Thirty years ago, we arrived…

September 5, 2022, 6:10 PM

August 31, 2022 marked 30 years from the day that my family came to Virginia, after having lived in Arkansas for the previous seven and a half years.  Thirty years is a little less than three quarters of my life thus far.  It just seems so weird to think about it that way.  But it really does mark the beginning of an era in my life, because unlike more recent moves, the move from Arkansas to Virginia was a clean separation, leaving a lot of elements of my life behind and starting new in Virginia, especially in those pre-Internet days, when there was no social media to keep in contact with everyone.  Additionally, having no family out there, I have not been back since we left.  The moves since then were not quite as clean of a break as the move from Arkansas was.  My 2007 move to Maryland was only me, and my parents stayed where they were.  Plus, as it’s only a few hours away, I can go down there almost any time I want, including down and back in the same day.  Then my 2017 move was local, so nothing else changed in my life other than the location of my house, and my commute to work.  I just upgraded my living situation, and that was it.

The move to Virginia was the culmination of something that was a long time coming.  My parents never really wanted to live in Arkansas to begin with, but it was a good career move for Dad with Scott Nonwovens, so they begrudgingly did it, and so we left New Jersey for Arkansas in February 1985.  I remember Mom’s mentioning a number of times early on about wanting to move back to New Jersey.  And in all fairness, that was understandable.  Dad had something to do in Rogers, as he was the one with the job.  Mom didn’t know anyone, and her primary role at that time was to take care of a newborn and a preschooler.  She had left everyone she knew when we left New Jersey, and it took a while to meet people and form new relationships, though that improved once Mom got a job at the Walton Life Fitness Center in Bentonville.  We also didn’t get along with our next door neighbors on one side, as their kids were out of control.  That ultimately led to something of a falling out.  We put slats in our existing fence on that side so that we wouldn’t have to see them when we were in the backyard, and they built an entirely new spite fence on their side so that they wouldn’t have to see us.  The neighbors on the other side were a retired couple, and they were awesome.

Meanwhile, the education situation in Rogers had really come to a head.  I had just completed fifth grade, which was my worst year from kindergarten through high school, without question, and that had followed third and fourth grade years that were pretty rough as well.  My parents had gone about as far as they could with the school system, and no one was looking forward to another year at Bonnie Grimes Elementary.  I was also hearing all kinds of rumblings at the time from my parents about changes afoot.  One was that we would not be returning to Grimes Elementary again, and I was also hearing things about moving, which made me think that something big and life-changing was coming, but nothing concrete as of yet.  It had been rumored that Scott had wanted to transfer my father to their corporate office in Philadelphia, and so it seemed like we would probably be moving back to New Jersey, as Mom had wanted all along.  I didn’t want to move, because unlike my parents, Rogers was pretty much all that I knew, and I was used to it.

The other shoe finally dropped on July 7, 1992.  That was quite a day.  I had just begun orthodontic treatment the day before, getting a brand new set of braces on my teeth.  That day, I got to experience a sore mouth from braces for the first time, as the braces did their work straightening out my teeth.  And let’s admit – I have nice teeth, so that worked out pretty well.  So I was already feeling a bit off from that discomfort, and then I got hit with the news that we would be moving, like a one-two punch.  I remember not taking the news particularly well at the time, but I eventually warmed to it by the end of the day.  And I imagine that nobody could blame me for not taking it well, though, because life in Arkansas was really all that I knew up to that point.  Now, unlike my sister, I remembered when we lived in New Jersey, but considering that we left when I was three, New Jersey was mostly just fuzzy, vague memories.  I then was read into the whole program, of which I was mostly unaware up to that point: Dad had gotten a new job with another company in the same industry, and unlike what I had been sort of led to believe, we would be moving to Virginia, not New Jersey.  However, I was not to tell my sister until after Dad’s last day at Scott in a couple of weeks, because she was too young to be trusted to keep that under wraps, and her blabbing to someone might have adverse consequences, so better to keep her in the dark.  She knew that we would be moving, but she was still under the impression that we were moving to New Jersey.  I did pretty well with keeping the secret, though I did accidentally slip once, in front of Mom.  However, no one had to worry about my sister’s blabbing it after that.  Let the record show that my sister corrected me, reminding me that we were moving to New Jersey.  Yes, we were, weren’t we?  Crisis averted, because she still didn’t suspect a thing.  Once Dad’s last day at Scott came and went, my sister was quickly read into the program, and so there were no more secrets.  After all, we now had housing to find, and from there, schools to enroll in and such.

