“I’M SELF-SUFFICIENT NOW!”
(NEWS FROM A NEW SELF-SUFFICIENCY COMMUNITY)
“Thank you, Hallie” for choosing Marjorie Bard as a Hero for her work with alleviating homelessness! Hallie is a 5th grader in the Thurston Elementary School in Springfield, OR. Their class had a Hero Project, and Hallie created a “book,” a slide show, and a narration about me and my nonprofit org. We now have an early starter for advocacy for human rights! What a wonderful project for all classrooms! (Her teacher, Sharon Orme, initially emailed me seeking “the” Marjorie Bard for a photo for the front of Hallie’s “book.”)
The title of this Cyberlog tells it all: the success of a small group of RV, van, truck, trailer, minivan, and SUV dwellers who have been living on “unused” land, collaborating on how to create innovative permanent new self-sufficiency communities. (If that land becomes less attractive for their activities, there is no reason why they couldn’t eventually move to another location.) They spent the summer growing vegetables for their own consumption and some sales to a restaurant, obtaining donations of 2 long-haired goats, chickens and a rooster – and 2 promised alpacas. The leftover eggs are sold, and no McNuggets will be made from Frumpy, Sally, RedGirl, Goldie, and Shrimp. Herman, of course, knows how important he is, and even if it isn’t dawn, he struts around shrieking his success. Co-op muscle work produced a chicken house and a shed for the goats. There is also a shed for tools and plans for a “multi-purpose” building.
I have two letters and many photos of some of their land, “doings,” and individual business products. My flash won’t turn off, so there are white spots on my photos of their photos!
(I am more upset that the new Dr. in this tiny town refused to provide my regular refills for a 46-year disability. The result? I cannot travel to complete 3 documentaries and the books that “go with” to show how alleviating unnecessary homelessness is really rather easy. My fight with Maryland politicians about the cover-ups of physicians who physically attack patients and commit slander/libel/assassination of character has exhausted me. I have not been allowed to earn any income for 4 years by a Dr. who had her license revoked in AR for “not knowing how to prescribe properly” and then moved to MD to ruin patients’ lives here. I should already have my docs at film festivals and books published. Rural health care is tentative; physicians have little incentive to live in “the sticks” and few with any specialty stay. The “Old Boy’s Club” of politicians protects physicians who attack and halt fulfilling lives. The elderly/disabled are ignored.)
Now I will begin to relate some of the community members’ personal stories about how they became the first self-sufficiency group that I helped to establish. They are the successful ones, but I did the negotiating for the land use that gave them a start and really chose the members whom I thought would work well together. (That does not mean that other similar community members will be chosen by me; I just began the project with trust in those I came to know from past experience with them. They live in RVs, trucks, a converted van, minivan, SUVs, and one man has a trailer that was donated a few years ago by an estate. There is a second community, and they are beginning to build their first buildings. The third is still establishing their “residential area” but has grown summer vegetables and has some fruit trees on the property. Two sent DVDs with photos and explanations, but are just “readables.”
Please remember that these personal stories are just part of usually long conversations. The four elipses (….) means that I’ve left out information. Also, sometimes I put the recorder in sight and ask if I can record, but sometimes I keep it “on” inside my open purse and ask at the end if I may keep the recorded material. If anyone says, “No,” I erase it immediately so that they can see I did. I do record all waivers as “assigning of rights.” Another issue is one of grammar. I have not attempted to duplicate dialects, and I have deleted the enormous amount of aaahs, hmmms, and umms so that the material is readable, It is also painful to have to search through beginnings of sentences changed to another topic after a few words. This does lead to what sounds too “perfect,” but something has to “go.” I just try to make sense of what the person is saying by deleting hindrances.
MELINDA’S STORY: I met her in 2001 at a flea-craft market near Ellsworth, ME. She was selling amazing beach finds that she either embellished with artwork or are just natural life forms that have “fossilized” and are beautiful/unusual – like her seahorses.
