Eight Years

Eight years is a long time to live in one place. 

Now I know that statement is eliciting a wide range of responses, from raised eyebrows to nodding in assent to thinking it’s a typo and I really meant ‘eighty.’  Our military friends are the ones agreeing, fellow retirees with a wisdom borne of long distance moves and uprootings numbering in the teens or more.  Those still on active duty read that statement with more wonder of what that could even possibly look like, unless you count that they moved back to a duty station where they had been previously, and then left, and then came back for a third time, so it might be possible to accumulate eight years in the same area.  But you’d still have to go through the actual act of moving, so it’s not quite the same as parking your recliner in a living room and leaving it there for eight years.  But with all the moves your path keeps crossing with the same people.  For us, the Submarine Service became our own very fluid ‘small town.’  When you get your orders for the next job, you most likely already know someone there.  Or current colleagues connect you with someone they know that is now there to help you with all the details of your move – what to know about the local schools, what the local housing market is like, doctor recommendations.  You then meet new folks during your time there, and thus you build your community, which becomes geographically spread all over the world.

On the other end of the spectrum (and those with the raised eyebrows at the idea of eight years being a long time in one place) might be some of our Stillwater area friends and family.  One thing I realized shortly after we moved to Minnesota in 2012 is that Minnesotans don’t stray far. At best you get a little creep across the border to Western Wisconsin, since you can literally walk across a bridge from downtown Stillwater to WI (or straight across the ice when the river is frozen).  They may move away for school or early in their career, but they seem to find their way back to raise families or later.  Dave is a case in point.  He grew up in Stillwater, leaving at 17 for college 1100 miles away and subsequent life in the Navy that took him all over the country – and the world, for that matter, even if he was seeing a lot of it through a periscope.   But he kept up with the local happenings in Stillwater through his dad, especially sports.  As commanding officer of the USS MSP, he made twice-yearly trips with a handful of his crew and enjoyed showing off his hometown and other Twin Cities institutions.  (Although I did notice that he did NOT ever make these trips in the winter.) He always said he wanted to go back to Minnesota when he retired, and when the job leading the NROTC unit at the University of MN came up it was pure serendipity.  There was no thought of living anywhere but Stillwater, with the plan to stay after he left the Navy in two years.  

Even after being away for over 30 years, we couldn’t go anywhere without someone stopping to chat, growing more frequent as he became involved in local volunteer activities.  I had to shop the frozen foods aisle last so the ice cream wouldn’t melt while he chatted with his old cross-country coach’s wife in the Bakery section, the timekeeper who worked the football games with his dad in the soup aisle, his former church pastor in Produce.   Thinking he was right behind me with the cart, I’d gather things off shelves only to then have to wander the aisles with an armful of cereal, coffee, and granola bars looking like I’d lost my cart only to find him catching up with a former classmate’s mother in front of a Tostitos display.  Pointing out a house heavily laden with bright pink flamingos as we drove through town resulted in the comment “Oh, that’s my old swim coach’s house” and a story to go along with it.  When I had California family in town and we went to the Fall Harvest Fest Pumpkin Weigh-In and Drop, my niece timed how long it took for Dave to stop to talk with someone he knew.  The result?  Two minutes 44 seconds when the owner of Candyland, who he knew from coordinating the Annual Lumberjack Days Parade, stopped him to say hello.  (Okay, I’ll admit the owner of a candy store is worth stopping to talk to.) I couldn’t even make my own friends without him having a Kevin Bacon Moment.  I hit it off with my randomly-assigned Washington County Master Gardener mentor when I was doing my MG internship.  At the end-of-year banquet she was talking about her younger brother, and said something that made Dave suddenly jump in with “Oh yeah —  Paul!  We ran cross country together in high school” and proceed to snap a photo of us together and text it to her brother.  I’m pretty sure I just thought about thumping my forehead with the palm of my hand, but there’s a distinct possibility that I actually did it.

Dave planting the infamous pinwheel at the top of Mount Snowbank
The pinwheel in a place of honor at the front walk after outlasting the snow.

