Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The Warsaw Migration
About the time I reach the first bridge over Truman Lake coming in on Highway 7, the world suddenly seems 10 times lighter. When I finally reach the city limits of Warsaw, the world falls off, and I'm transported to a place of total relaxation. Sounds like a Calgon commercial, but it's an honest reaction I've developed to a place I used to dread. The same place that will become Kathy and I's home in the years ahead, and Legends Of America's expanded base of operations.
To understand the dread I had, you have to have an appreciation for the kind of person I am, and weigh it against the early beginnings of a wonderful relationship with Kathy, who had picked one hell of a run down shack on the Lake of the Ozarks. When I met Kathy 5 years ago, she was just a year into her investment. During the first few months of dating, she never really talked about the lake house...guess it was one of those things you didn't mention early on for fear of scaring away your suitor, or making him feel inadequate with just his one home in the suburbs of Kansas City. It could also be she figured out quick that I wasn't the 'manly man' type. Oh, don't get me wrong, I can swing a hammer when I have too. But for the most part these hands are made for emails and trouble shooting software.
The first time Kathy invited me down to her paradise away from the city, I was extremely pleased and excited to go. Pleased with the fact I had finally made the 'lake' cut, a sign our relationship was progressing. Excited from the fact that I was going to a lake house. As a city boy, I had images of a beautiful towering home, plate glass picture windows that enhanced the view of an enormous field of blue, dotted with sail boats and yachts. I could imagine Kathy greeting me at the door in a sailors cap, glass of Cognac in one hand and a beach towel in the other. Yes, I had grand visions during that first drive down.
When I finally found the little community of North Shores just outside of Warsaw, I began to realize this wasn't quite Cognac country. I passed several nice homes, typical ranch style, several with fishing boats perched out front, some desperately in need of paint, others that shouldn't be near a puddle, much less a lake. Continuing on down the main road, finding my next turn at a run down bright yellow frame that I 'think' used to house someone, then closer to the lake, which in this area of the Ozarks is more a large, wide river you could probably skip a rock to the middle of. Starting around the last curve and up on a slight hill, just where Kathy had instructed it would be, stood the shack.
I say shack because that's really all it was in it's early days. The one room structure had grown over the years with a kitchen and a bedroom, but it still screamed shack. During her first year she had added on another bed room, remodeled the existing one, and began building a new deck to look out over the water. It was still in the very early stages of Kathy's work, as the new part of the home was sided in protective paper, piles of scrap lumber strewn about, and only the posts of the new deck standing ready. I had a real since that the latest construction was probably the only thing keeping the house from total collapse.
As I pulled slowly into the rock driveway I looked around at some pretty nice homes next door, down the road and across the street, and for a moment I thought maybe I had pulled into the wrong place. It wasn't long before Kathy peered from a side door, wearing her overalls and a denim cap...Beer in one hand and pry bar in the other. "Welcome to my home away from home" she gleamed. I couldn't help but chuckle..I just didn't have the vision Kathy did. All I could think of was how a bull dozer could do wonders for a place like this.
I put on my best smile and followed her in. Low ceilings in the living room gave me the impression I would whack my head on the fan worbeling overhead in the path to the kitchen. Off to the side a small room that would eventually be another bathroom, and an open wall to a new bedroom, both of which were piled high with every tool imaginable. I'm not sure if that's what made me nervous, or if it was the fact Kathy new every tools name and purpose, but within the first 15 minutes of my arrival I was already feeling a bit small. Even if Kathy only stands 5' 2" in boots, she was definitely out of my league in the 'manliness' department.
Over the next year, every weekend we had the chance, off we would go to the lake shack. It wouldn't be long after arrival that both of us would have tools in hand, hammering away at Kathy's vision. I would give her blank stares as she expounded on how it would look in the end, but continued to balance the stare with a smile on my face and a question on what the hell a sawsall was, or why someone would cover string with colored chalk to make lines with. Kathy was patient, but it wasn't long that I began to dread the drive down.