SHELL-COVERED GLASS WITH SHELLS INSIDE
She was middle-aged, but she wouldn’t reveal her real age, which I believe is about 65ish now. I recorded her story (in 2003, when I last saw her) of how she became homeless:
“…I was working at [ ] when notice came down that there were going to be layoffs. It was a shock since we just had had a contract that would keep us in business for just that for at least 3 years. A government contract for making a chip [ ]….We had other contracts too, and we all thought we had dream jobs. Oh, not the fancy kinds, but a nice place to work with friendly people and I was the bookkeeper for the entire company. I had been learning the new computer stuff and was beginning to transfer from paper to computer, so I don’t know if my job was bounced because I wasn’t an expert yet. Most of the others were line jobs, and I never thought that I was going to be bumped. A real shock….
“I’d been divorced for about 8 years and the lump sum I received had shrunk my bank account to $1500. I needed that job and the retirement funds that would have added at least $800 a month to let me live in an apt. a few miles inland from here. It wouldn’t have been a great retirement, but a steady income for an apt. for maybe $400 a month and then Social Security money when I hit 65 or so. I wanted to work as long as I could, so maybe later….and all of my friends were there since I grew up in the next county….My husband was a drinking man and as he got older, he began to hit me for no reason that made any sense. I never knew when it would happen again. I guess I thought that it had to do with too much drink, but I found out that he was sleeping around, and that surprised me since he certainly wasn’t a looker and he was always home for dinner. His nights out were bowling with the guys and if I went out, I would see him at the alley. I suppose it was something he did when I went for some weekends to my sister’s place to baby-sit for her twins. But soon his hits were worse and one night I ended up in a hospital with a split lip and a bad cut on my arm from a fall onto broken glass....I filed for a divorce soon and got the alimony checks. I think our minister made him do that. He left town with some woman, and I didn’t even want to know who she was. It didn’t make any difference to me. He wasn’t a good man after he sent me to the hospital and I didn’t want any counseling or anything but a divorce.
“The alimony checks kept coming, not that they were that much, but that and my job let me live a nice life. Until the job disappeared and I couldn’t find another in any city that I knew. There isn’t much around here anyway. We’re in-between some poor towns and the expensive Bar Harbor people, and I didn’t have any confidence in moving to someplace like Bangor or Augusta. I wasn’t used to that kind of big city. I saw their rents, and I couldn’t afford them anyway.
“I had always been someone who loved to roam beaches for pretty shells, and I had a nice collection of them. I kept finding these funny-looking glasses and jars with all of the shell barnacles around them and inside. I took one to a church fair and sold it immediately for $10. I couldn’t believe that anyone would pay for it since they aren’t particularly pretty, just strange looking. So, I went back to that beach often and found more like it. I don’t know how they got there, but I started to go to better fairs and made money on those jars and some other barnacle things on glass. People asked me where I found them, but I wouldn’t tell! Now, since I have to make money from the fairs, I’m known as The Shell Glass Lady, and people ask for me. I made up cards from old white cardboard boxes and started to give them out to show that I was a business. I’ve never been so surprised since I was a kid winning a spelling bee contest!
“When I lost my job, I knew that I had to live somewhere and make money. I just couldn’t stand the one room places that were cheaper, and I was talking to a neighbor who suggested that I might find a minivan that I could fit out to live in. I’d never heard of such a thing, but I watched the newspaper ads and put up a notice on the store bulletin board, and I got some answers. I found a good minivan and I traded my small Chevy for it since it only had 55 thousand miles on it The minivan had room inside for a chair that I could sleep in, a makeshift potty, a big box for water jugs, and a table, garbage bin, bag holder, clothing bag, and a plastic carton to hold things. I used my rugs for a nice flooring. I got a camping stove and a huge wash bowl, and I finally had the nerve to just move in and live there. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it for long, but I kept going to fairs and got some better fittings, and I was happy. Now I make enough from what I find on the beaches to keep me going. I even got a business license since they are needed in Maine. I sell sometimes in shops, too.”
Melinda belongs to my first tiny community now and is working with a male member to build a large “shed” with a metal roof for herself instead of living out of the minivan. She has added a line of items to her repertoire, including driftwood with little scenes of shell-piece figures. Her line keeps growing, and she spends a lot of time roaming riverbanks, creekbeds, and streams for unusual stones, driftwood, and odd finds. The minivan is now business transportation to fairs and shops not close by. She also shares an old station wagon with two other women that they bought at a home sale. They pay for their own gas and share expenses for car repairs. Melinda goes off for a couple of weeks after a storm, for that is the best time to find beach jetsom (she says).