Those final eight weeks in Arkansas felt kind of weird.  After all, I knew that I would be gone at the end of the summer, and so nothing in Arkansas really mattered anymore, because our future was outside of Arkansas.  But it was business as usual for the most part, as I still had “Kids Kamp” at the fitness center, and I was also still in Taekwondo and all of that, and Mom still had her job there up until we left.  I never got to say goodbye to a lot of the kids that I knew in Arkansas, because it all happened over the summer.  I left Grimes at the end of fifth grade thinking that I would likely be back in the fall, so the goodbyes weren’t about leaving for good, but just “have a good summer”, as I fully expected to see them all again in a few months, but that would end up not being the case.

One of those weeks before we moved was spent house hunting in Virginia, from July 26-31.  We stayed at the Omni Hotel in downtown Charlottesville, and spent about half of our time in Charlottesville and half of the time in Augusta County. Dad’s new job was in Waynesboro, but Charlottesville allegedly had excellent schools, but the cost of living was also higher in Charlottesville, which meant that our money wouldn’t go as far there.  The first day was spent in Augusta County and Waynesboro, as we all went over the mountain for the first time.  I remembered when we got into Waynesboro, I saw the city landfill high up on the mountain, and thought that it was a big, new highway project or something, because it looked like a lot of what the land looked liked along the US 412 corridor in northeastern Oklahoma, where they were constantly upgrading the road in order to bring it up to freeway standards.  Oh, how naive I was, as I learned much later that it was an eyesore rather than progress.

We looked at eight houses that day.  Five of them were in the Stuarts Draft in the same neighborhood, we looked at one in Fishersville, and then we looked at two in Waynesboro.  I remember my impressions of the various houses.  The first four houses weren’t terrible, but just didn’t seem right for us.  The fifth house was the one that my parents ended up buying and still live in, then under construction.  I didn’t get a good feel for it because I didn’t quite understand how it all went together, in its then-incomplete state.  The house in Fishersville had a beautiful view of the surrounding area, but the driveway was quite steep (not good for the snow), and the open land behind the house had recently been purchased by a developer who planned on building a lot more housing, which meant that the beautiful view would likely change from rolling land to houses as far as the eye could see.  In Waynesboro, the first house was inhabited by cats, and smelled like cats.  It also had a really weird layout.  The second Waynesboro house was better, but one of the bedrooms was on the first floor, which likely would have been my room, and no one was really too keen on having my room on a different floor than everyone else’s.  In Charlottesville, we looked at a number of different houses, mostly older and smaller than the ones west of the mountain.  I wasn’t too impressed.  The only relatively new house that we looked at was in the Forest Lakes development, and that house was smaller than our house in Rogers, and had a lot of HOA rules attached to it that we didn’t like.  One other decent house had a lot of space, but the access to the basement was through one of the bedrooms (who comes up with that?).  Interestingly, we looked at zero houses in Staunton, but I believe that Dad had done some pre-work before we all came out, and all of the potential houses in Staunton had been eliminated in that pre-work (fair enough).  I also remember that on our Augusta County house-hunting day, we had lunch at a place called The Purple Foot, which was a restaurant and wine shop.  On the Charlottesville day, we went to The Hardware Store, which was on the Downtown Mall.  Both restaurants have since closed.

We also went to the Staunton Walmart store for the first time on one of the days on our trip.  That was our first time visiting a Walmart store outside of Arkansas, and we wondered how it would be.  After all, we lived in the next town over from Walmart’s corporate office, and so we were used to high standards, being right around the headquarters.  Additionally, all of our Walmart stores had recently been replaced with brand new pylon-style stores in the last year or so, giving us the absolute latest and greatest as far as Walmarts went.  I was surprised to see that the Staunton store had the exact same layout and architectural style as the new Walmart store in Rogers, but it had the older brown and orange color scheme that the recently-vacated stores had, rather than the then-new gray/red/blue color scheme.  I never really liked that Walmart store because I thought it looked dated, and missed the Supercenters that Bentonville and Springdale had.  I became more content with the Walmart situation in 1995 when Walmart built a new Supercenter in Staunton, replacing the original store on Statler Boulevard.  We also drove past Staunton Mall, which would be our new local shopping mall, but didn’t go in on that visit.

