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.

28 thoughts on “Adios, Chuk Shon, or as a Milghan Would call it, Tucson–Part 1

  1. So good to know that Bill is well enough to be doing all of this. Last I remember hearing he was not with you because of illness. It is HARD to sort through all of the detritus of a life, even half a life. I disposed of things when I left San Diego that I greatly regret losing, and kept things that I can’t imagine why I did. I hope your picking and choosing goes better.

  2. Great blog, as usual: I marvel at the energy you both have! Memories flood in and we love having you share them with us: good luck to you. I will be a little sad to know that you are not present in Tucson area anymore. And I agree, it is nice that Bill feels well enough to dive into this huge project! Sending love!

  3. Sad and sweet all at once is how I’m guessing you’re feeling as you go through the moving process. Frank & I are house hunting and, hopefully, we will be doing that soon.
    I remember your lovely home from the time you invited us to a party when you had your sorority sisters there. With all the work you put into that beautiful place, I can imagine all the memories that come swirling back.

    It was always fun telling my far away friends that J A Jance lives in “my” town. Now I have to change it to “she used to live in my town”.

    Looking forward to a blog of what all may happen as you continue to sort through belongings and what you decide to keep, etc.

    Good Luck with this major undertaking. Your friends, Janice & Frank.

  4. This post resonated deeply with me. In 2016 I sold my childhood home (after taking a year to get it mostly cleared out of 50+ years of memories and… stuff (my mother was a depression-era pack rat)). My ex and I raised our family in that same house, so there were LOTS of memories lingering in the attic strata.

    The following year, I lost both my parents and had to clear out the house they’d been living in seven hours away from my new home. Boxes in the basement were stacked floor to ceiling (and it was an unusually tall room with 8′ ceilings!). Your statement about Bill having to go through bankers boxes of papers struck a chord as well. I found boxes of bank statements and tax documents going back to the early 40’s. I saved a few to show my accountant and have a good laugh over them.

    Boxes containing books were a challenge to pull down from six feet up (I’m only 5’1″), but my least favorite was the one containing the boat anchor. It was perched at the top of a stack! Good thing I’m a tough old broad and quick on my feet.

    All those memories, and so many more were unearthed in that basement. I finally gave up and just hauled most of the stuff home with me to sort through. The correspondence and photographs are my favorites, and finding small treasures (toys from my childhood) delight me, but what to do with them all?

    You have my admiration for going through all of that in multiple homes. Thank you for collecting and sharing these memories. (and I’m glad I’m not alone).

  5. Thanks for sharing your life with us! I now not only love and look forward to each new book, I can’t wait to read the next blog posting.
    You simply rock??

  6. Thanks for sharing your life with us! I now not only love and look forward to each new book, I can’t wait to read the next blog posting.
    You simply rock??

  7. What an undertaking downsizing is. I’ve run that race a few times and though I’m currently visiting my daughter in Lynnwood (which is why I was able to make it to your signing) I will be sifting my luggage to Michigan. My husband and I sold everything and have been traveling in an RV for the past year plus. He is currently working on our cabin in Upper Michigan on our property. Once that is done enough we will empty out our storage unit and try to make sense of where items should land. I’ve downsized four times and decided this last time (since it was more intense) to take pictures of some of the items I couldn’t drag around anymore. Once I have that organized I’ll make a photo book. These are decor items I purchased, and some my children gave me over the years, so they have meaning but no future home.
    If I had my way we would be moving back to Lynnwood, but it doesn’t fit in our retirement budget, so Michigan bound I will be with the few treasures I have left. It takes me a long time to pack because I’m so distracted by all the goodies I find. Its a lot of work but sure enjoy the memories as you go along.
    Good luck with the move.

  8. We are going thru 55 years of stuff in the family house. Even tho much has gone before as 3 of us kids moved out years ago and mom and dad are years gone, it has been home to my brother and served as our hotel since.

    Now when we visit the Phoenix area, we will be 15 miles from seeing you at the Poisoned Pen rather than the 1/2 mile we are now. ?

  9. Good luck. Questions abound. Why on earth did you buy that house? Why not build your own? The inadequacies would have sunk less determined people. Ah well. Many wonder why I bought my first home, in So Cal no less, when I was ready to retire. It has been 20 years and I have so many memories. Never a collector, I now find I have things from child and grandchildren. Now their children have added to it. I have been cleaning cupboards, closets etc for a year. Just had a call from my accountant this am about how long I need to keep my tax returns! 30 years isn’t necessary! I wish you luck, and good health. Stamina to keep on writing, too of course.

    • Yes, it was a lot of work, but we took a neglected Tucson relic (Built in 1954) and turned it into a treasure. It’ll be a real adventure for a family with two young boys.

