Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

OK, Now These Folks Are Nuts

I'm reading "Minding Our Own Business" by Charlotte Paul, which was published 50 years ago and is surely out of print. My copy is a tattered green hand-me-down with yellowy pages. It's the story of a husband and wife who chucked their comfortable lives in Chicago and moved to Washington state to run their own newspaper.

To say their decision to move was impetuous is a drastic understatement. Charlotte and her husband Ed gave themselves two months to quit Ed's job, sell the farm, find a newspaper on the West Coast, buy it, move across the country and start making a profit. They took shocking risks. The whole journey was harrowing. The work hours were insane. The debt was enormous. The entire book gave me a heart attack. Ed himself had a heart attack in Chapter 8. Compared to them, Ron and I are hopelessly conventional. Perhaps journalists just shouldn't marry each other.

The book opens in August 1949 with Charlotte and her husband living an idyllic life on a small farm outside Chicago. Ed had been laid off from the Chicago Tribune and now had a comfortable job in PR; Charlotte was trying to publish a novel. She left their small boys with a sitter each morning and bicycled to a neighbor's house, where she had a little office. Sounded great.

But Ed was a little bored with his job, so they decided he should quit Oct. 1. Two months to pull it off. One month later, the farm still hadn't sold, but it was time to fly to Washington and Oregon and find a newspaper. They bought one in Snoqalmie, Wash., and flew back to Chicago. Two weeks left. They sold the farm (for much less than they'd hoped), packed the kids in the car, and drove out of Illinois in the dark.

Then things really got rough. I read the whole book in a day, goggle-eyed, reading passages out loud to Ron: "That first day in Snoqualmie I had noticed that the [newspaper] building seemed to need a new coat of paint. We soon discovered that what it really needed was a coat of wood."

One of the most memorable chapters was about their first vacation. They'd planned it for weeks, it was a necessity, given Ed's heart. But everything fell apart:

"We had to wait until the paper was out, so it wasn't until 4:30 that afternoon that the four of us got into the car and started out. Hi [the older son] was stretched out on a pile of blankets in the back seat, nursing his concussion. Johnny [the younger son] was catching Ed's head cold. My face was so badly swollen I could scarcely open my mouth or swallow. Ed, our driver, was in relatively good health; all he could boast of was two heart attacks, a severe case of shingles, a head cold and a sacroiliac that had slipped out of place that morning when he lifted a bundle of newsprint."

When they stopped for gas, a state patrolman saw them and said it looked like they were going someplace.

"Actually," Charlotte wrote, "we looked like a wholesale shipment for the county hospital. 'Headed for California,' said Ed, gay as a pallbearer.'"

Amazingly, they did have a good vacation, although their house was robbed while they were gone.

That chapter reminded me of my own family's vacation to Washington D.C. in 1992, which Mom was determined to pull off despite everything. I drove us all out of Michigan after midnight in a rented minivan. My sister was ill, Andy had a very bad eye infection. It was just days after I'd completed my first year of teaching high school and my nerves were shot. We were all exhausted. It also turned out to be a good vacation and thankfully, our mobile home wasn't robbed.

No comments: