was before he decided to be a cowboy, packing his family up in a U-Haul truck like a modern day Tom Joad fleeing the Dust Bowl. I imagine someone different from the man we know now: likely wan and sleep deprived, even with the awesome mustache. Aging in that way the body does to absorb constant worry and anxiety without immediate complaint. He craved change and a little adventure. Even at the cost of a safety net.

He sounds remarkably similar to someone I’ve been living with.

Mike’s last day with the company at which he’s been working for more than a decade was Wednesday. This wasn’t an impulsive decision. He’d started talking about coming to work with me years ago. I’ve been doing this consulting thing for a while and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. I’m home most of the time the kids are home. I wear yoga pants if I don’t have a meeting. Why wouldn’t anyone want to work like that?

So while Mike talked about ditching the safety net of his steady paycheck, talked about giving up the life insurance and health insurance and 401k matching program, I humored him.

There was the time I humored him when he was interested in going to law school. The only law school was 300 miles away in the same little town where I was once fired for being a crappy waitress. But I humored him. We saved, and tabled a conversation about having kids. He applied to a couple of different schools and we talked about the type of lawyer he would be. He was accepted into a program and we talked about living on one income and a bare bones budget.

Then he went out and bought something extravagant. I don’t remember what it was. Maybe just fancy shampoo or sugar cereal or something one doesn’t buy on a budget. Anyway, I realized somewhere in there he’d moved on from the law school idea.

I humored him again when he said he was interested in televised car races. Suddenly we owned a copy of Days of Thunder and we were spending our Saturdays at the Meridian Speedway.

Then we owned an actual car.

It was a Mercury Capris, gutted and reinforced and outfitted with a fuel cell. Mike and his brother painted it red, and took turns racing the thing around an oval track while I tried to keep them in focus on a video camera, sitting alone in the bleachers, clasping a beer between my knees.

See where this humoring thing gets me?

And now he wants to be a cowboy, kinda. Or, you know, consultant. Whatever. So as of this week we share a home office, and he’s going to be listening to music while I want things quiet. He’ll be pouring through my files, asking questions all day. We’ll have to transform this thing into something bigger than it was with just me in order to make it work.

We’ll be paying for our own health insurance and life insurance and there’s no vacation time or sick leave or holidays. I gave the lady who cleans our house the summer off. Maybe more.

We’re battening down the hatches.

I think it’s funny that people we tell about this don’t express concern for the lack of safety net, or wonder that Mike would walk out on a perfectly good job he rocks and where people seem to like him.

What they wonder is how long the two of us will get along.

They don’t know we worked together once before. Back when I wore a hair scrunchy and he wore a cardigan. That was when I noticed how nice his laugh was and he made me mad by dipping a tater tot in ketchup and throwing it at me for attention.

But I went out with him anyway, and in the twenty-five years since, I don’t think he’s ever thrown food at me again. So if nothing else, we have that.

We’re opening ourselves wide up to something new, and likely adding years to our lives together in the process, which is cool. And the kids are looking forward to seeing him around more often. It could be fantastic. It could be a disaster.

If nothing else, it’ll likely be something interesting to blog about.


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photo by: anyjazz65


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  1. I love your writing style, Beth. I enjoyed this piece very much. Sounds like you and your hubby are in for an adventure! I hope it works out great for you both.