PAUL’S STORY: I met Paul at an antiques show in a small city in NH in 2002. I found him living in his RV when I was just walking in the parking lot and saw him come out with different clothing than an hour or so before at his booth. We talked during a lull at the show, and I recorded his story. He is now living in the tiny community, still attending small antiques shows (his collections of old advertising and watches), but is now making beautiful wooden boxes (for any purpose). He spends the summertime planting most of the root vegetables and then the others do the weeding, watering, etc. as he leaves for his businesses. The women seem to prefer planting the vine vegetables from seedlings and all of the herbs. They have a summer stand at a farmer’s market for their leftovers.
“I never expected to become homeless because I’m educated and my siblings have careers which bring in enough money for their families. My wife left me after we finished college to go to NY for a show business career, intending, she said, to return if it didn’t work out. Well, it didn’t, but she asked for a divorce so she could marry “up.” I was just fooling around with various jobs since my Philosophy degree didn’t mean anything in the job market….I inherited a lot of old watches from my dad, and I always had collected old advertising just because I liked it all….I began with one tiny antiques show and brought only the watches. Well! They all sold, and I figured that I could make more money doing shows than in some company, maybe publishing or even a newspaper. I kept going to the shows and then I saw someone selling old advertising signs and he was making a boatload of money. So, I hauled out the signs and thermometers and took only those to a show and made money from them….And then the upfront money became higher and I wasn’t making so much or even finding the merchandise I needed to keep up the stock. The prices of old advertising went up so high that I couldn’t compete at auctions….It became a problem to pay for rent on my house, and I suddenly found myself owning a trailer that a church member donated to me in his will. It seemed like Providence was taking care of me, and I just moved my belongings into the trailer and hitched it to my SUV. I’ve been traveling through 4 or 5 states since then, selling whatever I find at auctions and flea markets….I have always loved gardening, but never had a place to really plant anything that I could eat and save money….I’ve spent a few years just barely making it. I got depressed and feared that I would get worse. I started to smoke, which was stupid since I couldn’t afford the ciggies, but I bummed them from everyone. I would have been drinking, too, if I could have bummed that.
“I spent some time at a farm where I did the chores and planted some vegetables, and felt better about myself. Here were important things that I was doing, and with my hands….I started using pieces of wood that had good grain and learned how to use the proper tools in the farm’s barn and sheds, and got pretty good at making boxes….I took some of the boxes to a craft market, and they all sold. I made money. I’ve been making boxes for sale for any show and now people ask for particular ones for their jewelry or photos, or whatever they need, like deeds and work papers. I invent locks for them, too. I’ve made some that are very large and some that are tiny. Just any kind. I can find the wood pieces at lumberyards and at junkyards where good wood is just thrown away. I can take my trailer and fill the back of it with furniture that has wonderful grain and then saw off what I need and junk the rest. I’ve even made my own teak table for my trailer, and I’m trying to find matching wood for a couple of chairs.
“I may not be able to get a real job in a company or college, but I can make a living using my hands and imagination.”
Paul is living in the new community now, and is a valuable member who contributes his innate talents for his own businesses as well as helping with planting food and helping with building a barn for the expected donations of more animals. (A few locals do come regularly to help with building projects.)
MERRYLEE’S STORY: I met her in 2000 while washing blouses in an expensive hotel’s Ladies Room. She was already there, washing out her things, and it didn’t take long to establish a conversation and connection. She said she was 59 and was waiting for her Social Security to kick in before she could upgrade her converted van. We kept in touch each summer when I got to Maine, and I found her again in 2004, ready to give up and move to what she didn’t want: a senior housing high rise in a large city in which she would be trapped into one room with no ability to travel and sell her unusual weavings. They range from small wall hangings to pillow covers to large room dividers and small carpets. I suggested that she contact the new little community and see if that might be for her. She did move in, and she loves the added ability to grow food that is not polluted with pesticides. Her zucchinis, yellow squash, and eggplants have become themes in her weaving patterns as well as her favorite colors of greens and yellows/oranges.
