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There is no colorful narrative about my departure from the crew. I never really left, but my life changed.
From that first job interview and Greyhound Bus ride in 1983 to the mid 2000’s, I always had a center of gravity here and a center of gravity there. Among the crews would be one center, and Grinnell or Milwaukee or Cedar Rapids the other. I had a network of friends and family here and also there. I had patterns of daily life and shared understandings and values here and also there. The geographic coordinates of “here” and “there” might vary, but after I joined the crew, there were always two centers.
Even in my most crew-centered days, I went to church somewhere fairly often and occasionally to the library of the town, and I met people and sometimes made friends. I was unable to keep up friendships in most towns very much, except in Cedar Rapids.
Very gradually, the crew center waned, and the other center of gravity, the other way of life, became more dominant in shaping my days. Parenthood was one significant factor.
I traveled much during my first pregnancy, returning to Cedar Rapids/Iowa City often enough to keep consistent prenatal care and then give birth there. I believe Daniel was around four to six weeks old when we three went back on their road, my husband and he and I, first visiting my sister-in-law before rejoining the crew. I also took Daniel back to town, to Cedar Rapids, for well-baby checks, and Ronnie came when he could, too.
Early parenthood actually enhanced the importance of our time on the road, which enabled us to stay close as a family when it was also necessary for my husband to travel a great deal. My life pattern while on the road did change drastically, of course. I was almost constantly, directly involved in his care, even more so than caregivers in a home or day care setting, which can be better arranged to promote the safety and physical and intellectual development of a toddler or child. I did a lot of things to make up the difference. I did still help with some tasks for the crew, but not much.
Daniel was surrounded by his father’s agents and crew society, people who interacted with him in warm and appropriate ways under my close protective supervision – but they were almost all adults. Whenever possible, I took him to parks or children’s museums or somehow got him around other children, and when he was three, I enrolled him in a preschool in Cedar Rapids that met two to three mornings a week, for the social experience. We divided our time between home in Cedar Rapids and time on the road, and I think he attended a little more than half the preschool mornings. That was more commitment to settlement in one city than we had previously experienced.
The crew was extremely diverse in some ways, yet also narrow since it only included individuals who were willing to live a transient lifestyle. The larger world was also changing fast, American culture was. Already in 1990 or so I recognized that door-to-door sales and delivery were becoming outmoded, and my children were going to need some experience with more conventional society in order to compete as adults in whatever the American economy was going to become next.
After preschool, I knew other steps drawing us yet more deeply into the mainstream would eventually follow. I was kind of sad about that. I home schooled Daniel for a few years. Really it was a partial home schooling. He and I shuttled back and forth frequently between activities offered by our district’s Home School Assistance Program and the crews’ base wherever it was. Daniel, and then Elizabeth, also experienced YMCA activities and art programs at the Ambroz Center, spending yet more of our days in Cedar Rapids.
Elizabeth was born in 1992 and, like her brother, adapted quite well to life on the road as an infant. However, infants become restless, curious toddlers. Meeting the needs of all in our family – the adult need to work and the needs of children at very different stages – in a hotel room or even a suite became difficult.
By the middle 1990’s the children and I were mostly living in Cedar Rapids. I began taking classes in K-12 education and obtained a teaching license. Since then, I have been employed in a variety of positions, jobs that involved staying put in one city most of the time. I still had frequent contact with crew managers and members as I would occasionally help out with situation, host a gathering at our home, or welcome a house guest tending some kind of need here in town.
It was in the middle 2000’s that my husband sold the company to one of the agents, a close friend of ours, someone who knew the business inside and out. By that time, for complex reasons, the number of sales agents had gradually decreased, and there were some agents and considerable sales through the office, but no real crew anymore. With the sale of the company, I was no longer connected except through continuing memories of those days and friendships with some of the former agents and managers – including Karl, Fred, and Mike and Jim and his wife, Allison.
Later, after they became adults, I asked my children about their memories of the crews. Not surprisingly, Daniel had some clear memories of life on the road, the museums and historical and children’s sites we visited, the agents milling about during check-in, being reminded by his father to watch their language because his child was present. Elizabeth was too young to remember living on the road, but she remembers always knowing of the crew, that her father and his close associates worked on the road, the company barbecues and guests in hour home; and, she says, she knew that a lot of people treated her warmly because she was her father’s daughter.
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