Living Small Part II

Renae Brabham



I sat staring at this blinking cursor and asked myself “Should I? Should I tell this story in it’s entirety? Do I really want to re-hash it?” I am still friggin' raw. But—this is a series blog, writing is therapeutic for me, and if the events of the last 6 months save one person the trial-and-error we’ve gone through, I’ll feel better about it. Okay, so let me pour a glass of liquid Band-Aid and we’ll begin.


I’ll start with a re-cap of where I left off in Living Small Part I. We’d just re-evaluated our goals for sustainable living. After researching shipping containers, campers, and tiny houses we started looking at modular, it seemed the logical choice, being middle-aged. If I had “gotten” this earlier, we would have a small living community by now. Anyway right now, a modular is the quickest route to get off the wheel, well—as soon as they take the tires off the home. 


We went to dealerships to check out some new model’s. The first criteria for our purchase was that it would be paid for in cash, same as the land. After a few lots we decided to scratch new, the cost was more than our allotted cash. So—we entered the no-mans-land of used modulars. 


For a month we followed leads on Craigslist. Let me tell you, mobile home selfies are misleading as hell. I nearly fell through the floor of one property and feared a snakebite on another. 


I rode backroads for miles, looking for those crooked little signs that said mobile home for sale. One Saturday morning last May, a new listing popped up. A lakehouse modular on the Santee in Eutawville. My sister and I went to check it out. Good bones, solid, small and, as the little bear said in The Three Bears, it was Just Right!



The owners were wonderful. They explained that originally the home’s purpose was for entertaining and a temporary residence for business contacts but they recently decided to build a home on the site. I could see its potential. And—they were throwing in the most tacky décor I had ever seen in my life for free. A resin cast toilet seat with embedded hollow point bullets. What The Hell?


We shook hands that day and I came back 2 days later with cash. Our acquisitions sat on two different rivers, exactly 55 minutes apart.


Now all we needed to do was find a mover. Piece-of-cake right? Well, apparently, the world of mobile home moving has become a seedy profession. I called 22, that’s right…22 movers! Sixteen of which were no longer in business. The six left on my list were undesirables to say the least. They gave quotes sight-unseen, had a longer list of what they wouldn’t do than what they would, and had other disqualifiers like you would not believe. There are reasons that this profession has declined morally, but that’s another story.


I narrowed it down to the three worthiest of the non-worthy. I felt led to one particular mover, because he did all the right things, (in the beginning.) He met me at the site to give a quote, talked knowledgably about the procedure, signed a contract that I wrote up, and assured me that the date we were looking to move could be achieved.  I made a huge deposit. You don’t want to know. One thing that was cohesive in mobile-moving jargon was the price. It was going to be upwards of 10K for a 55-minute move. We didn’t see that coming, but here we were. 


In two weeks I was packed and ready to go! Don and I were settling into the comfortable possibility of not owing a soul for anything and staying that way for the rest of our lives. We were Googling solar panels and grids, Don gets a chicken coop design book ordered. I started declining any invitations to anything because the move was imminent. It was June 15th,  the last day either of us felt peace for six months.  



We were one hour away from home in Eutawville, the mover was doling out periodical phone calls to let us know of progress. The Move was the first of next week! And then I got a call—“Mrs. Renae, So & So’s truck alternator went out and we have to rent a truck to haul this or that, I need a check to cover the cost.” he said. I wasn’t suspicious at this time, being contractors ourselves, we know stuff happens. 


“Okay, we will give you the second draw, since the move is next week anyway.” I told him. Work commenced and I felt like we were okay; moving along again. 


A few days before the moving date, I got a call. The mover said “It’s raining here.” 


Now, I am like Doppler Radar, Doppler can’t move without me. 90% of our business is exterior. I am the best weather barometer in these parts. I replied “There’s no rain anywhere near us or Eutawville.” He told me that they would resume work the next day.



This coop is on the property, Don is going to build me a new one. I'm naming it Coop de Ville.


I got multiple conflicting calls from the seller of our home that lived nearby and the mover who was telling me what work is done. 


Don and I were apprehensive, and then the mover didn’t answer the phone for several days. We didn’t really want to believe what was playing out. Finally four days later I got a call, “Mrs. Renae, I am in the (horspital) I can’t get anyone to lift a finger. I will call you when I get out.”  

