My relatives have often referred to my family as wanderers. We live here for a few years, get bored, then move somewhere else, excited for a new point of view and new opportunities. So, when my husband was promoted to a position located three hours from our current residence, we jumped at the chance. Sure, this new town was quite a bit smaller than the big city we were in, and it was based almost entirely on an unstable oil boom, but we were ready for the change.
Our shock came when we realized there were no places for rent. The oil companies had scooped up all potential rentals for their workers. On the rare occasion a rental became available, the rent was easily four times that of apartments in the city we were coming from. Left with only one option, we decided to purchase our very first home.
I had often thought about home ownership, I had daydreamed about owning a home for years and with those daydreams came so many expectations. As a diehard fan of HGTV I was ready to paint and wallpaper and tile (having actually done none of those things up to this point). Sure, I never envisioned home ownership in a small, remote oil town, but the excitement of it all somehow muted the rational voice in my head. But here’s the thing: It was 2008 and the stock market and housing market were in a downward spiral. By some miracle, our home loan was approved, and we became first time homebuyers and a few months later, parents to our third child.
Fast forward two years and the inevitable happened, the booming oil field busted, and hundreds of workers were relocated to the next oil boom (somewhere in South Dakota). The area became a ghost town overnight and my husband was laid off. The housing market was now flooded with unsellable houses due not only to the oil field exodus, but also the nation was still trying to climb out of the recent recession. Unable to survive on my salary alone we made the hard decision to foreclose on our home and move back to the city. Closing that front door for the final time and walking away was one of the hardest experiences I had faced. As my husband was waiting in the driveway – all our belongings packed into a moving truck, I sat in my newborn son’s room and cried. This room that I had lovingly painted in a beautiful shade of blue with wooden stars hung above his crib, I would never see again. This room that welcomed him home from the hospital, he would never remember. That corner where the rocking chair sat would never again be used to rock him to sleep. I was devastated.
Thankfully we were able to live with family for a few months to get back on our feet. We found new jobs, we found a new apartment and we began again. About a year later I was surprised by an unannounced visitor at my place of employment. Introducing himself as an investigator for the federal government, he began to ask me questions about our old home: what happened, when did we leave, who were we letting live in the house? Unbeknownst to us, the lender for our home mortgage was embroiled in a legal battle with the government and therefore unable to actually complete the foreclosures on any of their homes. After we vacated, miraculously there was a new family that moved in and claimed the house as theirs living mortgage free for the last year (knowing the bank could do nothing while being sued by the government). The investigator wanted to ensure that we were not party to any illegal activities as this form of squatting had become quite common. I assured the investigator we knew nothing about the property after we left the town and he expressed curiosity as to why I wasn’t more upset about losing our home and knowing others were now living there. I thought for a bit about his question and answered as simply as I could: I know now that house was nothing more than four walls. I had my family. We were safe, we were together and we were able to move on. As a family we reordered our priorities recognizing what was really important to us was being together. We had the support of our friends and family and while this was a traumatic event, we came away from it stronger, smarter, and certainly more prepared to face the future.