I was going through some pictures of mine to share with you all and found one of the Minnie Winnebago we lived out of for five years. When we first became homeless and started living out of it, my youngest was only one and half years old. My oldest was only about 9 years old then. To my youngest, the rv was home. It wasn’t until we came to Caly’s that I realized just how much of an impact the rv was on my youngest until the first night over here she said..”I don’t like it in here, I want to go back to OUR house, the rv.” That’s when it hit me that her memories of what “home” is are based on the three of us living out an old Minnie Winnebago. She was only 21 feet long from bumper to bumper but she was ours and as long as I took care of her, she took care of us.
See at the time, I couldn’t afford childcare as it was $900.00 a month for both kids and my rent was only $460.00. Add to this the absence of child support and losing your job because you slipped a disc in your back and voila! You have the makings of homelessness. I knew it was coming and in April of 2004, we moved from a two-bedroom apartment into the Minnie. All the furniture we had I either sold at a yard sale or donated to neighbors and thrift stores. Everything else went into a small storage unit. What little money I had I used for gas while waiting to get food stamps and basic health care through the state. In the meantime, I knew I had to find work and fast!
I managed to find a part-time job working for a now extinct newspaper plant in Kent. My shift started at midnight and the place had its own private parking lot that was fairly secure. The plant was in a rural area so it was quiet and I made sure to park the rv where I could see it from the warehouse windows. My kids slept while I worked and in the morning, I would drive to the nearest grocery store to get them something for breakfast before taking my oldest daughter to school. She was so embarrassed by the rv that she would ask me to park down the street so she could walk to school and not be seen by her classmates. I did so.
During this time, I had managed to save a little money to let my youngest daughter have a birthday party. We got lucky that year and had an unusually early summer and to hide the fact that we couldn’t afford a “real birthday party”, I invited friends and relatives to a neighborhood park for a “Summer Time Theme Party.” I found some balloons at a dollar store (in fact I think the paper plates and decorations were all from a dollar store!) and did the best I could at decorating a covered picnic area. I was able to borrow a friend’s kitchen to bake a “Hello Kitty” cake and to make it look store-bought, I went down to a local grocery store and to my surprise, they gave me a plastic cake box for free. To this day, my youngest has no idea that I made it and she still considers her fifth birthday party to be the best birthday she’s ever had!
I had parked the rv on the far side of the park so as not to bring attention to how we were living. From looking at these pictures, could you?
As for my oldest..well the memories aren’t so fond. For her, living out of the rv was a nightmare with no end in sight. She didn’t care about going to school since school was a never-ending exercise in dread. What if her peers found out she lived in a run down rv? This pic pretty much sums up her attitude about living out of a vehicle:
I know it’s been hard for them both and I have done everything I could to keep them busy with all the other activities in life that everyone else has but all that seems to hinge on money. You need money for gas, money to eat, money to do just about everything but the one thing money could not buy was me. It wasn’t long after these photos were taken that I landed a job in financial services with a national company. They didn’t know I had another job working nights at the newspaper and I had no intention of telling them until my body forced me to. That’s when the migraine seizures started. I can remember leaving my day job feeling a little funny. A friend and supervisor caught me by the arm and asked me if I was alright. She was about to call an ambulance but I shook it off and said I could drive myself to the nearest hospital. I almost made it up Smith hill in Kent when the left side of my body went numb. The first thing I thought was that I was having a stroke because I couldn’t feel the left side of my arm and I was trying to drive steer with my right. My symptoms got worse as I drove on but I was able to call my friend who had just started babysitting for me to tell her that I was parking the rv at a local garage. Thank goodness her husband knew the garage owner and he allowed me to park the rv at his shop until I got back from the E.R. . By the time my babysitter’s husband got me to the emergency room, my speech was slurred and I was vomiting. I couldn’t move my hands and he had to help me sign forms. I stayed at the hospital for six hours.
I don’t remember much after that except for when I woke up in my babysitter’s room. She was holding my head up trying to get me to drink something. It took me two weeks to be able to stand up but I was so dizzy I couldn’t stay up without help. The pain in my head was like a jack hammer but I was determined to get back to my rv because I could not afford to have it towed.
Eventually, Minnie needed more repairs than I could afford so last July, I sold her to a mechanic living out of his car. I got him to tell me his story and he said he just got out of a bad divorce and he was living out of his car at his place of employment in Seattle. His employer knew he was homeless with his dog and at least the garage was safer than the streets. I sold the rv to him for $200.00. At least this guy could fix it better than I could.
It was only by a sheer stroke of luck that Caly’s neighbor decided to give us a free mini van….with a dying transmission! Ah well….even so, guess it is the thought that counts.
So long Minnie! May you serve your new owner well!