On the Move: Unloading in a Snowstorm

Moving often marks a milestone in one’s life. It could involve a new job, returning home to take care of a parent, beginning or ending a relationship, or just getting away from the familiar for the sake of adventure. Those turning points are, at various turns, exciting, terrifying, freeing, and lonely—and, in some cases, all four at the same time. To celebrate them, we began our “On the Move” series, in which we’ve asked people to recount the most meaningful move of their lives. And next in our series we hear from Sarah, a four-time Bellhops customer.

Unloading in a Snowstorm

by Sarah Blizzard Robinson

Wait…where’s the window? As I woke up to the strange, flowered wallpaper, it suddenly dawned on me: Oh, yeah. We moved yesterday.

That Twilight Zone feeling, especially the first morning in a new place, has been my reality more times than I care to count. Between 1966 and the present day, I’ve moved across states, across town, and across cultures. First, from a brick bungalow to a three-story; eventually, to a thinly furnished dorm. Early marriage meant a wee-bit trailer; then an apartment, a townhome, and on and on, from north to the south and back again. In one memorable move a few years back, we were both the buyer and the seller, at the same closing. A first for us, the day we virtually traded houses.

All the years of relocation had us sounding more like a military family than who we actually were.

The most memorable relocation had to be my first, the year my Dad was transferred when we departed rural Russell County, Virginia. With her Blue Ridge Mountains and rolling foothills–the ones we slid down on cardboard boxes, the ones I was convinced were covered with cowboys and Indians on horseback—my seven-year-old heart sank at the prospect of leaving such familiar terrain. Our little house faded away as I stared out the back window of our Ford Galaxie 500. A long-distance move, it would be seven hours before we–and the moving van packed with all of our stuff–arrived on another planet: Wheeling, West Virginia. Think Pittsburgh, and you’re pretty close. Compared to our Virginia Highlands, the initial impression was that of a thriving city: population 50,000, back then.

I blinked a few times when I saw the first city bus. Turns out, our new address was smack-dab in the middle of the bus route. The bus driver in his gray uniform looked a bit like Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden in “The Honeymooners” as he manhandled a steering wheel the size of a flying saucer behind his big picture window. I smiled a toothless grin when he waved to me as he slowed to navigate his way around our obtrusive moving van. Passengers craned their necks to see who was blocking their bus stop.

I wondered, had Mom and Dad really researched this place? Had they figured out where our new schools were located? Had they already seen this smooth blacktopped street? This was so unlike Lebanon Manor’s gravel road, on which we’d learned to ride bikes.

It was late January when the twenty-foot-long moving van we’d followed landed curbside, and the minute the movers went to open the back double-doors, a blinding snowstorm fell out of the northern sky. With a last name like Blizzard, we took it as a sign.

You had to admire the workers in their boots, knit toboggans, gloves, and thick coats. This would be the kind of weather in which they’d dread unloading. Nevertheless, they lowered the ramp that magically appeared from the tail-end of their tractor-trailer, just feet from our front steps.

As the strong lifters carefully worked their way down the snowy ramp, I heard Dad’s booming voice.

“Kids, stay out of the way!” he yelled at my two siblings and me. The men had formed an assembly line: Dad and our older brother helped direct the move, as did Mom. Though we couldn’t wait to explore the new home, we watched in fascination. One by one out came familiar-shaped pieces that would make our house a home:

Our front room sofa was draped in a sheet. The round oak kitchen table, followed by appliances, headboards, footboards, dressers, made it through the new front door. Next came what looked like a casket. I was pretty sure we hadn’t brought along any ancestors for burial. It was actually one of Dad’s antique grandfather clocks. Collecting timepieces had become his passion. In anticipation of the move, he’d methodically removed the heavy weights, wrapped them, and carefully placed them in their own small cardboard box. Next, he’d unhooked the pendulum. Then, the delicate works were lifted up out of their tall, wooden case. Packing the keepsake collection was done with great care.

I would not be moving again until 1977 when I packed a suitcase for college and the freshman dorm at WVU. Second semester, I married my husband (also a college student–hence the trailer, apartment, townhome…) After graduating and working a few different jobs, he developed wanderlust. He simply could not pass up an opportunity to flex his managerial muscle when he came across an ad for a struggling business.

“I found this opportunity down in Florida. Needs someone to run it, and run it well.” Three short years later, he would repeat those same words about a business in south Mississippi. After sixteen years and a few hurricanes, we returned to West Virginia.

Here we are, forty-one years later, in a retirement home in north Dallas, Texas, with our eldest daughter, her husband and our three grandchildren close by. Now, whenever the middle daughter (in New York) or the youngest daughter (in Nashville) says, “We’ve found a new apartment, a new job, a townhome (fill in the blank), so if you’re available, we could sure use your help moving.” They know who to call.

Note: In this composition, Sarah gives a more detailed account of her first move, which is featured among other vignettes, in her new memoir, “As a Result”, available from Sarahblizzard.com and Amazon.

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