Finding Home

By Emily Ann Hupe

One of the first things that I remember about our old house and property, was the smell. As we got out of the car, the first day we looked at the property, I inhaled deeply, the smell of the pine trees. I closed my eyes and let that smell envelop me and it created such a peace. I have so many memories of camping and canoeing associated with that smell. These were times during my childhood that I was truly happy.

The view from the kitchen window was not the best in the house, but it was the window I looked out of the most. I could look into the front yard and see the children play. Whether I was cooking, talking on the phone or getting a drink in the middle of the night, I looked out that window.
 
I always left that kitchen window open during summer evenings. In the middle of the night, I would get a drink and pause a moment just to listen. The crickets always arrived around late June. As the sunset after a hot day and the cool winds would blow, t he crickets would begin their song. I hear it now and it takes me back to my kitchen, my window, my home.
It was at that window in October of 2003 that I heard the words, She is gone, I am sorry.” It was in the pre-dawn hours of a Friday morning that I learned my mother had died. I would never again be able to stare out that window again without thinking of my mother.

I stood at that window breathing through the pre-labor pains that would bring my sweet, precious Wyatt into this world. As I watched the sunrise that September morning in 2002, I had no idea how this child inside of me would change our lives. There were moments that he would drive us to our knees in frustration and sadness. Then, just as quickly he would melt our hearts and amaze us with his deep thought and intensity. 

 At the time of my injury, Wyatt was just over 2 years old. His tantrums worsened after I came home with the baby and in a wheelchair. I know he was picking up on all the stress and confusion. He could not adequately use his words, so he screamed. It was exhausting trying to deal with accepting my injury, care for a newborn and meet the needs of 6 other children. Wyatt was happiest playing outside. We lived on 5 acres in the mountains of Warner Springs, CA. We loved our little Hippie House, our children loved it, but Wyatt loved it most of all. His favorite spot was the secret garden. The wildflowers grew in the back corner of the property and in the spring, it was beautiful.

All seven together!
After my injury, I could not get outside our house without my husband's help. Days were long and frustrating when he was at work. Then I came up with what we called "Buddy For The Day". Each child took a different day and it was their job to be Wyatt's buddy outside. This way, I ensured that Wyatt had a lot of time outside. We would try and plan indoor activities as well. Play Dough, cooking, Legos. When I became paralyzed, we had over $40,000 in savings and we owned two pieces of property that had appraised at $250,000 together. My husband had always been self-employed and our insurance coverage was not that great. In the first 4 years following my injury, we would sell both pieces of property and empty our savings. People are shocked when they hear this, but being paralyzed is NOT cheap. We received no settlement for the hospital error. We tried for over 2 years working with a lawyer to no avail. In the beginning, the doctors were telling me that I could be "cured" regain enough function to use crutches. We spent a lot of money chasing that dream, going all over the Southwest to any specialist that I could find. This combined with my husband's lack of working because he was taking care of us, depleted everything we had worked so hard to build during our 14 years together.
  
Fast forward to April 2008, almost four years post injury. Our house was in foreclosure. I did not think things could get any worse. We had about $500 and a 15-year-old trailer. We packed up our home, put things in storage and parked our new "home" on our friend's property. I remember waking up the first morning, I could not believe that our situation was real. It seemed like a nightmare. How could I possibly take care of my family in this tiny space and with no money? My husband and I looked at each other, there was nothing to say. It was one of the worst days of my life. We were broke and broken.
 On our last day in the house, I had my husband push me to the oak tree in the yard. As I watched the wind gently blow the tire swing slowly back and forth. I could almost hear the children’s laughter.  I could see them swinging, squealing and laughing.

Tears were streaming down my face. I had an ache in me so big that I felt as though I cannot bear it. As I take one last look around, I cannot believe that we are leaving our home - ur precious little Hippie House. We thought we would raise our family there. Then hopefully watch our grandchildren enjoy the house and property, just as our children did. All the dreams we had, all the plans, were now as dead as my useless legs. I felt as though as I was leaving my children behind. I was leaving a part of them behind, part of us behind. Their spirits would play among the wildflowers in the Secret Garden and their laughter would dance along the mountain breezes. I hope I can come back someday and visit our precious home.  We were leaving and that house would become a new family story for someone else.

Our Wyatt
“Take me home!” Wyatt would scream this over and over in the days and weeks following our move. His head sweaty his feet kicking. “Give it back!” No matter how many times I tried to explain that we were home, camping is what we called it for the first 6 months, I could do nothing to soothe him. “Not this trailer! My house! The red house in the mountains, the house with my yellow room!” This scene played itself out over and over in the weeks and months following the move. How was I supposed to answer those questions? How do I explain to a 5- year-old about bills and bad luck? Wyatt did not care, he just wanted to go home.

More questions came: "Will the secret meadow bloom when I am not there mama? Remember the smell mama? We would have a picnic every spring and all the flowers would come back." I would reassure him that no one else would find our special garden. "Can we ask the new people to give me my house back mama?" If they know how much I want it they will give it back. My red house my yellow room. My secret garden. The mountain house, where you “borned" me."

At our lowest point, we ended up on food stamps and at the local food pantry because we could not afford Thanksgiving dinner. It was demoralizing and humiliating. Not even my closest friends knew how bad things were.

The weeks became months and Wyatt and the other children slowly settled into life in the trailer. One day, Wyatt came to me and told me that he had to hurry up and grow up so he could buy the house back. He would tell me that once we had the house back that everyone would stop being so sad all the time. "You will be happy again mama."
My heart broke all over again.

We would spend 18 months living in our trailer. It was a dark period. It was NOT accessible at all. I was on the floor most of the time and I had a bar stool with arms on it that allowed me to access the stove and sink. My shower chair had to be partially outside the tiny RV shower, so the bathroom flooded every time I showered. We dug in and tried to save every extra cent that my husband made. Stephen took every extra job that he could. He worked so hard, day and night. We were not able to save too much, but we were saving to rent a house and get out of that RV as soon as we could.

I learned very fast how to feed a family of 9 on a shoestring budget. Luckily we the kids were younger and they did not eat very much. I made a game out of trying to use everything in the pantry and fridge before I restocked. I read books about what people did to get by during the Depression. I would pour over sales flyers during the week to find ANY way to save. Shopping days consisted of going to many different stores to get the best deals. Our children are homeschooled, so not only did I have help, they were learning many lessons on money management. We made a day out of it. I would always save $3 so they could get the 2 for $1 treats at the Dollar Store.

It was the worst of times for our family, I worried constantly about the "damage" being done to my children. Our marriage was on very shaky ground. When there is no one to blame, you take it out on the ones we love. They complained very little, but I know they too were suffering. Holidays were the worst. I tried to make them the same, but we ended up just getting through the day. I was relieved when it was over.

The day we moved into our newly rented house was one of the best days in my life! I could hardly believe how much easier life was. Money was still very tight, but I was an expert at saving and scrimping. The children were thrilled. They could have sleepovers, friends over, all the things kids do. Things were returning to normal. I was so grateful.

Today, there are still no college funds nor retirement funds. We have however managed to save a nest egg that will hopefully be large enough in another year, to buy a piece of land and rebuild our dream. The financial consequences of a catastrophic injury are in my opinion as devastating as the injury itself. I have become very active in informing people and helping to raise funds for our local disabled community, to help offset some costs for people.
I learned that :”Home is not a place…it’s a feeling” and as long as our family is together, we are home. I must admit though that I still feel my heart ache whenever I drive through Warner Springs on my way to the desert. I have never gone back to see the house. I did take a peek on Google Earth once, the Secret Garden is as beautiful as I remember.



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