Adios, Chuk Shon, or as a Milghan Would call it, Tucson–Part 1

I wrote this blog once and threw the whole thing away. It was maudlin and I don’t DO maudlin! Now I’m starting over.

After nearly 20 years at our snowbird preserve on North Camino Miramonte in Tucson, it’s time to say goodbye to the place we bought as a tear-down in 2001 and rehabbed into a gemstone. The sale closes on the 9th of May. By then we’ll be long gone and back in Seattle trying to determine how to downsize from two four bedroom houses into one.

So we’ve spent the last week sorting through nearly twenty years of accumulated stuff and deciding what goes and what stays. We’ve given away sofas, chairs, and patio furniture. We’re on a first name basis with the guys from Got Junk. Bill has dutifully shredded his way through banker’s box after banker’s box of dead tax records. And with every drawer we’ve opened, every piece of paper, we’ve uncovered a memory or two, some of which have been previously mentioned in this blog.

Among the receipts, Bill found the one for moving the palm tree in the front yard. It had been planted too close to the house and was damaging the shingles on the roof. We made arrangements to have it moved. When the guys came to dig up the root ball, they discovered that the main sewer line ran right through it, thus accounting for the fact that we’d previously had to keep Roto-Rooter on fast dial. It also meant that when it came time to move the tree, we had to have a plumber on site to cut the sewer line and then reattach it once the tree was out of the hole.

The morning of the big move, the crane and operator were right on time, charging us by the minute, but the plumber was nowhere to be found. Eventually he turned up. Someone had broken into his truck overnight and had stolen all his tools. Once he got his act together, the crane lifted the tree. The weight limit on the crane was 12,500. The tree weighed in at 12,300. The first year after we moved it the tree it was not a happy camper. It looked droopy and beyond dejected. Now, though, it’s the centerpiece of the front yard, and literally twice as big as it was when we moved it.

We bought the house as is, no conditions because, whatever was broken, we wanted to fix ourselves. The previous owner had a limited understanding of home maintenance. If a toilet quit working, he ran a screw through the door into the frame and bolted that bathroom shut. So when we moved in, only one of the four bathrooms was actually functional. The thirty year old shag carpets were so filthy that, as soon as we saw the dogs rolling on them, we made those rooms off limits. We had traveled down with two dogs which meant we weren’t welcome at our first choice of accommodations—the Arizona Inn. We had plenty of bedding in the car, but no beds. I remembered seeing commercials from a mattress store in Tucson, Bedmart. I called them from Picacho Peak and I-10 to ask if we bought a mattress from them that night, would they help us fasten on to the top of our Suburban. “Lady,” the guy told me, “if you buy a mattress from me tonight, I’ll personally deliver it and set it up. He did.

The thirty year-old shag carpeting was unlivable. At a quarter to five that afternoon, after leaving Bedmart, we were in a carpet store across the street, asking to have someone come measure the house for whatever they had in stock that would cover the territory. It turned out to be a white Berber that was installed the next week. But when the bed came home that night, the only room without carpet was the dining which had parquet floors. So we set the bed up there initially. Two weeks later, when we bought three more beds, the first bed was moved from the dining room to the newly carpeted master bedroom.

That first week we had the vents cleaned. It was a big job—big enough that it filled and broke one commercial vacuum machine and they had to send out for another. We replaced the dead combination AC/swamp cooling system with a central air Trane system that is still chugging along. On a Sunday morning, with all of that either scheduled or in process, we went to the local Bed, Bath, and Beyond. A young woman named Jessica approached Bill and his empty cart and said, “Are you finding everything you need?” “Actually,” he said, “we need everything.” Thirteen carts later, we made our way through the check stand. The order had to be broken into sections. We bought everything—pots and pans, bedding, towels, dishes—you name it. There was enough to fill up the whole Surburban with me holding some of it in my lap.

By the end of that week, with the carpeting installed, the AC running, dishes aplenty, and four guest bedrooms open for business we did exactly what you’d expect. We invited three couples to come for the weekend. There was only one problem. Other than a four chair and table patio set from Costco and those four beds, we had zero furniture. On Saturday morning, with Bill occupied with something else and company due at 4 PM, I went shopping. I took myself to Terri’s Design and Consign and picked out a houseful of furniture. I had the salesman put hold signs on everything so I could go fetch Bill and his Amex card to say yea or nay. He agreed to everything and added in added in a few more items before paying the bill. The furniture was delivered at 3 PM and put in place by the time the company arrived an hour later. That’s another receipt he found while shredding—the one for that morning’s shopping trip—$8900 in all. But it was enough to furnish an entire house, and you’d be surprised how many of those still second-hand pieces are going home to Bellevue with us.