While out on this trip, we also visited some local historic sites, visiting Monticello and Michie Tavern.  Those of you who are familiar with Charlottesville know that there are signs all over town pointing the way to Monticello, Ash Lawn, and Michie Tavern, and so I suppose that we had to hit some of those places (seriously, those signs are everywhere).  We also visited Stuarts Draft Elementary School and Stuarts Draft Middle School for the first time, as that was where my sister and I would be attending school if we ended up picking “the new house” in Stuarts Draft.

And in the end, we got the house in Stuarts Draft, though that wasn’t the first place that we put in an offer on.  We had initially put in an offer on a house in Charlottesville that my mother referred to as “the turtle house” (due to a turtle that we found there), but our offer was not accepted.  But in the end, everyone was content with the house in Stuarts Draft, as we were going to be moving into a brand new house with the George Washington National Forest in our backyard.  And then on the way home, I had my first bad flying experience, as our plane for the final leg of our trip back to Arkansas had mechanical issues that allegedly corrected themselves, and destroyed that innocent sense of wonder about flying.  It probably didn’t help that I didn’t fly again after that for about six years, and when I did take to the skies again, I was much more of a white-knuckle flyer than I had ever been before.

After we got back to Arkansas, things started to progress towards the move.  Dad soon started his new job, and so he drove out to Virginia with the Mustang, and stayed out there for two weeks before flying back to coordinate the move.  The final week in August, the moving company started packing up our house, and then on August 28, a much bigger truck than what the packing crew had been using came to load it all up.  I remember being struck by the emptiness of what had been our house.  After all, we had lived in this place for more than seven years at that point, and I had no memories of seeing it empty when we moved in.  And now it looked like the various vacant houses that we had seen during our house hunting trip.  Very weird, indeed.  We also soon learned the folly of getting beige berber carpet, because in less than a year’s time with that carpet, that stuff looked matted down and crappy, but at least it wasn’t that ugly green shag carpeting that was there when we moved in.  I wonder how long that berber carpet lasted after we left.  Who knows, but I imagine that it’s long gone by now.

It was a weird feeling leaving the house for what we knew would be the last time, but it was on to better things.  We stayed at what was then the Ramada Inn in Rogers, near the intersection of South 8th Street and New Hope Road.  That bookended our time in Arkansas quite nicely, as we had also stayed at that same motel when we moved in, though it was a Holiday Inn at that time.  The motel is still there today, though now it’s the Rogers Inn rather than a major brand.

The next day, we hit the road.  We would do the trip to Virginia over three days, and the first day brought us as far as Jackson, Tennessee.  We took the US 71 bypass to its terminus near Fayetteville Airport, and then took US 71 as it wound its way through the Boston Mountains to Alma.  Every time we did this trip (this was how we got to Little Rock and to Fort Smith), seeing Alma, I was like, wonderful, the mountains are over.  This route seems so primitive now, because the US 71 bypass was later extended all the way down to Fort Smith and has been redesignated as Interstate 49, and there is a tunnel through the mountains.  Much better than the sign that discussed how many people had died on that road, with the admonishment, “DON’T YOU BE NEXT!” at the bottom.  Then we got on Interstate 40 and headed east towards Little Rock.  All of this was still familiar territory to me, from various trips to Little Rock in the past.  Once we cleared Little Rock, though, I was in new territory.  I remember being struck by how rural eastern Arkansas was.  There was not a single thing of interest to look at until we got to West Memphis.  One thing I remember about this was seeing the logo for Fina gas stations along the road, and thinking about how the logo looked like a person with red hair and a red beard, with the text forming something of a big mustache.  We ran this section nonstop, and didn’t stop until we got to West Memphis, where we had lunch at a Burger King.  After lunch, we got back on I-40 and headed over the Mississippi River into Tennessee.  I specifically remember seeing the big “Welcome to Tennessee” sign on the bridge, and then after that, I turned around and looked at the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign on the other side, mainly because I wanted to see what it looked like.  Then I turned back around to face forward, and that was the end of Arkansas as far as any of us were concerned.  Now there were new things to see.  We got to see Memphis from the freeway, and I noticed that the road signs in Tennessee were a little different than they were in Arkansas (this is not unique to Tennessee, mind you – every state does things just a little differently than the next).  Getting to Jackson, we checked into the Holiday Inn, and we saw the Casey Jones Museum, which was next door to our hotel.  I also remember being so astounded that there was a Dunkin’ Donuts in Jackson, since they didn’t have any of those in Northwest Arkansas at that time.