“I became a noviate when I was 18 after being in a Catholic school since childhood. The church was my life for more than 10 years, but our convent didn’t want anything to do with the outside world. I did….I used to make small blankets for the nuns, but my designs weren’t approved by the Mother Superior, and I felt that I had to use what God gave me as a gift….I left the convent with bad feelings all around, but I didn’t like being kept, uh, sort of a slave to what someone else decided…I was supposed to be obedient, but I just couldn’t when it came to art, and the first year out of the convent was very confusing and hard for me to take in….I tried jobs in grocery stores and anything working behind a counter, and I was always sad. Crying became a daily habit, and I wondered if I really did have the wrong habit. (She smiled broadly at her pun.)
“I took a room with a gal who worked with disabled kids, and she asked if I would show them my weavings and macrame so that they could work with threads of wool that were donated by a mill….That arrangement didn’t work out because I didn’t like her constant references to religious issues, and I didn’t have any other place to live so cheaply….I was just praying in a local church for some way to have a place to live, and outside was a little festival held by a group of churches raising money for their food and clothing ban, Some old hippies had driven up, and the noise from their big old van kind of shook me out of praying. I went to see what was happening, and fell in love with the most outrageously decorated thing I’d ever seen. I don’t know how old it was, but someone was a really good artist….I spent the rest of the day and evening with the girls, talking about how they traveled around and did all kinds of businesses out of what looked like an old school bus. I suspected they might be gypsies, but they probably were just leftovers from the hippie days.
“I didn’t care. What they were doing was what made them happy. I asked if I could drive along with them and sell my artwork wherever they stopped. My Mother Superior probably had a long distance heart attack from a chat with her Saints….A couple of months later, I was at a police auction looking for something I could drive on my own, and I found a nice van that no one else wanted. It took my last dime, but I got it and started to outfit it at town dumps..
“As time went on, I met a widow who was getting rid of all of her things, and I got everything for practically nothing….I got into some good shows and made a bit of money. I use good hotels for sitting all day in a lovely lobby, sipping coffee from a free pot in a corner, and then I wash my clothes a couple at a time, using the hand blower to dry them. And here we are….”
GWEN’S STORY: I met her in 2002 in a coffee shop near the MA/NH border. She was raised in a very strict family with rules that “didn’t suit her.” Her family wouldn’t allow her to pursue her hobby: raising bees for their honey and then making flavored honey. She wanted an apiary, but no one wanted bees in the backyard. When she graduated high school, she found a “mentor” who did have an apiary, and she attended an ag Community College to learn beekeeping practices. She is now a member of the community and is earning money by selling her handwritten book about beekeeping from an amateur’s POV – with photos and recipes. She won 2nd prize at a State Fair for her dessert recipe: Cinnamon Honey Nut Cake with Maple Syrup Swirl. She hopes to buy a proper apiary in the very near future and make herself and the community prosper with her business. She is clearing ground away from the “housing” area for her future business. Right now she is working with the goats and chickens.
BILL’S STORY: (2000): Meeting Bill was rather weird. He was lying on the grass at a highway Rest Area, picking long, rather “thick” grasses from the ground. When he had a handful, he got up, bent them gently, tied them in bunches, and put them in a long Indian-style basket. And then he returned to his position on the grass, reaching more deeply into the dirt for grasses that had dirt balls attached. Several people watched for a while, and then moved on. I was lazy that day and kept watching him. When he finally had enough grasses, he took them to his small truck and put the basket inside. He took out a half-finished small basket and proceeded to spray dried grasses, molded into curves, to complete it. I’m not sure how he tied it off at the end, but he started on a separate handle. He used them by “bunch,” not one at a time. He squatted on the ground and just spent over an hour weaving in and out. Since I couldn’t squat, I dragged a chair next to him and asked if I could watch him more closely. He didn’t say anything, so I just sat down. By then, his long black braid was falling onto his shoulder, revealing more than a hint that his heritage was Native American. It was late afternoon when he finally spoke. “You want to know something.” I was sort of tricked into asking why he was choosing a public area to pick grass. He just looked at me for a bit and then said, “You’re from the government. I know this is illegal, but I own this land.” I wasn’t going to argue with him, so I just responded that I wasn’t from the government, but was curious why he thought he owned the Rest Area’s land. He nodded and headed for his truck He opened a box and showed me a much-used paper that was a copy of a land grant. A long conversation later, I heard all about his great grandparents being thrown off of this land area. He was certain that he still owned it. We ended the day by having dinner at a truck stop, where a lot of people knew him. He had been living at the truck stop and Rest Area for months. The Rest Area stayed open until very late at night, but the truck stop never closed. I recorded his story in 2000, but the tape is now blank. I think it sat in the heat too long or became wet during a sudden rainstorm when I had other tapes ruined. I saw him on my way back and gave him my card. He called some years later and I arranged for him to join the community. He makes different kinds of baskets now, heavier, and with patterns, and sells them at places like Brimfield, MA and some local collectibles shows. He doesn’t talk much, but works anywhere when asked. He prefers being alone yet likes being part of a group which appreciates Mother Nature. I was told that he makes a wonderful cornbread that is “high and crusty.” (The group has made a solar oven.)
