… And the starry sky above, don’t fence me in. So goes the old pop song – but I’m not asking for lots o’land, just some small bits of it for which I will pay. Not too much will I pay, though – since I am not one of the economic or political aristocracy, for whom corners are cut and favors rendered. But I do have a point and I am getting to it, round-about.
A long time ago, when Sgt. Mom was first-term enlisted airman and only newly a mom, I reenlisted into a high-demand military specialty, for which act of reckless patriotism I was awarded a rather generous reenlistment bonus. (The last one ever awarded, since the broadcaster career field began contracting shortly thereafter, and the Air Force had sufficient broadcast technicians and managers on hand to meet administrative needs.) Of which the federal government skimmed off their usual cut for taxes, since I was not canny enough to hire someone to do my taxes for me who would find a way to minimize the ‘mordita’ abstracted from the bonus. But I was sufficiently foresighted to invest the remainder in a long-term CD (after purchasing my baby daughter the biggest damned stuffed bear that I could find on the local market) and to continue to reinvest the interest. And then I believe I rolled the CD over into another one, when it matured … which left me with a sufficient nest-egg by 1985, when my daughter and I scored a free round-trip home from Spain to our home of record – this being a bonus for signing up for another tour in place at the current assignment. It costs a bomb to pack up and shift a family to another base – so by way of reducing expenses, the Air Force encouraged a military family to do another three years by offering round-trip airfare home for the whole family in between tours.
By that time, my parents’ home and mine of record was the building site on their scenic hilltop outside of Valley Center – so we went back for a very pleasant stay over Christmas of that year, and I began to consider following Mom and Dad’s example. That is, to buy a nice little bit of rural acreage, and eventually retire and build a house on it. So – we popped around while I was there, and looked at some nice bits of rural and semi-rural land – not long enough to find anything that I liked straightaway and could afford, but for Mom and Dad to get an idea of what I would like. Eventually and after my daughter and I had returned to Spain, they located a nice little 3 acre plot of unimproved howling wilderness in the mountains near a scenic little burg called Julian. I approved their choice, sank my nest-egg into it as the down-payment and for the next ten years, every month I sent a check to a nice retired couple in Iowa. I think I actually visited my land precisely once in all that time … but it figured in my long-term plans, when I finally came to my last assignment at 20 years of military service. I’d buy a house through the generous auspices of the GI Bill, work for another twenty years after leaving the military, then sell that house and use the funds for building the retirement house; just as Mom and Dad had done.
And then … that plan was diverted. I began to like Texas very much … and realized that sale of a house in Texas probably wouldn’t bring me enough to build much more than a garden shed in California. And then the current political and economic situation put me off that plan even more. In the meantime, one of my jobs is for a local ranch real estate guy – I bring some order to his office, and put together the brochures for the properties that he is working … and I won’t soon forget the one that I was putting together, when I decided that I would sell my California real estate and take up something in the Hill Country instead. It was for a multi-million-dollar property near Leakey, with a beautiful green natural spring-fed creek lined by huge cypress trees, and I kept looking at the pictures that I was editing into the brochure and thinking, “I want a bit of that.”
So, about three years ago, I consulted with Mom and Dad (who was then still living) and told them that my plans were changed. I wanted a bit of the Hill Country, which I could at least visit on weekends, not something I needed to drive for two days to see. I was partner in a Tiny Bidness which was so locally-focused that taking it anywhere else just wasn’t possible, I was connected through an interesting array of people, I was a member of a local Tea Party, and I had written three novels about the place … heck, I even have a pair of ornate western boots, although the pick-up truck and the hunting rifle are still in the future. The die was cast. I listed the three acres with a local realtor, and waited and waited and waited. Honestly, it’s a hard tract to sell, not being appealing to every taste; on the edge of a national forest, miles from any seriously scenic attractions, no electricity (most of the neighbors depending on generators) and having to dig a well for water. Well, that was why it was affordable to me in the first place. But this week I finally got a bid on it which would allow me to break even on what I paid for it. And I took it. Honestly, what I wanted was something close to what I had put into it in the first place, although I think my ranch real estate friend is convinced that when it comes to land sales I oughtn’t to be allowed out without a responsible keeper. He thinks the terms are eh-to-barely OK. But I have accepted them – the sale goes into escrow today, and in another few weeks, the ranch real estate friend and I and my daughter will take a long drive into the hills to look at what we can see. I am looking forward to that – and having my own little bit of paradise close by.
Still, it’s a bit of a wrench – I loved living in California very much, loved growing up there, hiking and riding in the hills, being able to go from the seashore to the high Sierras in a few hours. I loved the smell of citrus orchards, and the look of the hills, golden-tawny and spotted with live oak trees, dusty blue in the distance, the little pre-war cottages like my grandparent’s house, purple jacaranda blooming at Christmas, and palm trees rustling in the wind. That California still is there of course – but in increasingly smaller patches. Time to move on.
(cross-posted at www.ncobrief.com)