The mover got out of the hospital and everything commenced. I don’t think Don or I slept much that week. But, things seemed to be moving again, the home was busted into two halves for the move, axles were put on.  And then —a phone call. “Mrs. Renae, we need to come by this evening and talk to you and Don.” 


Don and I had equal parts in the decision. We were past the threshold of turning back and couldn’t pull out. The home was now split in half, axles were on and we were on the cusp of the move.


This was a money call and we knew it. The mover used several excuses for why he hadn’t been able to complete the move; hospital, truck, someone left him hanging on a job. He told us he has to have another check to get us moved, and he got it. We got one last phone call that things were moving forward and then a conflicting call from previous owners that it wasn’t. 



Then came the 1000-year deluge of rain. So, we were now owners of property near the flooding Edisto River, as well as a home an hour away on a flooding Santee AND the home had been split in half for a move. The last text I had with the mover: “Is my home covered with tarps?” He simply replied “Yes.”  


From that day forward, they never answered the phone or text. This is where people interjected. “Well, you have legal recourse.” And they would be right, we do. But right then, we had a home split in half 100 ft from a flooding river and the perpetrator is gone with the tide. 
We drove out to the land, I think we needed to feel connected, grounded again. I sat in a chair under an overgrown live oak while Don cut sappy pines trying to morph the ground into my future garden. Snowy, our 16-year-old short-legged lab, sniffed her way to the property line and Don had to carry her back to the truck. It felt good to regenerate our thirst for a simpler life by touching our soil. 


Our next priority was to find another mover, a trustworthy mover. I just couldn’t make myself go back to that list of probable thieves. I remembered one of the actual mobile home dealers that I met at the beginning of our venture. They were professional, had achievement accolades all over the walls and employees who have worked there for 17 years. I called and explained our situation and asked if they knew anyone trustworthy in the moving business. She sympathized with us and said, “Yes, our mover is awesome, he’s the only one we use.”



I called him, explained everything and he told me his moving process. I think he sensed my apprehension when we discussed the deposit and knowing what we had been through, he said. “I tell you what, let’s just exchange the payment the day we are hooked up and ready to move.” 

“Whew, that will work!” I told him.  


Within days he went to evaluate both properties. Unfortunately, we drained the bank accounts and now needed to come up with another nickel grand to move. We scraped and had to make the decision to use money that was dog-eared for other purposes, equally as important. 


The new mover told me he was scheduled out for the next 3 weeks. We decided to use this time to get our permits, electricity and water. We met with the electrical company to route the lines. He told us that he wouldn’t be surprised if it were Christmas when we moved in. Don and I wanted to poke his friggin' eyeballs out.  


I had to drive to Cottageville one day to pay a speeding ticket I got a month earlier. Little did we know that the bulk of revenue for this town comes from speeding tickets. They lay in wait everywhere. I wasn’t familiar yet with the area and the speed limit dropped down to 35 from 55 on a windy rural road, but I didn’t. Blue lights whirled. I was a few miles over but got the big ticket anyway. I asked him if he would give me a break with the $155 ticket and he said, “I did.”



I seriously have my cruise control set to 35 here now. Anyway, I headed off to pay the ticket. I decided I would go sit on the property for a bit before going to the municipal building. I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich looking out over the land. I thought, "something looks different, what is it?"



Then it dawned on me, the power box had been stripped from the pole. All the wiring and meter, gone. The little shed door on the back of the lot was open. I couldn't believe it.



The well pump was already gone. Don was riding around with the furnace on the back of the truck or I am sure it would have been gone too. 

I drove up to the jail/clerical/court building very slowly, knowing the speed limit might be 10. Two police were in the parking area with another man who was corralling a dog into a pen on the back of his truck. I walked over and introduced myself as a new resident of their town, adding 2 to the latest population chart of 500. They looked at me with deadpan faces, flat and dry, no welcome-wagon here. I told them about the stolen electric box and wires. They looked at each other and laughed. One deputy said “Welcome to Cottageville” facetiously. 


Feeling like the victim of an inside joke I asked. “Is this area not safe? Am I not protected?   

“You’re right outside the town limit. We don’t have enough sheriff’s to patrol outside of it.” one deputy answered. 

The other nodded and replied. “Once you get moved in everything will be alright, they figure if no one is there to protect it, it’s theirs.”


I just shook my head and walked off to pay the clerk for the ticket. 

She asked “How are you doing today?” 