PHIL’S STORY: I met him in early 2003 near Fort Lee in NJ. His pregnant wife was killed on 9/11 in the first Tower. She was a stockbroker, and he a financial advisor for a bank in NJ. When I first saw him, he was slumped over in a chair at a meeting of a few women who were also victims of 9/11. I had introduced two to others (in early 2002) and they formed a grief group. They still meet to compare how they are doing, and Phil had joined in 2003. He had been more depressed than ever. One of the ladies was “watching over him” and introduced me as the one who established the initial group. I was reluctant to ask him for his story, but his female friend insisted that it was good for him to keep telling his story as catharsis. He didn’t mind the open recorder. This is what he said:
“I’ll never forget that day. She left for work but never came home. I never even saw my baby – a boy. I can’t even describe the horrors I felt; they aren’t normal, from pieces of people to crumbled buildings to the smell of fear that lasted for a month….I knew that she was gone when I heard the news. It was her workplace….I don’t know how I got through the months afterward. I sat a lot and just stared into space. I couldn’t work. I didn’t feel like eating. I knew I didn’t want to stay in our condo….I saw a newspaper article about women making a group for people who wanted to be together, but I don’t join things. I didn’t want to talk about what I lost. It was everything in my life….I went back to work but couldn’t concentrate. I made mistakes. I was asked to resign. I didn’t care….
“I looked through our closets and tried to put her clothes in boxes to take to the Red Cross. I just left them outside, piles of boxes with all her stuff. I put an ad in the local newspaper and sold just about everything in the condo. I didn’t ever want to see any of it again. But I kept the journal she was keeping about our future plans for us – the baby – and we two. I began to write what happened to make an ending to our plans, but what came out was really a plan for what I would do from then on. It became a short story and I keep it in my suitcase….I’ve been doing some traveling to find a new place to live. I don’t want it to be anything like what we planned on….The ladies here have saved my life. One worked in my bank, and she took me here. She lost her husband, so she knew how I felt. But she never got any money from the attack committee. She and Roger never had gotten married. They were widowed and didn’t need the piece of paper. I understood that. But the committee didn’t and there are 4 women in the group who had the same thing happen to them….So, I’ve got some money, but what should I spend it on? There isn’t anything I want that I can have anymore….
“You were talking about starting new communities for homeless people. I’m homeless; I don’t call any place a home. Is there something I can do that will make me forget what has happened?”
I didn’t know if I did the right thing by inviting him to join the (first) group. Would he “bring everyone down”? I talked it over with my best friend in the community and she said it would give him something to do and help others with their life problems, too. So, he was invited to visit and take a look to see if he liked the idea. He did, and he stayed. Phil bought a nice large RV (with his compensation money) and has moved it next to a pond where he is the financial “bookkeeper” for each person and one book for the group expenditures. He sent a Christmas card to me last year, saying that he finally felt useful and liked the people there. From what a female member says, he also “likes” one very pretty woman of about 49, and they play scrabble together a lot. I think that he will stay with the group. He never talks about 9/11, and no one asks. He seems, according to the letters I received, to have also taken to caring for the animals and is awaiting the promised alpacas. He has a book about raising them, and maybe this is a good way for him to have another family.
Well, that’s the latest news, and I’ll keep adding as I receive more letters and photos! (I still work daily with the undetectable homeless who email, call, and sometimes stop by when passing near here. More about them in the next Cyberlog.)
IF YOU KNOW ANY TRAVELERS WHO ARE LIVING THIS KIND OF LIFESTYLE,
DO EMAIL AND SHARE STORIES! THERE WILL BE MANY MORE STORIES OF
SURVIVING WHILE BEING THE UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS,
SO KEEP AN EYE AN THIS SITE!
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