In the early summer of 1987, I was working at Unocal 76 in Seattle, living at home with my parents, and going to Shoreline Community College. After being out of high school for five years, I was finally getting an idea of what I wanted from life. One morning at the breakfast table my Dad shared some news.
“I’ve accepted a senior pastor position at a church in Illinois.”
Wait What?? With that, the detailed plan I had to get a college degree and a better job just got tougher. My parents’ destination: the north end of Chicago, at an urban church that had been without a pastor for two years. They would be moving in September. Their decision did not come easily, because their family was in the Seattle area and I was still living at home.
Embarrassingly I blurted out, “But what about me?”
I quickly followed that up with, “Wait…that was dumb. I’m 23 and should probably be living on my own already.” My parents said I would be more than welcome to move with them and go to college in Chicago, which was very nice and so like them, but at that point I felt that it was time for me to move on. I had no idea what to do, or even how to find a place to live on what I made.
About a month later the call came.
“My neighbor Carol is going on a rafting trip to South America,” my sister Jan explained, “and needs someone to watch her place while she’s gone.”
I quickly accepted the “job” of watching her neighbor’s home in Bothell for $200 a month through January 1988. That would give me some breathing room to figure out a place to live. By move-in day I had gotten a job at Al’s Auto Supply in Everett. My commute got longer, but the pay was better and my job was now more secure. It also gave me some schedule flexibility for school.
Built in 1912, the cute 800 sq ft house was more like a cabin. Already 70+ years old when I moved in, it was a very cozy study in what a person needs versus what a person wants. No room for want when you only have 800 square feet. The cabin was surrounded by much newer homes; I would imagine it was built when there was nothing else nearby, and when I lived there the street was still in unincorporated Snohomish County.
I lived with Carol’s cat – Angel – one of the sweetest and softest kitties I’ve ever met. But she did love to meow. She was the reason I was not able to bring my cat Byl to the cabin, because there was no guarantee they would get along. While it is sad that Byl died that summer, his passing did clear a hurdle because my parents and I did not know what to do with him.
The brown shingle siding on the cabin was straight out of The Waltons. The cabin had electric baseboard heating, which was expensive to use and not nearly as efficient as the potbelly wood stove in the living room. There was no shower, only an antique tub. The rear of the house had been added some time after the place was built; a window over the tub opened to the back room, clearly left over from when that wall was the rear of the house. In order to spread the heat, I would stoke the potbelly stove with wood, open the bathroom window, and then put a four-bladed fan pointed towards the backside of the stove to push the heat.
Within minutes the place would be at 80+ degrees.
Cabin November 1987, as I help my brother-in-law dig a garage foundation.
Angel would lie in front of the stove with her belly up purring. Eventually I would shut off the fan and go to bed. By the time I got up in the morning, the cabin temperature was in the low 60s and I would stoke again. Carol left plenty of wood for me to split and stack.
She also scheduled one visit from a Chimney Sweep during her trip, and he came wearing a tall stovepipe hat and singing traditional British songs from the 1800s. He was prepared not only to clean the chimney but to entertain. Quite a spectacle.
In January I determined that I could no longer afford school on what I was making at Al’s. So my education was put on hold, with the intention of getting some student loans and going back either in Summer or Fall `88. I also needed to find another place to live, because Carol would be coming home soon. A basement apartment at my friend Gary’s house was available, so I packed and headed back to Shoreline. This was the same friend Gary who worked at The Fish Bowl.
Today Carol and the Cabin are still there. The structure is nearly 100 years old and has been upgraded with newer windows. My sister and her husband still own the house next door; now all other sides of the Cabin are surrounded by homes built around 1988. The outside of the house still looks the same, almost like a time capsule. I love seeing it every time we are out visiting Jan and the family, because it reminds me of starting over, and starting on my own.