I had been a journalist for 27 years when I was laid off the first time in December 2010, an event that left me looking for full-time work for 19 months and birthed this blog, originally called Laid off at 51: Seeking joy in change. In early 2014, after a little more than 30 years in the industry, I was laid off a second time. Change is inevitable, so now I seek a new career.
An apartment in the reddish-pink stucco house at 606 W. Cedar
St., Rawlins, Wyo., was the first home my wife, Lisa, and I shared as husband
and wife, the first place that we, as a couple, called home.
It was less than a block from the Rawlins Daily Times, where
I worked and where I had met Lisa about a year earlier. At some point, this house
had been converted into two or three apartments, and the landlord, a friend of
Lisa’s parents, had rented to us the rather large unit in back. It was the only
one with direct access to the backyard.
The home was old and kind of beat up, yet it had an exotic
appeal that reminded me of haciendas I had seen during a trip to Mexico in the
spring of 1979.
Huge chunks of petrified wood, probably harvested from the
Seminoe Reservoir area before doing so was outlawed, were cemented into place
here and there in the yard, where they served as adornments — they were such a
dark, rich shade of red brown that at times they seemed black. I often wondered
who first built this house, and how long ago. Perhaps it had never been a house
at all but a business that eventually had been converted into apartments. The
backyard overlooked a parking lot on Front Street, after all, which in the late
1800s, when the Union Pacific was king, had been the town’s major thoroughfare.
Now, Cedar Street marked the heart of the downtown. The railroad still dominated
in many ways, but no longer for passenger travel, mail delivery or local
An 8- or 10-foot wall started on the eastern side of the
building and jutted out to the property line, where it turned 90 degrees and
ran south to fence in the backyard. The wall was the same reddish-pink color as
the building, and an arched entrance in front marked the start of the walkway
leading into the backyard — and to the door of our apartment.
I would spend a good portion of my weekends our first summer
there working in that back yard. When we moved in, it was mostly a gray dirt area
with no grass and spindly, 3-foot-tall weeds growing sparsely here and there. A
thick mat of cottonwood and poplar leaves lined the base of the wall. Tumbleweeds
had piled up in the very back where the wind had lodged them between the rear
wall of the property and a stone-walled cabana, its roof covered with the clay,
Spanish tiles favored in southwestern architecture.
As I completed the cleanup, I filled bag after bag with weeds,
leaves and aged beer bottles and other debris. But one of the weeds I’d tanked
out of the soil had bared the edge of a large, flat stone, and I was determined
to get it out of the soil
— the next step was to prepare the soil for
grass seed. It soon became apparent this stone was much larger than I’d believed.
So I got down on my hands and knees and started to uncover
its edges as I tried to gauge its size. At some point in the excavation, I
realized this slab of rock was a flagstone nearly the size of a card table and in
the neighborhood of 2 inches thick. So I completely unearthed it, thinking this
could be a nice adornment for the yard on which I was working. That’s when I uncovered
another, which led to another, and another, and yet more. I no longer recall just how many of these
stones I uncovered, but they once had served as a walkway from the front of the
building to the old cabana at the back of the lot.
So after completely digging up the ancient stones, I decided
to re-create the original walkway. Painstakingly I dug out a place for each
stone, tamped the soil flat before laying the stone in place and starting on
the next one. I worked tirelessly, knowing intuitively each step I needed to take,
what I wanted to accomplish, even seeing in my mind’s eye what it would look
like when I finished.
One weekend as I worked, the landlord stopped by. His name
was Dick Holden, a plainspoken man who was at a point in his life where he had
tales to tell, stories to share — either that, or he and I simply shared a
penchant for jawing. But I hardly had lived my life yet and so had few tales to
tell. Instead, I usually listened, throwing in my two cents now and then when
he asked me to; but on this day, he did not have a lot to say. He simply was
“You got it all cleaned up,” he said.
“Yup,” I replied.
“How’d you know about the flagstones? Those have been under
the dirt so long I’d forgotten they were there,” he said. I explained how I’d
stumbled across the first one after pulling a weed.
Dick went on to describe how those flagstones once marked a
plush lawn that served as the carpet for family gatherings, garden parties,
perhaps even a wedding or two. While he never said so, I got the impression
that perhaps, just perhaps a much younger Dick Holden has spent some part of
his younger days in this yard, whether as a kid growing up or perhaps even as a
young man starting out on his own.
I had imagined the plush lawn he mentioned as I replanted
each of those dozen or so flagstones. It was easy for me to envision some of
the scenes he described.
It really was amazing how years of neglect had hidden the
gems in this now dirt yard. All that had been needed was a little ambition, some
elbow grease, an imagination.
And Dick’s memory of how it had been.
It’s funny how life is like that. Some will see a beat up
old house where others will imagine how that house once stood in its glory, and
they go to work to restore it. An architect will look at an old stone factory
building that is beyond adaptation for further industrial uses and imagine luxury
loft condos, and the site will return to a resemblance of its former glory,
even though its use has turned 180 degrees.
Friday, more than a year after I was laid off and after many
twists, turns and dead ends, I was interviewed for a job. During the talk, I
began to get a vision for what this work could be, how I might fit into the
efforts of this particular employer, and as I imagined what might be, I began
to see possibilities, and that is something I have not seen clearly for months.
Nothing is decided, but I’ve been asked for another
interview, and I walk forward with an encouragement and a sense of renewal I’ve
not felt for some time.
The past year, my career has looked a lot like that empty,
overgrown and yet seemingly sterile yard in Rawlins. Still, I have plugged
away, trying to rebuild from what has seemed to be the sterile ground of an
industry that’s in trouble.
today, I’m not looking at sterile ground or a derelict garden. I once again am
imagining possibilities, and am hoping I’ve unearthed that flagstone.