“Do you remember the story ‘The Grinch’ where the mean Grinch whip-drives his tiny little dog dragging a completely overstuffed sleigh up the mountain (back when his heart was two sizes too small)? Well, that’s how my father packed our station wagon for our move across country,” says twenty three year old Jeremy Stottlemeyer.
Jeremy is a California boy through and through. Tanned, lithe body. Blonde sun-streaked hair. Avid surfer, mountain biker, and healthy eater. But he never would have found himself “living the good life in the sun” if his father hadn’t taken a risk and moved his family across the country to start a new life.
Jeremy grew up in a suburb just outside of Washington, D.C. A nice community, if one liked politics. Jeremy’s father did not, and because of his refusal to play politics at work, he spun his wheels while those around him who wined & dined, wheeled & dealed, made career leaps to bigger and fancier houses, cars, schools, and country clubs. “There goes Joe (or Bill or Fred or Harold) up the money line,” his father used to mumble, seemingly without any jealousy but unable to hide his slight tone of disdain.
Jeremy and his sisters, however, loved their life, their school and their friends. But as Mr. Stottlemeyer saw more and more of his colleagues passing him by, he became to feel that if he had to attend ONE MORE LOUSY RUBBER CHICKEN DINNER he’d go beserk. Their mother had died of breast cancer when the youngest sister was five. Without his wife to temper his moods and help raise four young children, Mr. Stottlemeyer struggled.
Jeremy’s father was an engineer. He had no patience and little time for anything other than the facts. If the kids were fighting, he’d make them stand in a row and recite the facts. If any of the children veered into blame territory, their father set them back on track immediately. He wasn’t interested in hearing feelings on why or justifications, he wanted o analyze the problem, map through solutions, and select the optimal one. This worked great in the engineering lab – but not so well in the community or work space. So Mr. Stottlemeyer bit his lip and did his best while those around him left for bigger and better ventures.
Jeremy and his school friends were hanging out in the garage – the place where his dad kept al his cool gadgets and things he’d build – when the call came. His father answered and didn’t hold up his end of the conversation, which wasn’t unusual. Until he came out into the garage, as if to have some privacy, saw the boys and said “hold on” while covering the mouthpiece with his hand and walked around out back. The boys, curious, followed him while staying on the side of the house so not to be seen.
“Uh huh.” “Interesting.” “You don’t say.” And so on.
The boys quickly got bored and returned to the garage. Jeremy heard his father go in through the sliding glass door in the back and put the phone back in its cradle. And then Jeremy promptly forgot all about it as the boy’s conversation turned to girls, including the inevitable teasing about a girl Jeremy had his eye on.
A few weeks later, Jeremy and his sisters were called into the living room. They stood in a row, waiting to be interrogated, but were surprised when their father waved them to sit down. They’d never seen him like this – jumpy and nervous; excited even? Usually their father was unflappable – annoyingly so.
“Jeremy looked with skepticism at the ugly station wagon – packed to the brim with suitcases and furniture their Father had meticulously pieced together to ensure the best aerodynamics and save as much as he could on moving van costs.”
“We’re moving to California!”
Their father had a big grin that couldn’t be described in any other word but goofy. He was met with stunned silence.
The kids looked at each other and their eyes widened – in fear. And then the wailing began.
“But Dad, all my FRIENDS are here!”
“But Dad, I’m in SCHOOL! Tests are next week!”
“But Dad, I’ve got Brian as a lab partner and, and…”
“But Dad, how COULD YOU?!”
And then the stomping off ensued, with doors slammed and pillows muffling the sobbing girls.
All except Jeremy, who had remained rather still, stunned. Sure, he was going to miss his buddies and that cute girl he’d been eyeing – but California? Land of honey and surfing and oceans and babes in bikinis? Was his father serious? WOO HOO!
Jeremy’s excitement exploded. He had a million questions, and his father, who was still stunned by the girls’ reaction, reignited his enthusiasm and they talked about the oceans and the coast line and surfing and life in California. His father had only been there once, when he was working on a Navy project and spent some time in San Diego, so he had a lot of thrilling stories to share with his son.
The girls were a mess. They didn’t want to leave their friends and their lives behind, so they only grudgingly participated in the packing and preparing for the move. But Jeremy was the envy of ALL the boys at school and reveled in the attention. He couldn’t wait to move.
And then the day came. School was done. Friends had signed cards and had going away parties. The family had visited their mother’s grave once more where she lay in rest with her mother and father. Forms were transferred. The car was packed.
Jeremy looked with skepticism at the ugly station wagon – packed to the brim with suitcases and furniture their Father had meticulously pieced together to ensure the best aerodynamics and save as much as he could on moving van costs.
The family stood arm in arm, silent, the girls’ sighing squelched, and gazed upon their childhood home for the last time. Piling in the car, their father was in high spirits and even sang along (terribly!) with the radio as they pulled out of their driveway into their new life.
The road trip took eight days, as they visited what seemed like every single gas station along the route to use the bathroom or check the engine. They didn’t stop to see the sights – all eyes were on the west coast.
The chattering had grown silent by the time they pulled up into their driveway of their modest new house. Each person in the car sat alone with his or her thoughts. A new life, friends left behind, starting a new school and making new friends, missing their mother.
Jeremy had this jumble of thoughts going through his head as his father parked the car and the family tumbled out, stretching their legs and looking around. It didn’t look that different, but it definitely smelled different – more like ocean mixed with opportunity and anticipation. His father breathed in the air, looked at his kids and said with another goofy grin, “Come on, kids; you’re going to love it here. I promise,” and winked over the tops of the girls’ heads at his ally and son Jeremy. They all linked arms and marched in to check out their new rooms and new lives.
Thank you Jeremy, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Adara Bernstein and Story of My Life