  10. The timing of this story is ironic. I was born in Seattle and have lived in Mount Vernon for almost 20 years. Last year, my hubby and I took a vacation and drove to San Diego to visit where he was stationed in the Navy, then drove to AZ to see the areas you write about down there. After driving back home, we made the decision to retire to the Buckeye area and bought a brand new home sight unseen! We spend 4 months going through treasures, memories, and junk trying to decide what came with us and what stayed in WA. We moved in the 16th of April (just in time for the HOT weather as we keep getting reminded).

  11. I can only imagine what you and Bill are going through mentally. I know you love that house. Circumstance is a bearcat to deal with, no matter when, where or what age. I hope the next owner gives it the same care and feeding that you did. Of course their purchase will be nothing like when you bought it and had to remodel for your life. I hope the next year to come will give you a break in feeling overwhelmed and a lighter work load. It has to be a real hassle to shuffle between places. Enjoy your Bellevue house, pond and garden.

  12. No matter where you live, I’ll read your books as long as you continue to write them. I’m sure you will be missed here. Soon I’ll be moving back to Washington State just to be near my kiddo’s.

  13. Thank you one and all. The first version of this story was a lot of whining. And then I thought, wait a minute, we’re not the first people in the world to downsize. Get over it.

    From the comments, I think I succeeded

    • You most definitely turned into an experience rather than a whine. Many of us have been at one end or the other and can relate. I love your blog as much as I love your books.
      The year we left our home of 16 years, my husband made many trips with one or two items which left me doing the fun stuff during the summer after he moved into what was to be our summer and vacation place. I had knee surgery and was taking a class so the fact that my sister stayed with me and did so much of the work was a life saver as well as giving us the most time we had had together since she got married. My dad had passed in the fall so I started the process for my mother in August once I was settled and finished it the next year after she passed including clearing out things that she had not moved after we lost my grandparents. Memories, sweet, sad, funny, sad, can be as exhausting as the work but I am so glad to have had the chance to not only remember but to see the meories they valued. It was all worth it.

  14. I hope this does not mean you will not be coming for the U of A author’s shindig every year and that you will continue to come to Arizona for book signings. We don’t always make it to your signings, but we look forward to knowing you are “back home.”

  15. Congratulations on selling your house, JA, but Tucson will miss you a great deal. Love the stories and memories you share with us.

  16. My sister and I helped our dad tear out a pantry and remodel the kitchen during a hot summer week when we were in high school. Never again will I do anything like that. I have painted walls, but that’s about it.

    Moving is tough. It is hard to know what to toss and what to pack. Hope it goes well for you.

  17. Heh-heh. “I hear ya.”

    Most of our married lives my husband and I have been do-it-yourselfers. Not because we knew better than real contractors, but because money was in short supply and we knew if we cut out the middle-people, we would get what we wanted, eventually, and more to our liking.

    Funny though. We retired from law enforcement, moved to a ranch in New Mexico, to a gorgeous adobe custom build home of our design. Lovely for six years. But people and veterinary emergencies helped us decide we didn’t want to die in New Mexico and we trekked back to Washington.

    Yes, now…in our later 60’s we are doing it ourselves again. We found an iconic 5 acre slice of a former dairy farm in Lewis County. It’s surrounded by Christmas tree farms, commercial forests and beyond towers Mt. Rainier.

    We have a 84-year old Craftsman Bungalow tugging on our checkbook. And a 94-year old dairy barn (with a horse barn built inside for our steeds) that’s on the Washington State Historic Barn Register. It’s in your blood.

    Happiness to you in your one-house lifestyle. Memories can live anywhere you do.

  18. I am sure selling this house and moving is bitter sweet. I can actually visualize you and Bill working and sorting through stuff. I look forward to your Friday blog and enjoy reading it. It gets me through the time between your books!
    Praying for a safe journey back to Seattle and a smooth transition to single house owners.
    When my mother passed away 28 months after my father, I had to get their house ready to sell. Furniture left to me included the china cabinet, table & chairs and deacons bench and my parents bedroom suit. It is not exactly the same thing, but I had to rearrange my furniture, sell some and give some away in order to put these priceless pieces in my home. I would not give anything for these items!
    I cannot imagine unpacking boxes again for a move. I admire you and Bill for your stamina.
    You may have turned me onto a new author, your friend Carolyn Niethammer. It may be interesting reading about Native Americans, Southwestern cuisine and travel in the southwest! Glad you are still friends from high school. Life long friends are great!

  19. Sorry that you are having to move, but the labor of keeping up two houses can be challenging… am assuming that’s why you’re closing down one house. Am going through something similar with my late eighties parents… and telling my sister that when she retires, we HAVE to downsize now, rather than waiting until we are seventies or eighties. Turning loose of things is such a rewarding experience, even if a little sad…. letting go of old dreams or old projects is hard.

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