After a year, life started getting in the way back in the city. Kathy had finally come to the conclusion she was done with her corporate job. The small web site she had started was beginning to grow, and she wanted to devote everything to Legends Of America. At the same time, the software product that had brought me to Kansas City in 1999 was sold and I was being urged to re-locate to Dallas. Kathy was hinting around about selling her townhouse in Lenexa and moving to the lake shack permanently, and I was suddenly confronted with the ol' 'shit or get off the pot' dilemma. Do I try to make a long distance relationship work, or take the next step forward. It wasn't going to be easy either way. Kathy had been single for a long time and set in her ways. I had been single for a while and enjoyed the bachelor life, but there was a nagging feeling that Kathy was important for the rest of my life.
It took some talking and hypothesizing, but after a month I had convinced Kathy to give it a shot. She would move into my house in Prairie Village, we'd fix up and sell her town house, then fix up my house, sell it and move to Dallas that next summer in 2005. We had the plan and it was a grand one, but it didn't allow any time for the lake shack. Not that it bothered me much, but I could tell it was eating away at Kathy. By Spring of 2005 my work plans had changed again and the new owners wanted me to stay put and continue to run our Kansas City operation. That threw our plans in a new direction and we wound up fixing up both houses, selling mine and moving back to her town house instead of Dallas.
There were about 13 months that the lake shack just stood there waiting. And as it did so, the care that Kathy had given it began to bend to the will of the hill where it perched. By the time we started coming back down in the fall of 2005 we had plenty to do to bring it back to it's once 'shack' glory. I was even more weary of the constant construction now, since working on two homes over the past year, but then I started to feel something. I'm sure Kathy had felt this from the day she bought the place, but now it was starting to creep in on me. A feeling of escape.
In the early months of 2006 life for us took another most unexpected turn. Kathy was full force into Legends of America, and the business was slowly but surely growing. By this time she had already received kudos from Yahoo in one of their "Website of the Day" features. She was continually building an audience, and making just enough money on line to pay for the site and her travel. Then the product line I am with was sold again, and this time to one of the fastest growing, most incredible companies in the US.
The benefits from my new employer made life a lot easier for both of us. However I still couldn't convince Kathy to deviate from her 3 year plan of completion. She wanted us to do most, if not all the work ourselves, saving money, but surely adding to the insanity. I finally got some leverage that summer when Kathy and I exchanged vows on a mountain in New Mexico. Not that being married gives me some magical ability to change her mind, but at least now I could convince her it was 'our' money, and that putting a little more into the shack wasn't a bad thing. I had been working on her for a few months when in October of 2006 the living room ceiling collapsed, as the outside wall of her home away from home, decided enough was enough. She finally agreed to deviate from the 3 year plan.
We got to know our neighbors very well over the next year. Marvin, down the hill on the way into our lot, is retired but still working as a contractor. He can do quite a bit for a man 70ish, and he knows everyone you need for a job like this in Warsaw. We hired him right away for the living room job and the new look lifted away my anxiety over our constant construction. That Spring we brought down Kathy's brother John, who get's laid off annually from his heavy equipment job in the New Mexico mountains. He finished up the new bedroom and bathroom, along with dozens of other little jobs. By summer 2007 we were regularly getting work done through Marvin and a few others, and the lake shack was finally becoming a true home.
Mid way through that summer I began to feel it stronger with every trip. It didn't matter which way I came... through Harrisonville and over to Clinton then down, or straight over to Sedalia and down. Just a few miles out either direction a strange lifting of weight would come over me. By the time I would reach the city limits of Warsaw the world's worries were gone, replaced with a feeling of complete tranquility. I'm coming home.
We tacked up the Legends of America sign above the door this past Christmas. In fact, we spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas there, trying to get our kids and grandkids acclimated to the idea that we wouldn't be staying in the city much longer. The next project is to build a garage with an office that will act as Legends shipping center in the future. We may still be several years away from moving there permanently, but our migration to Warsaw is on course. The only thing I worry about is getting Kathy back to the city with me once in a while, so I can wrap up my corporate job the way she has. The task is increasingly difficult, and quite frankly, I envy her.
I'll blog more about the neighbors, the new Legends of America headquarters and Warsaw some time in the near future. Kathy and her brother are down there now doing some landscaping. For me it's back to the corporate world, at least for a while.