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To hear Europeans tell it we Americans are always on the move, always ready to pack up and take off to see what's over the next hill, down in the next valley, around the next curve or on sale at the next mall.
It was that restlessness that inspired us to settle our continent from coast-to-coast in a little over a century, as millions of Americans and newly arrived immigrants traveled by steamboat or train to St. Louis and then packed everything they owned into covered wagons and set off to settle places like Oregon, California or Texas.
Even now when most of the country is pretty much settled some of us still don't like to stay put.
After our covered wagon faze we Americans moved on to motor homes and pop-up campers. Some people bought mobile homes just so they could pick up and move whenever they felt to urge. Back home there was a family - the Willey's - with a mobile home that they were always moving around for one reason or another. They seldom moved far but if the Willey clan thought there was a better water source or free firewood in another part of town they'd slap the wheels back on their mobile home and they were gone - often in the dead of night.
Sometimes a simple dispute with neighbors was all they needed to inspire a move to another lot. This - of course - was back in the days when quarter-acre house lots were plentiful and available in town for a few hundred dollars.
When the Willey's moved to a new lot they usually insisted it belonged to a relative who lived out of state and was therefore 'sort-of'' heirship property. Occasionally a dispute arose over ownership of a particular lot but it would take so long to have survey's done and papers filed that the Willey's would be off to another lot before anything was resolved.
While on a particular lot the Willey's always liked to store a lot of what they insisted were essential items and they stored them all around their trailer and - if they stayed long enough - all over the lot and parts of surrounding lots. Before too long the small lot was filled to overflowing with such 'essentials' as refrigerators, bath tubs, engine blocks (and lots of other car parts like doors, hoods and windshields), wood scraps, old boats, broken bicycles, wrecked ATVs, wood stoves, gas stoves, electric stoves, televisions and other broken family entertainment items.
Neighbors who shared a particular road with the Willeys would eventually complain that the place looked like a dump but old man Willey would insist that he had plans to use every item on the lot and he considered none of it to be junk.
Eventually the disputes with neighbors would become more heated and the Willey's would move on. In every case the essential items old man Willey insisted were part of his future plans never made the move but always remained behind for someone else to deal with.
I thought of old man Willey the other day because my wife and I recently sold our large house in western Maine - a house we lived in for almost 18 years and we moved to a nice apartment in Portland. Downsized? You ask - did we ever.
Although our old place lacked the Willey's essential dooryard items we could not believe how many things we managed to collect inside our house over the years.
Before the closing we arranged to have two huge yard sales, advertised several large items in local newspapers which we sold off but when all that was done we still had lots of stuff to get rid of.
Remembering old man Willey and his family I wished I could have slapped some wheels on our old place and just dragged it to another lot. Trouble was we couldn't find a house lot that could fit a nine room house and was listed for a few hundred dollars.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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