This was a very unique trip as far as our adventures went.  Not only was it unique for being a one-way trip, but we also had our little dachshund, Greta, with us.  We didn’t usually take the dog on long trips, preferring to take her to a pet resort whenever we went on vacation.  But this wasn’t feasible here, so we always had to have someone attending to Greta when we were doing things.  The vet had prescribed a medication for her to help her relax in the car, which we called “doggy downers”.  Greta was typically a bit on edge in the car because her going for a ride usually meant that we were going to the V-E-T, but the doggy downers did their job, and Greta was fairly chill on the cross-country ride, though that was only a one-time thing.

The next day, we drove across most of Tennessee.  We spent most of the day on Interstate 40, with Johnson City as our goal.  That took us through Nashville and Knoxville, though it’s not like we stopped in any of those places in the interest of making good time (always about making good time with Dad).  Then we got on I-81 at its southern terminus, and took that to Interstate 181 (now Interstate 26) to Johnson City, where we stayed at the Holiday Inn.  That was our first time seeing a non-smoking hotel room, and we were surprised to see an ashtray in the room with a “thank you for not smoking” sticker in the bottom of it.  We couldn’t help but think that an ashtray was unnecessary if you were in a non-smoking room, but go figure.  In any event, it was such a difference from what you see as the standard nowadays, where smoking is prohibited in the entire hotel.  Back then, smoke-free rooms were just starting to come into fashion.

Meanwhile, I think that we went to Pizza Hut for dinner that night.  Most of what I remember about Johnson City was that the main street through the town was Roan Street, which for some reason stuck out in my mind.  Go figure.

On the third day, August 31, we were going to finish the trip.  I didn’t necessarily how our route was geting us there, but I knew that we would finish our trip.  As such, I didn’t realize that Tennessee and Virginia shared a short border.  I expected that we would drive through parts of Kentucky.  So after we got back on I-81 from 181, it wasn’t long before I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Virginia”, and I was like, wait, what? since I was expecting that we would hit Kentucky at some point.  We went right through that short border segment, and we were in Virginia.  The trip up through Virginia was pretty uneventful.  I don’t even remember going through the I-77 overlap, if that tells you anything.  I do remember seeing the overlap with I-64 and I-81, though.  I remember seeing the first sign for Stuarts Draft, which was exit 217, i.e. the Mint Spring exit.  Mom asked Dad if he knew how to get there from that exit, and Dad didn’t know at that time (but we soon learned that it’s a quick shortcut to get to Staunton).  Our road trip ended at the house, where we saw it in its completed form for the first time.  It was quite nice.  It smelled brand new, and had brand new carpeting and linoleum.  Everything was just so new and modern.

From there, we headed to Stuarts Draft Elementary School and Stuarts Draft Middle School to get school schedules and such.  After all, school would start in a little more than a week.  At the middle school, we had a surprise: sixth grade orientation was that night!  After finishing with the schools, we headed to Waynesboro, where we were staying at the Days Inn.  We also picked up the Mustang at the house of one of Dad’s colleagues, which is where he was able to keep it while dealing with the move in Arkansas.

Mom and I went to sixth grade orientation that evening.  All the way down there from our motel, we kept an eye out for an Amoco station, because that’s where our turn was to get to the school.  The orientation event was a whole new experience for me.  We met most of my teachers, though admittedly, the whole thing was something of a blur, considering all that we had done earlier that day.  I was still a little confused about how everything would actually go, but at least I had gotten to see it.  No worries, though – this was all explained on the first day of school.  One thing that Mom and I both found interesting was that I had a teacher named Mrs. Bradley for reading – the same last name as that awful teacher that I’d had in fifth grade.  That ended up being no big cause for concern, because as it would turn out, Bonnie Bradley, unlike Sharon Bradley in Arkansas, was a wonderful person.  Mom would later teach with her, and they still get together from time to time.  We only had one problem that night: my locker.  The way that the school did lockers was to print your locker number and combination on your schedule card.  I had a blank field where my locker should be.  We checked in with the office about it, and they couldn’t fix it on the spot, so they asked us to come back a few days later.  We returned the following Friday, and I got a locker.  We went down to check to make sure that it worked, and we were good.

One other thing that Mom and I did while at orientation was to ask another kid that we were sitting near who had braces about where he went for his orthodontic work.  We had not done any pre-work on that prior to moving, and I was still early in my treatment, having only had the initial installation and then one adjustment.  Clearly, I still needed the services of an orthodontist, so we were looking for some tips there.  They went to a practice run by a father and son partnership, Hamer & Hamer, and they had an office in Waynesboro and Stuarts Draft at that time.  That’s who we ended up going to, and it worked out pretty well.  I remember that they had to redo a lot of the diagnostic imagery and such because the orthodontist in Arkansas sent over copies rather than the higher quality originals, but in the end, it all worked out, and I have nice, straight teeth.

