Free things come hard

Once a month, like many of you, I get busy and pay my bills. This always includes going through the mountain of mail that comes to the door, and the email that my son Doug prints that he believes might be of interest to include in this column.

I decided to get busy, going through an accumulated pile of papers and some ignored for too long. It took some time. Most of what I found got put into the ever-present trash can. Then I spied a copy of a letter that’d been written in response to one of those “letters to the editor” that my son, Doug, had written.

The writer stated that Doug had talked about how our family moved to California in 1964 for a new life. She then wondered why Doug hadn’t mentioned why we picked California, something I had written about in my column? She added that I’d wanted their inexpensive public college but that — and these are her words “they’d never paid into the system; but were happy to use it.” Wow, gee, there we were freeloading in California.

We changed our car license, were buying our groceries in the local stores, and paying rent. I’m certain when April came around we — the three of us working numerous jobs — paid California’s state income tax along with everybody else. We also paid full out of state tuition for college! Back in Pennsylvania we’d managed to pay $2,000 for Don Jr.’s first year in college. This was just for tuition and books. He lived at home.

In California, of course, there were expenses for books and tuition. However, prices of each course were much lower than in the East. I remember how hard we all worked, Don going to school full time and working at a car wash, Doug taking two jobs busing tables and at a car wash, and my cleaning houses and waiting tables. All three of us took care of the younger three boys, cooked and cleaned house.

We never received welfare of any kind. If this seems one of those “gee how wonderful do those people think they are stories” it isn’t bragging or complaining, it’s a fact. We enjoyed every single second looking out of our apartment window watching boats floating around on that beautiful Pacific Ocean. The boys and I visited the beach whenever possible, talking all the time about the beautiful weather, and how we didn’t miss the snow.

That first Christmas in California saw the boys grateful to receive about $2 worth of five-and-dime toys each. But free? No, life in California wasn’t anywhere close to free. We worked our tails off. In the years since, all my sons were productive. Don, Jr. is retired now. He did get his Master Degree. I remember how he went to school full time in Fresno and worked at a winery at the same time.

When living in Costa Mesa, Don went to school full time and worked evenings until 4 a.m. for a janitorial service. Doug retired from Pacific Bell, and then got his master’s degree while working full time at a second telephone company. David just received his b’achelors degree and will soon retire. None of my sons has ever been voluntarily out of work. Dean’s now totally disabled due to an automobile accident caused by a drunk driver.

My youngest son, Dan, while not attending college, has worked himself into a successful career in a management position at a prison in California. It hasn’t all been easy. Conversely, Doug’s daughter Lara almost died in 1984 from a tumor that had settled on the stem of her brain. By God’s miracle she survived. Today, Lara wears a brace on her ankle uses hand controls to drive.

Lara works, taking handicapped people to their doctor’s or to shop. She’s raising a daughter by herself. Dan’s wife is now paralyzed from just below her breast, which necessitates somebody helping during the day. Dan takes care of her the rest of the time. He should be retiring soon and this will help.

I can’t help but smile when I think of what happened during those years and the years since those early days in Santa Barbara when we were living there “free”. Today, people are constantly moving away from California, moving to Nevada or Texas to get away from California’s oppressive taxes and welfare system. Perhaps we should all get after these people who are really getting something for nothing?

Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at


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