“Well, I’m paying a speed trap ticket, I just left the land we purchased to find that our electrical box has been stolen and this is following someone disappearing on us after we paid them a small fortune to move a home. But other than that I’m just fine.”  

The clerk told me that her father was the only reputable mover’s in the county and retired because it was just too hard to compete with the unlicensed crooks that were also in the field. She said “I can tell you some stories, one lady paid a mover and went to the land to find that the home wasn’t there. She couldn’t get in touch with the mover afterwards, they never found her home." 


I found it hard to put into words the stunned, head shaking-earth moving event this was. I was totally blindsided. I’ve always considered myself to be a good judge of character. Now I was distraught, broke and questioning everything and everyone, but mostly myself. How did this happen? I never in my life believed that I could be taken like that. But right then, we had so much to do to make this go right, emotions needed to go on the back burner. 


Don is focused on work to bring in the extra cash, I am making what we have work. 


One rainy Friday morning, rain knocked Don off of work, he was weary, his face showed it, and his shoulders were slumped. He went to take a much needed nap. I was working on bills at the computer. I began to feel weird, breathing didn’t feel right. Don has high BP so I used his monitor to check my blood pressure. Oh my gosh, it was not good, not good at all. I picked up the keys off the table and told Don I was going to grocery story. I drove to the doctors office. They checked my blood pressure when I got there and said, "let’s get an EKG."



I have never had blood pressure issues, ever. But, this stuff that was on the back burner had become a pressure cooker. I’m also a naturalist, I hate meds, but the numbers were so bad that I had to oblige the good doctor for awhile.


So, it was November, the weather was gorgeous, the home would be moved soon. Right? Nope, more rain. Don lost all of his help at the business and was working alone and the well was literally running dry. 


Resolve had set in. Prepare for the worst and anything good that happens will be a pleasant surprise.



So Thanksgiving came, and it may have been one of my favorites. I think we were so grateful for what hadn’t been taken. The core was intact. Don roasted a nice fat duck and we had a wonderful day together cooking and relaxing. 


We kept eachother going over the next few weeks with our plans to get off the mouse wheel. The garden, the water system, solar panels, chicken coop, recycling rain water and ~sticking it to the man~ as we would say. 


So now we were into the first week of December. I am usually in Christmas-decorating mode full-throttle but everything was packed. I searched through boxes and found my vintage ceramic Christmas tree and put it out. Don suggested stringing lights on the moving boxes, so we did. I got cards and letters (handwritten & one hand-painted) from sweet friends that carried me through some of the darkness. 


Then, on the eve of my birthday, THE call. The new mover said "tomorrow is the day. We have a short window he said before rain comes in again."



It had just soaked the area again a week before. He wanted to know if I could meet him in Eutawville at the lake at 10 a.m. “You bet your sweet bippy I can,” I told him.


Don and I were so excited we could hardly sleep. I was up at 3:30 a.m. I hit the road for the hour drive and got a call when I pulled out. “Renae, are you on the way?”  the mover asked. 

My heart dropped. “Yes, I’ll be there in an hour.”


He told me not to stop anywhere because the ground was so soft that they were sinking up to their knees putting the tires on and that they would get stuck if they didn’t make a pull soon.


I had the moving permits with me so they couldn’t get on the road, but they had to get on a hard surface. I told him to go ahead and pull out, we could meet somewhere on the road. 


When I got there a very muddy crew was sitting on a paved road near the lake. I handed the mover a check on I-95 heading south. And so it began, this venture to get off the wheel. The muddy tires and axles of this home were indicative of the start of the new journey. I followed the home for about 10 miles and then whizzed by it. I couldn’t take the stress of the wide swings and power lines on the rural roads for the next 55 miles.  


Some may ask, "why are we doing this?"


Don could answer for himself, but for me: I wanted to see my husband of over 30 years in a new light on earth. Don with the heat turned down. And—I do like an adventure. I want to live life less complicated, and though it may not sound like it now, once these hurdles are overcome, it will be. 
I see in our future a home where chickens, their eggs ,and our garden sustain us, where our water isn’t questionable because we are tapped into it and know what spills on our ground, where a blade of grass has a pointy top instead of the an HOA’s required length. And if my grass is dead, I’ll know that either Don went outside in the moonlight or a deer passed through.


Stay tuned for Living Small Part III, it’s a doozie! Think Survivor show but replace tanned young bodies on exotic island with wrinkled white bodies in a rural country town.