September 2 was when all of our stuff arrived.  That was an interesting day, for sure.  The movers put all of the major pieces of furniture in the correct rooms, but then they just unloaded all of the boxes into the garage, which my parents didn’t really appreciate, because it meant more work for them.  It also meant that the garage was unavailable for cars until we could deal with all of the boxes.  That was also our first night sleeping in the house. It felt weird, but we were at last in our new house.  I remember not liking the way my room was laid out originally, because I had no say in it.  I had bunk beds, and Mom wanted to put it with the narrow axis on one wall, and the rest sticking out into the room.  It made enough sense for her, having access to three sides of it, but I hated it from the moment that it was proposed because that took up most of the space in the room, and made it feel cramped (and I had the larger of the two bedrooms on that side!).  It was also unsafe, as there was no fall protection on one side, as it was designed to be placed with the long axis against the wall.  The other side had the ladder and a guard on it.  It wasn’t until the spring of 1994, following one occasion where I fell from the top bunk in the middle of the night, when I got to rearrange my room to the way that I wanted, with the long axis of the bed against the wall like it should have been all along.

Speaking of moving, I remember being quite concerned at the time about whether our stuff would actually make it to Virginia, though in hindsight, it was probably nothing to be concerned about.  The reason for the concern was our Fourth of July fireworks.  Mom had mentioned previously about wanting to use up all of our fireworks before we left Rogers, so that they wouldn’t catch on fire from the heat in the moving truck.  We never did use them all up, and the movers packed them up along with everything else (if it tells you anything, they also packed the trash cans with the trash still in them).  So I was a little concerned about that, but as it would turn out, it made it just fine.  In hindsight, there was probably nothing to worry about, because those things likely were exposed to much higher temperatures during the shipping process before they were sold.  In other words, no problem, and the movers probably wouldn’t have packed them if they thought it would be a problem.

From there, once school started, things started to come together and become routine.  Unlike my last three years of elementary school, my first year in middle school was amazing.

After school began, we started looking at finding a church.  Our plan was to try out the various Presbyterian churches in the area and then settle on one.  We figured that we would end up at First Presbyterian in Waynesboro, or maybe Second Presbyterian.  We also saw Finley Memorial Presbyterian in Stuarts Draft as we were driving by, and added it to the list, though we didn’t necessarily want to go to a really small church.  We started out with Finley Memorial, since it was the closest to our house, and as it would turn out, our search for a new church ended right there.  The original plan was to try Finley for one Sunday, and then try another church the next Sunday, and so on until we had tried them all.  The next Sunday, Mom suggested that we go to Finley again.  And then again.  And then it just became our church.  Mom still attends services there.

One thing that i never really got used to, though, was the political climate in our new town.  Recall that this was 1992, a presidential election year, and just after the national political conventions.  As such, it was into the home stretch, as the two major parties’ candidates had been chosen, and it was just a matter of convincing America about which one was the better choice.  Incumbent president George Bush had just been formally nominated for a second term at the Republican convention, and then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was the Democratic nominee.  Clinton was a favorite where we had lived in Arkansas, as he was the sitting governor, and he was relatively popular, having been reelected twice while we were living there.  In Virginia, people hated him, mostly because, in that very Republican area, he was on the opposite team (I got the sense that people there would vote for Bozo the Clown as long as he was a Republican).  That was a bit of a culture shock.  I heard so many hurtful things about Bill Clinton and Democrats in general that fall, and it definitely gave me some negative views about the place.  For as much as Virginia has become more “blue” in recent years, that area is still solidly “red”.  I remember the day after the election, Mom thought it would be a good idea for me to wear a little Clinton button to school, and I wore it all day.  Oh, did I hear a lot of opinions about that one… all negative.  If I hadn’t already known it before, I definitely would have found out then about exactly how much people didn’t like Bill Clinton, and it was expressed in some very colorful ways.  Oof.

All in all, I suppose you could consider the move to Virginia to be the pivotal moment of my younger years, because it set the stage for so much of my life afterward.  Who knows what my life might have looked like if we had moved back to New Jersey instead of Virginia, or if we had moved somewhere else entirely.  On the whole, the move was a good thing, and was a much-needed change for all of us.