The Middle of the Story

This morning I dropped my bucket down the blog well. When I pulled it back up, it was empty, or so I thought. But while I was outside getting my steps, I remembered Paul Harvey and the News. Growing up, I loved listening to him on Bisbee’s KSUN Radio because he always ended his newscasts with a little anecdote hat added texture to one of the stories he’d already told. Remembering that made me think perhaps I should do the same. And since I’m evidently writing my autobiography in disjointed weekly installments, I thought it might be interesting to string several of those beads of stories in a row.

Several times when I’ve faced a crisis in my life, various people of faith have been placed in my path to lend a hand. Last week, I told you how Jeff and Mary Ann Swenson helped me leave a difficult sojourn in western Washington and return to Arizona to catch my emotional breath, not unlike the way Ali Reynolds was forced to return to Sedona to sort out her difficulties. (See any resemblance there? I thought so.). This week I’m going to tell you about my friends, Estelle and LaRoque Dubose (RokieDokie, as she always called him) and Reverend Mac McKinley of what was then El Encanto Congregational Church in Phoenix.

For a year or so after returning to Arizona, I was in Bisbee working with my Dad, who sold life insurance for the same company I did. In fact, that’s why I went to work for the Equitable in the first place. Eventually, hoping to be made a district manager, I moved to Tucson but when no manager job was forthcoming there, I was offered a similar position in Phoenix the Phoenix office—a job I quickly I accepted. When I told the Tucson manager I was moving to Phoenix, he asked me why. I told him because the manager there had offered me a position. “I would have,” he said, “but I was waiting for your dad to tell me that you were ready.” Wrong answer, and I didn’t let the door hit me on the butt on my way out.

But the three years I spent in Phoenix weren’t exactly a bed of roses either, because I was essentially a married single mom, stuck in a relationship that was spiraling more and more out control with each passing day. Handling the kids and the household were my responsibility. When my husband worked, it was often out of town. One Sunday morning as he was getting ready to return to Vegas, he asked me to stop by a bar on our way to the airport so he could cash a check. “Why don’t you cash checks at the bank?” my son piped up from the back seat. That was an excellent question, and one I should have started asking years earlier.

I enrolled my kids a co-op preschool situated directly across the parking lot from my office. It was a great school, but it required parents to volunteer on a weekly basis. So once a week, I put on my dress-for-success clothing and then worked at the preschool for two hours before walking over to the office. In the mornings I had to get everyone up, dressed, and fed before we headed for the preschool and work. When school let out at noon, I took the kids home where they stayed with a babysitter until I got off work.

One of my fellow district managers had a wife who laid out his clothing every day, did the washing and ironing, and cooked all his meals. They were also childless at the time. Even so, he always managed to show up late for agency meetings. Every time that happened, I wanted to punch his lights out.

In 1980, I finally had enough. I hit the wall and got a divorce, but the problem was, I knew I was still susceptible. I had divorced my husband, but I hadn’t stopped loving him, and I knew if he asked me to take him back, I probably would. That meant I had to get out of Dodge. So I listed the house with a real estate agent for and made arrangements to transfer my insurance sales job to Seattle where I could live with my sister. The problem is, once I made those arrangements, nothing happened—absolutely NOTHING!

As we’ve all learned while dealing with Covid, living in limbo is hell, and that’s where I was, stuck in limbo for months on end. I knew I was leaving Phoenix, but I had yet to do so. With no time certain for our departure, I became more and more lost. Estelle and LaRoque were clients of mine. Estelle was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas. She’s the reason J.P. was named after a town rather than after his father. Estelle was also one of the most positive-minded people I’ve ever met. One day while we were visiting she asked me how I was doing in that sweet south Texas drawl of hers.

I told her that things at home were so bad that I couldn’t even pray about them. “I’ll tell you what,” she said, “you pray for the little things—for help in doing whatever you need to do to get through the day, and I’ll pray for the big things. I’ll pray to see you in your perfect place.” Sounded like a good deal to me.

But things were still bad at home. I wasn’t sleeping at night. In fact the only place I could sleep was in church. Every Sunday I’d make it through the opening hymn, the announcements, the scripture reading, the offertory, the children’s sermon, and the choir anthem, but as soon as the sermon started, I’d be out like a light. One day the sermon was entitled “On sleeping in church.” I didn’t hear a word of it. On the way out, I shook hands with Mac and told him how sorry I was. “Don’t worry,” he said, “clearly you’re getting just what you need from being here.”

The next Sunday, for the children’s sermon, Mac invited the kids to sit down and hold out one hand. Then he reached into a pocket in his robe, pulled out a roll of one dollar bills, and handed each child one to hold. Then he reached into his other pocket and pulled out a ten dollar bill. He offered that to the kids as well, but the only way to take the ten meant letting go of the one. Not a single one of the kids did so—they all clung to the one. Meanwhile, I was sitting in a pew feeling as though someone had just put my finger in an electrical socket. I was still clinging to my one—to my old life. My house hadn’t sold because I wasn’t ready to let it go.

I went home that very afternoon, called the newspaper, and placed a want ad giving away my two dogs and my cat. Shortly after that my house sold, and we were off to Seattle with all our worldly goods loaded into a U-Haul trailer hitched behind my 1976 Cutlass Supreme Brougham that my first husband said I never should have bought and would never be able to pay for.

Yes, indeed, sometimes you really do have to let go of the one.

As I mentioned above, this is the middle of the story. If you want to know the rest, you’ll need to stay tuned next week, same time, same station.