But back to my original statement:  eight years is a long time to live in one place. At least it was for us, and we now had to focus on wrapping up the Minnesota chapter of our lives.  We went down to just one car in October, because I had only put in half a tank of gas in over six months.  We sorted through boxes and boxes of old photos, papers, maps, Christmas ornaments, and clothes.  (And I will admit, continued to find things that we wished we’d put in the garage sale.)   We raced OId Man Winter to get the garden set for selling, considering that if the house sold in the winter we would have to dig stuff out from the ice.  Ever try to get garden art anchors out of the ground when it’s frozen?  Not fun.  My infamous large pinwheel at the curb had to be cut off at ground level because I was pretty confident that if our real estate agent was going to nix my dog-on-a-bicycle-with-balloon decal in the powder room, then a faded $3 pinwheel at the front walkway was not going to fly.  I insisted on thoroughly labeling all the boxes and bins because there’s no way I would ever remember what was in there in three days, much less three years.  By December the place was looking pretty spartan as we focused on getting it on the market.

But that was the easy part.  For we also had eight years of building our community here that we had to pack up as well. This was when the reality that we were leaving started to hit me and it was the only thing putting a damper on my enthusiasm for our plans.  We continued to turn over roles in our volunteer boards and groups, feeling confident that we were leaving them in good hands because they were all people we’d been working with for years. So many things that felt like ‘lasts’:  a final camping trip up at Gooseberry State Park when the colors peaked a little earlier than usual and the foliage was glorious; my sister came for her annual MN visit, and we rented e-bikes to ride the Bridge Trail Loop from Stillwater over the new bridge to Wisconsin and back over the Lift Bridge to downtown (which vaulted an e-bike way up on Dave’s Big Boy Toy Wish List); Dave organized his final Veteran’s Day Commemoration at the Vet Memorial.  There was a Scarecrow Challenge among our neighbors (we lost).  Mother Nature graced us with unseasonably warm weather after a record-setting mid-October snowstorm, allowing us to enjoy a final Neighborhood Driveway Happy Hour and outdoor movie after a couple of the neighborhood girls put in a special request (or several, as in daily) for Halloween, complete with costumed adults, kids, and dogs.  There wasn’t much Xmas decorating at our house since we had sold the Xmas tree and ornaments were already at the storage unit, but our Roxy walks gave us a chance to enjoy the year’s extra abundance of outside light displays that brightened the COVID-subdued holidays.  We were once again reminded of what a great little town Stillwater was when small businesses and individuals all came together to somehow produce a spectacular and COVID-compliant outdoor light display that brought such a festive holiday spirit to Main Street in a year when we all really needed it.

Our entry in the Scarecrow Throwdown was not enhanced by the early and record-setting snowfall on Oct 22 this year.
Outdoor movie on Halloween in our driveway. Notice Roxy appropriated the comfy chair. Note the thawed scarecrow in the background.
Spectacular foliage up at Gooseberry State Park this year.
Downtown Stillwater at the Lift Bridge plaza all dressed up for the holidays.

The point of all these random musings – and I do have one – is that whether it’s been a year or two or eight, it’s always the communities and the people in them that we remember the most and have the hardest time leaving.  But it’s precisely because of this that we have the confidence and enthusiasm for this new adventure and challenge, taking the cumulative spirit of all that we’ve had and known along with us. Our many ‘communities’ have been focused around a shared culture and experience (the Navy, the medical systems in which I practiced), a cause (our non-profit volunteer work), activities (sports officiating, Master Gardener volunteers), or geographic (our neighborhood).  In all cases, we have been overwhelmingly blessed by and are grateful to the people in all of them.  We start on this journey with the knowledge of what awaits us – the Cruising Community.  We’ve already tapped into it through America’s Great Loop Cruisers Associations (AGLCA) for information and advice as we plan and prepare.  We’ve had coffee with people in Stillwater who have done The Loop, exchanged emails on specific topics with others, and followed blogs and forums.  We look forward to learning from them, contributing to it ourselves, and are eager to get started so we can share it with all of you. 