My part of clearing the office included packing up what’s loosely called “the Judy Boxes” and sending them off to Special Collections at the University of Arizona which is the repository of my treasures. Among them, I discovered a small green spiral notebook that turned out to be my diary of a trip Carolyn Niethammer and I took to Europe the summer between our Junior and Senior years at the U of A. The placement office had found us jobs in a calendar factory in Bavaria. We worked there during the week and hitchhiked around Europe on the weekends.

Carolyn was a journalism major. Before we left, she made arrangements with her hometown paper, the Prescott Courier, to write travelogues. She sent hers home and was paid for each of them. While she was writing her articles, I wrote in my little diary and sent letters home to my folks. Without my knowledge or permission, my mother, the irrepressible Evie, handed over the letters to a columnist at the Bisbee Daily Review, where they were printed in their entirety FOR FREE. That’s the basic difference between a journalism major and an English major. One gets paid; the other doesn’t. But it’s as though Carolyn and I spent that summer practicing for our real lives, because we’re both long published authors now—and still friends.

This morning, while in the library and trying to shed some of the many, many books, I found several treasures. One was a bound copy of the 1961/62 issues of the Bisbee High School newspaper, The Copper Chronicle. That was the year Pat Hall and I were co-editors. Pat’s a retired school teacher now, living in Florida, but we’ve been friends since fourth grade when we spent hours playing with the paper doll version of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. (By the way, Pat found an antique copy of one of those years ago and gave it to me for my birthday. That’s at the library at the other end of the road where those bound issues of the Copper Chronicle will soon join it.)

Among the books I found two tattered volumes, both of them held together with duct tape. One was a Thesaurus. The inscription says it came from my folks for Christmas, 1960. The other was a student sized Webster’s Dictionary, from Pearl and Clarence Wilcox. They were friends of my parents from back in South Dakota, and they were most likely the reason we ended up in Bisbee in the first place. Mr. Wilcox was the principal at Greenway School when I was in kindergarten, and they gifted the dictionary to me on the occasion of my high school graduation. How smart of those people to know that I would end up making my living using words.

In 2004 we did a six month live-in remodel of the house where we stripped the place down to the studs. We fixed the electrical service. The wiring in the house was a disaster. The exploding kitchen scene in the movie the Money Pit wasn’t the least bit funny to us. It could all too easily have been a reality. In remodeling the living room we discovered that a previous owner had cut a hole in a load-bearing wall in order to install a pocket door. The damaged wall had to be re-engineered. We moved the laundry room from the far end of the house to the bedroom wing. We turned a guest room jack-and-jill bathroom into two ensuite baths. We replaced the kitchen entirely, raising the counters which were more or less at knee level for me. (I hope they’re not too tall for the new owners.) We put down porcelain tile inside the house and out, covering over a gravel-based epoxy patio floor that was death on bare feet. We painted out the white brick, and replaced it with a cheery pink and purple palette. (I hope the new owners like those colors. If not, Home Depot’s paint counter is only a few blocks away.)

Halfway through the remodel, at the end of March, our daughter and son-in-law asked if they could come to town and do a renewal of vows in our back yard in honor of their fifth anniversary. We shut down the remodel process for a week, long enough to clean up the construction debris. Then we hosted an outside sit-down dinner for 70, Never mind that at the time the kitchen had been stripped down to bare studs and had no running water or electricity. It was a lovely party, but even catered, pulling that one off took nerves of steel.

This morning, when I was emptying my bedside table, I came across my taser—the one we bought after an intruder came charging through our bedroom in the middle of the night, with our ailing dog, Daphne, who had almost died of Valley Fever two months earlier, growling and snapping at his heels. It was after that we installed impenetrable metal shutters outside the patio and equally impassible security screens on all back windows.

All I can say is, twenty years have gone by in a flash. This Adios edition of the blog will continue next week because we’ll still be here watching things being loaded into the moving truck. In other words, more later. Stay tuned.