Recently overheard conversation somewhere in the stratosphere:
“Say” says one to the other . . . “whatever happened to that ministry with the oddball name? You know, the ones who pulled a reverse Beverly Hillbillies and left Californy for somewhere in . . . you know—the less civilized part of the world?”
“Oh yeah. The Impertinent People,” said the other to the one. “I think they moved to Texas and started a jug band music . . . band.”
“No, I don’t think it was jug band music. I’m pretty sure she gave up California Dreaming for a spot in the San Antonio Kazoo Symphony,” offered a third potential rocket scientist. Called themselves The Impregnable People.”
“Not even close to true,” argued the first. “I know for a certainty she had three kids with quintuplets on the way. And it was more like she was living in Havana or Tuscaloosa or somewhere the fertility rate is astounding for senior citizens.”
“I heard they bought a house and turned it into a squirrel sanctuary.”
“Well, I heard they tore down the squirrel sanctuary and are now sod farmers. Too bad about the drought. But brown is a nice color too.”
“I know for a fact they changed their name to Impossible People and gave up the ministry for Lent!”
Rumors sure do have a way of getting out of hand. And while only that last name change resonates with any sense of accuracy (I mean, though we still answer to Improbable People Ministries, we ARE pretty impossible at times), the fact that a full eight months have elapsed since our last blog post has allowed for all sorts of wild thoughts and errant ideas to grow like insidious weeds in the Garden of Truth. But here are the facts of the matter:
On April 29, 2022 the O’Connor clan loaded their lives into a 16-foot POD and two cars. The POD we placed in storage for future transfer. The cars were filled with clothes, underwear, toothbrushes, medicines, checkbooks—basically anything we would need access to for possibly the next 3-4 months. Dusty and newly-licensed Shannon drove one vehicle. Sally and I manned the other.
We headed South on I-5 to San Diego for a final California IPM concert, before veering East on the I-10 and heading for Houston. That would be Texas. You know, where all of country singer George Strait’s exes, for no apparent reason, seem to congregate . . .
Dusty and Shannon saw this journey as a sprint and made it in three days. We senior members of the relay team saw this as a marathon and took the scenic (slow) route, arriving in four. Romantic journey? Oh, you bet! You haven’t swooned until you’ve spent your 35th wedding anniversary dinner at a rustic cantina named “Pepitos Cafe” near El Paso before turning in for the night at The Sleepy Cactus Motor Lodge just off the dusty highway by Rattlesnake Gulch. Never let it be said I don’t know how to show a lady a good time.
When we arrived in Spring, Texas on Day Four Dusty and Shannon greeted us outside Chez Tsalkov wearing the widest “We beat you! We BEAT you!” grins they could muster. This, as it turned out, would be our home for the next fifty-nine days, fourteen hours, twelve minutes, and thirty-two seconds. If that seems like a long time, imagine what it felt like to our hosts, Dusty and Sergey, while we searched for our dream house by day and sponged off our relatives by night.
I adopted a phrase for our ultimate prize. To achieve success, to find peace, contentment and a couple more of life’s seemingly unattainable goals we told our realtor, Keith Rodgers, we were looking for a “Unicorn”. And by that we meant a house possessing most of our must-haves, combined with plenty of our wanna-haves, and maybe even a couple dare-not-dreams.
First on Sally’s “must” list was always a fireplace. First for me, who had spent too many painful hours standing outside the one restroom we had in our North Hollywood home at the mercy of four female roommates and one ironically small bladder, was . . . . a SECOND bathroom. I am a man of simple needs and realistic desires. But this was NOT an optional request. This was an I’ll-go-live-in-Bolivia-before-I-ever-take-up-residence-in-a-one-toilet-house-ever-again manifesto.
Keith was a patient man. In March we made a 10-day preliminary pilgrimage to The Promised Land, more to train ourselves in the art of home-buying than to make an actual purchase as we had about $12.73 in the bank before the North Hollywood house sold. When this event finally came down the pike, as a result of a deal our realtor and friend Dan Keenan coordinated with an investor acquaintance, we eventually had the cash in hand to pack up our belongings and move from the second largest city in the US to the third most populous. Apparently, we were looking for a town just a little less crowded.
On weekdays Keith escorted us to listings less than 30-minutes from Dusty and Sergey. That was the maximum range we wanted to be from the younguns. And on weekends Sally and I hit the Open Houses since we could get inside without an agent, giving Keith a couple days respite. All told we toured between 40-50 houses. We saw some real beauties out of our price range and we visited a few dogs whose fleas had fleas.
We placed official bids on two properties that loosely fit the description of being Unicorns. They were each lovely, yet flawed, in their own way. But it was a seller’s market at the time and we were disciplined enough to submit bids to keep us in the game but not, eventually, to pull in the jackpot from the center of the table. In retrospect this proved fortuitous. In fact, I’d call it Divine Fortuity.
One of these houses carried the double blessing of having a rental apartment above the garage to bring in some passive income, as well as being a mere 10-minute walk from our daughter’s home. The other was further from our desired geographical range and, at two bedrooms, was quite a bit tighter than the indoor space we desired. Oh, but it possessed a gorgeously-landscaped back yard on a downhill slope and a beautiful vista of the surrounding community.
Somewhere, about midway through our search, I asked Keith what was the record number of houses he’d ever shown before the client placed a successful bid. “Oh, about twenty or twenty-one,” he replied.
“And how many houses do you think you’ve shown us so far?” I inquired.