But first, we really need a boat. 

15 thoughts on “Eight Years”

  1. Karen – what a beautiful post; so like you! We already miss you and Dave more than you know. Looking across at your empty house really reminds us what an impact the both of you had on our little neighborhood and how much lesser we are for you leaving. On the other hand, you set a great example of what neighbors and community really are – we’ll always be grateful!
    Can’t wait to see you on your travels and we always have room for you here!
    Best Wishes!

    1. Awww — thank you Tara. We so enjoyed having you guys across the street and watching your kids grow up. Hard to imagine that we saw three of them depart for adulthood in just eight years! And Gabe — what can we say? He makes us smile every time we see him, not to mention our buddies Frodo and Bogie. House won’t be empty much longer and I think you’re really going to like the new neighbors.

  2. Such amazing memories in Minnesooooota! We can all still go back for holidays and make more memories jumping off of cliffs in Gooseberry and cycling over the bridge in to WI 🙂 in the future. But first… yes, find the boat!

  3. I was thinking about how we purchased our homes at the same time and are selling them at the same time. For me, I have been a work nomad and so 8 years is the longest I have been somewhere as an adult (with a couple of those ‘8’ really in Europe). It’s been fantastic to have you as neighbors. I look forward to following your journey!

  4. Love your stories! Looking forward to the next one.
    Is that ice cream shop still in Stillwater? Such HUGE scoops!

    1. Nelson’s!!! Yes, it is there. It’s a great story about how it closed for a few years, and then a local businessman bought it because he recalled going there as a kid and the memories he had. He didn’t change the concept of gargantuan scoops for low prices- wasn’t trying to make money, just bring back this tradition. And the line still goes around the corner in a summer evening.

  5. HI Karen and Dave! I just got connected and what a fun read. I have loved having you next door and I am still grieving that FOR SALE sign in your yard but I am thrilled about your new adventures. My advice to you – go while you are healthy and fit and able to really dig in to his wonderful part of your lives. You both were such an important part of the neighborhood and we will all miss you. I am so happy to be able to follow your travels. Take Care, Travel Safely and please come back “home” after your voyages are done and you are ready for solid ground again!!! HUGS!

  6. Your final sentence “But first we need to find a boat” was brilliant. Leaves your audience hungering for next week’s post. We understand your boat purchase will not be accomplished in a week. Finding the right boat is worth the challenge. Extra headroom would be appreciated for my visits, thanks in advance!

  7. There was a huge and loud sucking sound as you guys ( and Roxie) were pulling out of town. It was created by the vast servant leadership and passion that was leaving Stillwater! So many of us owe you such gratitude and although it was hard to show that with big farewell bash before you left, please know that your contributions were greatly appreciated and your leadership and stewardship and kindness will never be forgotten!! PS. I have a 13’ boat for sale. Will that cut it?!🤣. Safe travels!!

    1. If it wasn’t such an unlucky number, your 13-footer might have worked!! But I’d say that the King family volunteers and leads just as vigorously, and contribute greatly to our community. Heck, made me want to join the SFD myself! Many thanks and know that it’s “See you later” and never “Goodbye.”

    2. The 13′ would certainly be an adventure in and of itself. But if you’ve learned anything from Dave, I’m sure you know that if you sell any boat is actually code for “Gonna get a bigger boat.”

  8. We are going to miss you both so much!! The neighborhood will miss your energy and all the fun you bring! We can’t wait to read about all your adventures and live our future dreams vicariously through you!

  9. Dayle-Lynn Decker

    Thank you, Karen and Dave, for sharing this great adventure with us. I’m looking forward to reading your narratives and seeing pictures of your Seefari. Now . . . go get that boat!!!!

  10. Loved falling into your blog at this point and getting to read the first three chapters all at once. Beautiful writing, Karen. Can’t wait to hear how your new big adventure unfolds. Great reminder to all of us to focus on and continue to create more experiences with our loved ones. Memories are with us always – – – and things are just things. Blessings to you three!

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