I wrote it on my calendar next to "Helen-BD," wishing it could’ve been sooner and spare me a few days of anxiety-building.
I filled that week with chores to keep me busy. After Mike went to work each morning, I would check in with my mother to make sure she was doing okay, then turn to one of my projects-in-progress—a how-to book on making newsletters.
I thought of doing such a book after I closed the dress shop, when it hit me that many fellow-merchants, plus customers on my shop’s mailing list, had questioned me about how to create one. I had already outlined the contents, written some chapters, and drawn illustrations. The chapters still needed to be retyped, crisp black ink on clean white paper, sized to fit on a six-by-nine inch page along with my line drawings. Everything—titles, paragraphs, page numbers and illustrations—would then be pasted precisely in place on a clean white mounting board. Those paste-ups, known as camera-ready-copy, boards, or mechanicals, would be sent to the book printer for printing, binding, and trimming to size.
I worked week-long at preparing that book for print, in addition to handling a few orders for my Christmas book and wall hangings, plus watering my flowers as well as tending to our dog and miscellaneous household chores. I looked forward to next Monday’s change of pace—albeit a meeting with Mike’s department head to learn more about his retirement options.
Monday came. We let ourselves sleep in, then enjoyed a cup of coffee while watching the morning news—copious coverage of President Reagan’s trip to Germany a few days before. Over and over the TV showed Reagan at the Berlin Wall, where he challenged the Soviet Premier with, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
The recordings of Reagan’s demand played on the car radio as we drove to the local Denny’s Restaurant for brunch—in acknowledgement of my 47th birthday—then headed for downtown Seattle.
We arrived at the county building shortly after one o’clock that afternoon, rode the elevator up to the King County Public Works floor, and opened the door to the drafting department.
The draftsmen looked up from their desks as we entered. Smiling at Mike, they each came forward to shake his hand and wish him a good retirement. He was gracious and smiled, but I knew he was feeling "kicked-out" from his job of nearly twenty years. It had to hurt.
Coleman interrupted the impromptu farewell by calling us into his office. The meeting was more factual than friendly, and basically mundane. We learned that Mike’s built-up vacation and sick leave time would indeed see him through the rest of the year.
As for income, I spoke up for the lesser of two benefits offered—$485 per month. Mike did not agree, as that meant no income for me should he die. I assured him, confidently, "If you die, well, then, I’ll just have to get a job."
"What about medical insurance?" I asked Coleman.
"You can keep the county’s as long as Mike’s alive, providing you pay the premiums each month," he said.
"Yes. We’ll do that." I glanced at Mike, noting he was about to protest my taking over the decisions. I knew in my gut that to be without medical insurance was not an option, and the county’s self-insured policy would cover us both for as long as Mike lived.
"How much will the premiums be?" I asked.
"I don’t have that figure right now. I’ll mark the retirement application that you want it, and they will let you know."
"And when will we know if the medical retirement gets approved?"
"Takes about six months for either one," Coleman advised. "You’ll get a notice from the county on the medical retirement. As for the federal disability, a check will just show up in your mailbox."
Following five more minutes of small talk and well-wishing, we left Coleman’s office, the drafting room, and the county building for home. Mike was quiet all the way there. We would contemplate our future tomorrow.
I ate the last bit of scrambled eggs on my plate and began our list. "I’ll call the doctor’s office this morning and make an appointment to get the disability application and tests started. Coleman said our doctor would know what’s needed."
"Okay." Mike sipped his coffee, waiting for my next move.
"You wanted to move to Skagit county, so how about tomorrow morning we take a drive up to Mount Vernon and find a realtor to work with?" I added it to my list.
"Maybe this afternoon I can make some calls and find out how to put our house up for sale ourselves. And, I need to finish preparing that book I did and ship it off to the printers." I wrote it down.
It soon became apparent that I should do my planning on a calendar. Once that started, the road to our future became more clear, and made it easier for Mike to understand, like a "To-Do" list.
I scheduled the medical appointment and started packing—books first. They got heavy fast, too heavy for me to carry down the sets of stairs and out into the pole-building that was to be Mike’s shop. So I lugged the hand-truck upstairs and, though straining my muscles, got the boxes out to the shop, one by one.
Where I scheduled "pack" on a particular day, Mike would take boxes to his hobby room downstairs and spend hours packing—books, magazines, drafting equipment and gunsmith supplies.
Before his medical tests began, I scheduled days to house-hunt. Prepared with a maximum price in mind and my amortization booklet in hand, we drove sixty-eight miles north to Mount Vernon, and located a realtor we felt comfortable with. We made appointments for him to drive us around looking at houses, at least five per day. Most of them we rejected because of their condition or their location in a risky flood zone. After two weeks of that, at our suggestion, we’d pick up a listing of possible houses from him in the morning, and would spend our day driving to each one to check the location, topography, neighborhood, and apparent condition of the house itself. If it seemed worthy of consideration, we would make an appointment for a later date to view the inside.
From July to November, we made numerous trips, either to Skagit county to house-hunt, or to some doctor’s office or a lab in Seattle for medical testing. Other days we continued packing our belongings. I got my newsletter book prepared and shipped to the book printer, then began gathering nonessential items for garage sales.
My research on how to sell real estate led me to a company, rather new, that gave me tips on marketing and selling. Fully licensed, they would complete all the necessary closing papers for a fraction of the cost of a realtor’s commission. We signed their agreement to list. I made flyers to give each prospective buyer of our home. Luckily, when it came time to offer the house for sale, a realtor’s sign appeared at our neighbor’s home. I posted a "For Sale by Owner" sign on our front fence, which every house-hunter would see when looking for the house next door.
A nice couple rang our doorbell one day, interested in our home, and ended up buying it. Fortunately, we had found an old, very small house in Sedro-Woolley, a quaint old logging town in Skagit County. It was a sad little house, but sat on eight city lots. With neither of us working, we figured we’d have time to fix it up. I knew there was no way we could get a mortgage without any verifiable income, so we made an offer with the condition that the seller would carry the contract for one year. It was accepted.
The owner had died the year before, so her son, duly authorized, closed the deal under the keen eye of an attorney we hired. The son agreed to have the place cleared of his mother’s furniture and be out before our move-in date of January 4th.
We packed like fiends those last two months of 1987. I put ads in the local Little Nickel paper, and reluctantly sold, for cents on the dollar, some furniture we knew would not fit in the tiny Sedro-Woolley house. I almost cried, watching our beautiful dining room suite and my precious Gulbransen theatre organ go out the door.
The holidays couldn’t come too soon for me. All the summer’s hard chores had worn us down. It seemed that every molecule in Mike’s body had been poked and prodded and scanned, but the disability application was now submitted. Would we have any kind of income next year? That was dependent upon the county’s medical retirement board and the government’s SSI. And they weren’t talking.
In December we drove to the house up north, to make sure the son had emptied it so we could move on time. He hadn’t. Not one stick of furniture had been moved.
When I questioned him, he replied, "Well, I’m doing the best I can."
"Not in my opinion," I said. "We are suppose to move in here next month … you haven’t met the agreement!" We gave him until the end of January to get it done.
Thankfully, our buyers let us rent our own house until the son had done his job. It took him until two weeks into February. I wished I had thought to include in the purchase agreement that if he didn’t get out, he must pay rent. Lesson learned.
December also brought Mike’s last paycheck from the county and some good news—a call from Coleman advising that the medical retirement had been approved, starting in January. Thank God!