"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Jul 8, 2012


Circa 1950's
I read John Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charley: In Search of America for the first time in 2010.  It followed one of the more horrific domino-effects in my life involving the loss of my pet, mate, career and lifestyle, in that order. Penniless, I could only dream of traversing the country with a faithful, four-legged pal in a tidy motor home, documenting our experiences along the way.

We all deal with grief and sorrow in our own way; mine is to take dramatic leaps, whether of faith or stupidly is still up in the air.  Following the untimely death of my young husband in the early 90’s, Plan B eventually turned into a dozen years of life as a gourd artist on my trawler, Ruff Life, in Puerto Rico.  Being childless, I can afford to go nuts now and then, but after Sis found this old photo, perhaps it was in the cards.

I didn’t do it single-handedly; my then-Captain guided my path, until his path led him elsewhere.  Which is why I, too, am alone again but for Buttercup, aka BC, in our current home:  an early '90's, 16-foot travel trailer, pulled by an '86 Ford F150 I just acquired from the original owner.  The colors even match.

Ruff Life was vintage, too.  In the beginning I would eye larger, fancier boats with envy, but my 31-footer was expensive enough to maintain.  Same thing with RV’s.  As a matter of fact, life in the trailer is quite similar to life afloat, except, as pal Joey reminds me,
MIB 3 Hangout
“It won’t sink.”  And that says a lot in my book.

Gotta stop here to explain this photo, taken around 2007 or 8, in La Parguera, Puerto Rico, my then-home. One day I looked out my window and saw this gorgeous yacht parked off my starboard bow.  Being the only other boat in the anchorage, I dinghied over to see if they needed anything (cup of sugar?); just trying to be friendly.  No, thanks, the crew member smiled; they were just fine.

Later in the day I was told by a local that Tommy Lee Jones, a favorite of mine, was on board, and that they were scouting locations for MIB 3.  I guess that's as good an excuse any any.  No, I never saw him, or Will Smith either and trust me I peeked.  So close and yet so far...darn.

I am ashamed to say that while 9/11 was happening I was out snorkeling (and my only sibling, Hillary, worked in Manhattan),  oblivious to all else.  That’s how it was with most things; not out of conscious choice but because I just didn’t have any decent radio or television reception in the anchorage.  After awhile, you don’t miss hearing bad news.

Cell phones were still bulky things when I left in 1997, and I didn’t get a computer on board until 2006 or 7, but since I had to carefully monitor my power consumption I hardly turned it on.  Therefore, I’ve been so far behind everyone else technologically, I often overload.

My ignorance is often perceived as early senility, and I am treated thus as I lamely explain why I haven't a clue.  Young people nod pleasantly until I mention living incommunicado on the boat.

“You lived on a boat?!”  Suddenly it’s an old E.F. Hutton commercial.  Yes, yes, you, too, can take off to the Carib for a mid-life crisis, with someone you’ve known less than 6 months, on a tug you bought sight-unseen.

I guess I’m an adventuress, but also a traditionalist. The past two years I’ve been missing the way things were before I left, which only brings to mind the way things were when I was a kid, like decent candy bars and no guns in schools.  Our parents disagreed over politics but still enjoyed dinner parties with one another.  Maybe I’m being idealistic, but after living so minimally for so long, one's thinking can't help but change.

I've finally learned to acknowledge my limitations and embrace my quirks.  I’m not meant to be another travel writer/photographer; there are plenty of people who can more accurately describe and document routes and history.  Besides, I’m too much of a Weisen-Heimer (wise-cracker), as Dad used to call me, and people with tight schedules need short & sweet itineraries, without the sarcasm.  I'm more comfortable with the late, greats Erma Bombeck and Andy Rooney's anecdotal styles, with perhaps a bit of Christopher Hitchens thrown in for good measure.

For example, while walking back to my RV park from the hokey, adorable, General Store, enjoying my orange crème bar, I spotted a black man sitting under a tree, reading a book. His interesting hat initially drew my attention.  Why mention the scene at all?  Because one thing this ‘Jersey girl finds particularly disturbing, amidst all this Southern Oregon splendor, is the number of Confederate flags plastered on barns.

My own self expression
I know it’s freedom of expression, but am I missing some other point? People agreed with my disdain yet shrug and politely change the subject.  I don’t know what I expect; not a barn-burning, certainly.  Open discussion, at least; the appearance of wanting change.

But people seem to be afraid to speak their minds more than what I remember.  I received my first piece of hate mail following the publication of an opinion (religion vs. medicine).  This person was not satisfied with having his rebuttal published several days later; but tracked down my address to rant more viciously.  I guess that's what happens nowadays:  unpopular opinions are shot down, or the deliverer is simply shot.

Of course, I'm told...what did you expect?

“Hello,” I said to the man as I walked past.  He replied, then returned to his reading.  We were the only two souls in sight; how can one pass without speaking? And how much of an interruption was it to him?  It’s like walking down a hallway with a person coming towards you who stares at the ceiling.

I remembered a stern warning from an elderly neighbor, right before I left my haven of the past two-years,

“Be careful...you're too trusting…there are bad people out there.”

But I refuse to assume everyone I meet is a potential threat.  You get what you put out; besides, little did she know.  I may only be 5'2" but I’ve faced down Dominican graft-seekers, street dog packs, the U.S. Coast Guard and even took on an octopus which fought me for a seashell.  He won, but I put up a good fight.  Who says only men can have a Napoleonic complex?

“I just wish…”

“What, Mother?”

“I just wish…you were more…normal.

I don’t know what she expected; she raised me.  Encouraged me to be curious; taught basic moral rights and wrongs (nothing extremist); and continues to believe in the good in people, bless her, even after being taken advantage of financially.  Shame on those people, preying on the elderly; they obviously never had decent parents of their own.

It’s those very qualities which gives me the courage to begin my current trek, at age 57.  It feels right, down to my core.  I've pared down my belongings to suit my needs, and surrounded myself with a few of my favorite things; if it’s not functional or sentimental, it’s toast.  My penchant for painstakingly gluing together broken treasures, pretending I'm the archaeologist I've secretly longed to be, has come in handy while trying to fit 40 years of memories in 128 square feet. Looking around always soothes my soul.

I’m not quite sure what I’m ultimately meant to do, or be, but without conscious planning, it seems I am living a dream I must have had all my life.  I hung a poster in my room as a kid which I still visualize: a hippy gal with a backpack, sitting on a curb, with the slogan,

“I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way.”

Share our journey!
Andrea and BC

Update January 2021:  If you managed to get through all this, thank you.  Now here's the next 10 years in a single post, "A Decade of Homes."  Or Overcoming Obstacles.

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Original gourd art designs Copyright 2020 Andrea Jansen Designs. Please write for permission.



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