Fortunately, I already know now what I’ll be writing about then, so for next week’s blog the well shouldn’t be empty.

18 thoughts on “The Middle of the Story

  1. I love all that you’ve written and look forward to your blog each week. You are real. Thank you for being transparent. Thank you for your attitude of gratitude. You are the best!
    Thank you.

  2. I really admire you for the way you’ve handled things and came out on top. I didn’t realize you had a sister in Seattle when you moved there with your worldly goods, but in any case your were “gusty” to go to a new place.

    Another thing I admire is that you didn’t sit back and apply for welfare as many would have done. You apparently have that good Midwestern work ethic and will die with your boots on. Not for many years I hope!

    • Dear Carolyn Ann, I have never been on welfare but probably should have been. Maybe we need a better system to track down deadbeat fathers who never pay child support. Would that be better than criticize mothers who are trying to feed, clothe, and protect their children? It ripped my heart out when I could not be at home when my youngest child came home from school. I stayed with the jerk until it jeopardized my daughter and would have forced her to drop out of college. I did not want her to end up like me. Some would say I am a survivor like Judy but IMO it did harm to my children. Oh and I stayed with the jerk for 25 years and through him declaring bankruptcy twice. I have a good old Scottish/ Midatlantic work ethic BTW. You are hypercritical and not supportive of women who are forced to go on Welfare. What kind of ethic is that? I think it is anti-woman and anti-child ethic.

    • Years ago, my husband’s company went out on strike. Because he had friends, he was able to get a part-time job. Things were tight but, we got by.
      One of his co-workers wasn’t as fortunate. He burned thru his family’s savings and reached a point where he feared his children would go hungry. However, he told my husband he was “too proud” to take food stamps.
      My husband asked why his “pride” was more important than his children’s health and welfare. That opened the man’s eyes and he signed up for food stamps. He – rightfully so! – realized his children had to come before his impression of what “being a man” really meant. After all, like all employed workers, he had paid into these programs for years and should have realized that he had earned the right to use food stamps.
      Do some people abuse social safety nets? Of course, just as some people avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Going back to Reagan’s lie about “welfare queens” is so unfair to those who need a helping hand at times.
      Perhaps, Carolyn Ann, you should consider need above your own personal pride.

    • Ginni
      Fortunately, we all know by reading this blog and Judy’s books that she didn’t abandon the animals. My guess is she rehomed the pets to wonderful friends and neighbors.

  3. Thank you for being brave enough to show us your personal side that you’ve included in your characters. This must be why I feel like old friends with most of them.
    Someone once asked me why I had retained many ex-boyfriends as friends. I’ve always felt the really good guys taught me how to act toward others and have helped direct my dealings with others. I never thought about the negatives having the same value. So, your blog has been a “Gram moment” for me.
    My grandmother said a day wasn’t wasted if you learned one new thing and you’ve taught me my “new thing” for today. Thank y ou.

  4. When the devil we know feels safer than the devil we don’t know…. For an empty bucket that was a meaty story!

    I’m on the horns of my own dilemma today: Yesterday I picked up “Unfinished Business” at the library! Why is that a problem? 6 other books! Back in May at the end of a tax season that left me no time to read, I reserved a long list of books from our library — the latest offerings from my long-time favorite authors as well as an accumulated list of recommendations from assorted bookies in my life. Those books have come trickling in a few at a time, so all summer I had time to read those and some I’ve had sitting around and to re-read some old favorites including Ali books in preparation for when JANCE IS FINALLY HERE! So, two weeks ago the trickle turned into an Arizona monsoon gully washer, and I suddenly have 6 other books “ahead” of Unfinished Business, all but one of which have other holds on them, so they can’t be renewed, and other people are waiting for them. I’ve put the remaining 4 books on my reserve list on “suspend”. I’ll renew the one without another hold when it comes due. I probably should read the book for my book group first; we meet on Wednesday. BUT …. There’s this turquoise cover among the drabber books and it is SOOOO calling my name! How quickly will I let that one jump the line?

    This is really a good problem to have, since as Brian Doyle says in “Mink River”, “No one can ever eat too many stories.” I might have to stuff myself with stories this week!

  5. Just finished jury duty in Bisbee, AZ. I live in Sierra Vista. I love your Brady series, recognizing the places you write about. I also love the rest of your series books and have read all of them Looking forward to your next release.

  6. Thanks again for your words and for sharing them with us. Every time I find some little thing that affirms me and what I’ve done with my life. Sad at this age I still keep trying to see if I’m doing ok.

  7. Many of us women have, for some mysterious reason, clung to a selfish, completely dysfunctional jerk out of misplaced love and attachment- As if to a life-raft in the middle of a stormy sea- Thanks so much, Judy, for sharing your story- The fact that you, such a strong, successful woman, could still be in love with someone who had basically nothing to offer for years, can do much to help those women who blame themselves for being “weak-” Change is usually very hard, especially when there are children involved-

  8. Staying tuned… reading your blog is just like your books, only better. This is real,with heartbreak, real struggles and lessons learned. Thank you for sharing.

    I’m still sitting here, reading. ?

  9. I enjoyed your blog. Since Beaumont is my favorite character I was interested to read how he got his name. I am new to your blog so I am starting your life story in the middle ?

  10. Judy,
    It never ceases to amaze me in hw much we have in common. The memory of a husband that was horrible from the beginning, yet I couldn’t let go. Thank God, someone came to our rescue and we acted on leaving.

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