It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

The Heart of Floyd
Image by fred1st via Flickr

I don’t have the heart to look ahead at tomorrow’s weather. We’ve just, er, weathered our fourth period of meteorological mayhem and have survived without incident (but at great emotional cost) a much larger number of risky trips over the distance to and from work.

I say WE, though it has been Ann alone, because I think it is as stressful for the one who can do nothing but wait as it is is for the one behind the wheel uncertain what might happen around each dark, black-icy curve out of sight of human habitation and a cell phone signal.

Following the curve of recent posts regarding this transitional period in my life, I’d just say that I have mixed feelings about being off the professional roller-coaster (never a ladder-climb, always more like paddling through a cypress swamp with occasional waterfalls.)

On the one hand, I would never be able to participate and contribute to the projects going on in and around Floyd if I was as full of work toxins as one becomes with full time work of any type.

But on the other hand, I feel a certain pain every time I send her off to be the sole breadwinner (now, and almost always the alpha income earner) while I stand in the doorway in my bathrobe and slippers.

I would have liked (I think) to have had an old-fashioned career (he says, not showing the tolerance for the same old thing more than 2-3 years before seeking if not greener than at least other pastures–if not an entirely different personal ecosystem.) You know, the once-upon-a-time career where you become part of the company store, growing up with the same co-workers and their families, building credibility and professional authority and stature, certain of an early, certain and more than adequate retirement nest egg.

But, as you might have read, my life didn’t go that way. Most of our lives, I think, found us making plans for A and ending up with B or C. I don’t personally know many people who set out on a career path in high school and got there and stayed there and were totally personally pleased with their choice or their fate. None of us have a crystal ball to gaze into for the clear and certain path. We put in our dime, and if the Gum Ball Machine of life sometimes gives us licorice, and we learn to like it–or at least chew-and-swallow and go on.

But at (almost) 62 it seems a bit pathetic to be wondering what I’m going to do when I grow up. And it is also a gift; a gift of great cost I take the measure of every time she’s out there–somewhere, alone, praying to make it around the next bend, make it one more mile, to see the floodlights on this old farmhouse we have grown to know and love; to make it home to this odd household ecosystem that somehow, more or less, works. And is going in fits and starts, in summer storms and winter snows–somewhere.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Career? More like careen, but we’ll bump along at random and see where we end up! This is the spaghetti-on-the-wall phase of my avocational life. We’ll see what sticks!

  2. I followed in your footsteps, Fred, even before I met you… I did the “real” career, and then found a way to step away and pursue a new career (if one can call an activity a career if it has no (or limited) income) in writing. A funny thing happened along the way at my house: my wife lost her job as an instructor at our famed local institution of higher education almost simultaneously. So much for earning that PhD! So our plan to have her bring home the bacon while I wave her off wearing slippers and a bathrobe has, shall we say, been forced to evolve.
    My days are much the same as when I had the job, at least in the sense of awaking at dawn and motoring to the office and back home again for dinner. The difference is that there’s much less stress and responsibility in between. However, real live income would be welcome sometime (soon!), as much for validation of the decision to pursue this life as the pleasure of keeping the bill-collectors at bay.
    Interestingly, the career into which the current one sprang was similar to what you described as an ideal: the family-owned “company store” business with long-term employees and hard-earned co-dependent relationships. Yes, it had many benefits of the heart, if not the pocketbook, but the wear-and-tear are inestimable over years and multiple stresses (compounded in our case by a significant embezzlement from someone we thought to be a friend).
    My regret is not that I send my wife off to bring home the bacon, but that she’s been robbed of the opportunity. I would be happier if she were.
    Researching and writing my first two books (soon to be released; please stay tuned for further developments) has been one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life. Two people I got to know during these processes are dead within the past 8 months. Interestingly, both were my same age (55). It’s almost become trite to say it, but life is not about the destination; it’s about the trip. Every day is an education in learning how. From this school, I’m not sure we ever graduate.