“Oh, about twenty or twenty-one,” he sighed.
Clearly, in Keith’s long real estate career, we were entering his personal pantheon of Most Memorable Buyers.
As day after seemingly endless day rolled past, we grew weary of the hunt, spent from the chase. Our Unicorn of a house, that mythical Thomas Kincaid painting forged in our dreams and shaped through prayer appeared less and less real. House hunting became a chore, a 9-5 pursuit we punched the clock for daily, ate our lunch, and dreamed of day’s end when our lives became our own again. Our noble quest for the Real Estate Grail was now officially a job and not a joy. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it?
And then one day unexpectedly, the seas calmed, the clouds parted, the sun shone brightly and the robins chirped in their Mary Poppins-like way as we turned left onto Mandeville Ct. in Spring, Texas. We were long drawn to the idea of living on a court with its self-enclosed community and, paradoxically, almost trafficless isolation. But sometimes we visited a house located in a court where the home itself proved less than ideal, showcasing rugs with cat-encrusted feces and smells to go with them, fifteen unprovoked barking dogs over the back fence or indoor load-bearing beams that sagged like . . . well, like load-bearing beams shouldn’t.
But as we turned left onto Mandeville Court on that day of Divine Fortuity, Sally and I were almost breathless as we turned to each other and chirped chorally in our best Tweety Bird impersonations, “I tot I taw a Unicorn! (a beat) I DID! I DID TEE A UNICORN!”
Ok, maybe our first sighting of the Mandeville house was not so dramatic or cartoonic. But as Keith’s vehicle approached the house with the For Sale sign we noticed the property, located at the exact heart of the court, with near-perfect landscaping and charming brick exterior, was something you would find on a picture postcard you’d send to an old friend:
Thanks for the memories. It’s time to move on.
We’ve met someone else. It’s not you—it’s us.
Michael & Sally”
So, after the usual inspection, due diligence, and minimal haggling we arrived at a price the sellers welcomed and we could afford. The deal allowed our new friends Francisco and Cecilia to escape to Arkansas as we finalized our transfer to Deep in The Hearta, USA.
We officially moved in on July 1 and the POD carrying our lifetime of belongings, straggled in a few days later. We brought little furniture and depended on retail, garage, and estate sales to fill the place. We still needed to be frugal but had enough left over to enjoy our little buying spree. Turns out estate sales are a lot of fun.
The infrastructure for our personal and ministry lives are nearly set. It’s amazing how Texas government officials these days insist on treating you like an immigrant from a terrorist state when you proclaim California as your ancestral home. We filled out paperwork and forms until our wrists cramped and then declared fealty to the song The Yellow Rose of Texas as our new National Anthem.
The folks here are super-friendly. On one of my first trips to the H.E.B. Grocery (no idea what that stands for) a complete stranger was eyeing a half gallon of strawberry Blue Bell Ice Cream and turned to me as if we’d gone to high school together.
“Ever tried this Blue Bell?” he inquired.
“No, I haven’t,” I answered quite surprised at the query for, indeed, I had not. “But I hear it’s a high-quality brand worth the premium price. I think you’ll probably like it.”
He seemed satisfied, tipped his ten-gallon hat and sauntered on down the aisle. We never spoke again, but he probably figured we’d catch up at the 50-year reunion.
That’s typical of the people and attitudes we’ve encountered since arriving with California plates on our cars and dinner table. Open, accepting, and probably keeping one eye trained as they went about figuring what kind of crazy we were importing along with our stuff.
Our neighbors are friendly and interesting. On one side sits longtime senior resident with whom I enjoy occasional political banter. On the other side is Deputy Sheriff Dustin and his family. The first time we saw the Mandeville house I was grateful to look over at their driveway and see a lawman’s car parked there. Happy, indeed, to have a built-in security system with no extra price tag attached. True, I would have to give up my life of crime, but it seemed like a small price to pay to see a man mowing his lawn while packing. Come think of it, I’d guess just about everyone in Texas does that.
Now that we’re settled, we plan to hold an open house and invite the block over for a Christmas/Hanukkah gathering. We feel called to get to know our community and neighbors better than we did in North Hollywood. We blame that sensibility on God and dear friend Lynn Cory, founder of Neighborhood Initiative.
We have found a new home church and joined a House Church (mid-week Bible study) which, back in California, we would have called a kinship group. We surely miss our friends and church of 36 years—the Valley Vineyard. But we don’t miss much else, owing to the declining virtues of America’s once Golden State.
As for Improbable People we know God invited us to come to Texas for a reason. And we are still praying for revelation as to what that purpose may be. 2023 will be upon us soon. With personal and ministry frameworks nearly in place we are set to embark on our next great adventure with God at the helm.
Sally and I hope you’ll continue to hang out with us through this blog, the music, and stories to see what God will be doing in the coming months and years. Whatever is in store for the O’Connor family we believe we’ve found the place to settle for the duration.
Like that night in a simple manger when Jesus made his humble appearance, Sally and I now can, hand in hand, wander out into our tree-lined back yard, look up and see a sky much like those three wise men saw that glorious night in Bethlehem:
The stars at night
Are big and bright . . .
So, for those who have been asking as to our future plans, Sally and I have only this to say: We did not come here to retire. We came here to refresh, replenish and reload.
And to rejoice.
Not necessarily in that order.
“ . . . I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
Write to us at:
Improbable People Ministries/
Michael & Sally O’Connor
16722 Mandeville Ct.
Spring, TX 77379