Hey Y’all…I’m Don Avant…
I’m a semi-retired, semi-disabled Viet Nam Vet.
I recently returned to Alabama after spending 35 years in Tucson AZ. Trust me when I say I have still some adjusting to do.
I’ve gone through 4 whole seasons here. In Tucson there’s only two seasons…mild (65 degrees is cold. Dec. Jan. and Feb) and HOT!!! ( The rest of the year. 100 degree+days are COMMON). I saw snow twice. Once in Dec.(semi-white Christmas) and once in Apr. (on Easter day of all times)
Weather forecasts are much different . In Tucson when they say 25% chance or rain, they mean a 25% chance that it’s going to rain somewhere between Mexico and Canada(Weather forecasters are REALLY REALLY bored). In Alabama, 25% means it’s gonna rain, there’s a 25% chance you personally are going to get wet…In Tucson, two or three days of rain is a “MONSOON” In Oneonta, two days without rain is a “dry spell”.
Before hitting Tucson, I spent 4 years in the Air Force, a year in Nam and a year in Thailand. Then 5 or 6 years in CA (I’m not sure—some of that time is a little hazy) mostly as a bartender.
I spent time in TX and OK selling furniture of all things. I’ve cooked in greasy spoons and places like Hobo Joe’s (Kind of like a fancy Denny’s, now defunct I believe, I hope not because of my cooking).
In Tucson, I went to a business college and took some courses in Business and Accounting. I worked at UofAZ Hospital for about a year as a bookkeeper in one of the departments. I figured out pretty quick that I didn’t like working inside in an office, but I stuck it out for a while to see if I could adjust…NOT HAPPENING…
I went through a series of jobs mostly in building maintenance. I worked in construction (Framing), Janitorial, Apartment Maintenance (13 years at one apartments, 4 at another) and finally 3 1/2 years at the UofAZ again, this time in Building Maintenance.
When the housing bubble burst, Tucson was especially hit hard. Speculation in the building industry and tourism collapsed, and the tax revenues from these dried up. The state cut funding to It’s universities by half.
Many at the UofAZ were laid off, including me. With the building industry shut down, a lot of those folks were looking for maintenance jobs.
For most of my life I haven’t had a problem finding a job. Cooking (people are always hungry), bartending (someone always wants a drink) and maintenance ( things always breaks) had always let me find a job of some kind. This time, however, it was different. Every job I was applying for had HUNDREDS of applicants.
I had some savings and severance from the UofAZ. I was able to hang on for while. In Feb. 2011, I became, officially, HOMELESS (yes the big H). I was evicted because I couldn’t pay my rent (Hey!..I was BROKE!!!).
I went to the VA for help. I wasn’t willing to lie and say I was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, or incapacitated by PTSD, so at that time, the VA was not much help (they have since developed more programs to help veterans stay off the streets). I spent 90 days in a 100 bed open bay homeless shelter run by The Primavera Foundation. Good people, but a LOT of people to serve, especially at that time. Two people Died in the shelter while I was there, both from Methadone overdose.
The VA was finally able to place me with Old Pueblo Community Services. This is a foundation that helps homeless Vets AND convicts find a way back into society. After a couple of months, I was asked to become a House Manager with them. This involved supervising the residents and their compliance with house rules (no drinking, in by 11, work the program). I was also able to take early retirement from Social Security to get some money coming in.
During that time I was battling the VA over a disability claim for Diabetes related to Agent Orange. I’m now battling them over a heart condition related to the Diabetes. Battling with the VA has become, if not an occupation, at least an avocation.
During and before my time in Tucson, I became disconnected from my family here. I do not understand why or how this happened. Certainly it was no fault of theirs.
Maybe it was lingering anger at my stepfather. Bill was a piece of work. I have since come to realize that a lot of Bill’s attitudes about communication came from his upbringing and a lot of OUR problems (Please note that I’m not trying to blame all this on him) stem from that. Madge was a living angel, Ed wasn’t. I do know that Mom loved him enough to stay with him so he must have some good in him, even if I couldn’t see it. I understand him more now (Hindsight is always 20-20). They both always kept a job and between them we had good food and a roof over our heads and I’m greatfull for that..
Maybe it was my perverse stubborness (What? A stubborn Avant? Nooooo!!!) Maybe it was my heavy alcohol use. Or maybe some combination of all these.
Maybe it was also shame at the pain I knew I caused my mother. I remember the last time I saw her. I had come back from CA and got a job as bartender in B’ham. I was moving in with a co-worker in B’ham to save the foggy commute. She was crying and I said “Why are you crying Mom? It’s not like this is the last time you’ll see me…”…..Who knew?…..
I know that I regret this deeply.
Another thing that I regret is not being able to come home to see Libby before she passed away. Cathy ,through much effort on her part, (She’s kind of stubborn too. Fits right in doesn’t she.) had finally gotten in touch with me, letting me know how sick Libby was. I had decided to come home to see her, but was trying to save a few dollars by coming home on the train instead of flying. I, at least, was able to talk to her on the phone a few times before she passed.. I thank Cathy for that and for having her over to their house that last weekend, giving us that opportunity.
There are a lot of things I regret in my life…what I don’t regret is being home..
I’v been alone for much of my life, sometimes by choice and sometimes by circumstance.
It’s good to have family around me again…I didn’t realize what I had been missing…
Love and God’s blessings to you all…