Thursday, June 8, 2017

Life's Circles, Forks and How a Family Was Created

Location: La Junta KOA (el. 4,250 ft); La Junta, Colorado

Current Route. Stop #10.

This blog post will not have any pictures so if you're expecting them, you will be disappointed. Well technically that thing over there >>>> to the right is a picture, so maybe just one. It will be a personal blog post written with my grandchildren and their children in mind. The subject will be some family history that may be of interest to them in the distant future. You non-family readers are more than welcome to continue reading and comment if you so desire. 

I created this blog a little over three years ago to document my RV travels. It was a way to record my travels, campgrounds, explorations and thoughts about this great country of ours. Those posts were snapshots in time. Frozen forever in this blog. I have gone back to previous blog entries and sometimes it is as if another person had written it. Sometime in my mid-teenage years, I learned a life lesson about just that thing and it has stuck with me ever since. Surprisingly, it was from some TV show. I don't remember the name of the show, but I remember the lesson. Something tragic had happened to the TV family and the father was speaking to his son about it. He told him that when some major event happens in our lives, whether tragic or happy, we should never ask the question, "what is going to happen to me now?". Instead, the correct question is "who am I going to be now?" since every major life-changing event changes us into someone else. That's some heavy duty stuff for a teenager, so I thought on it some more until it made sense. For example, once you get married, you become a spouse, once you have children, you become a parent. Those are good examples. Some not so good examples, are when a family member dies or you have a major medical problem. Those things change who you are and the way you look at life and you become someone else.  

From time to time I have used this blog to post about my past. There have been posts showing some of the houses in which I lived as I was growing up in different states. There were some of the construction projects my father help build. There have also been some about the death of family members as well as their successes. This one is going to be about how my personal branch of the Goza's was created.

Let's start in the fall of 1973. I graduated early from high school and enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17. That was two events that changed me into someone else with the enlistment being a big one. I wasn't just young and impulsive. I enlisted with my eyes wide-open and was anxious to start on a new and great adventure. Adventurous it was, but I won't go into those now. Instead, fast forward to the summer of 1977 and I only have a few months before my discharge. What to do, what to do? That was the question I was asking myself. Do I re-enlist, and if so, then the Navy would be my career. That wouldn't be too bad. I had reached the rank of Petty Officer 2nd Class in the critical rating of Operations Specialist. I had been on-board ship for 3 1/2 of my 4 year hitch and shipboard life was not a problem for me. There was a hefty multi-thousand dollar bonus and choice of duty assignment if I just signed the papers to re-up. 

My other option was to leave the Navy, go to college and become a Civil Engineer. My father was a Construction Superintendent for a national construction company. It was a family owned company so over his career, he worked for with many Civil Engineers. My visits to the construction projects and talks with those engineers is what put the thought of becoming a Civil Engineer in my mind. That was something I had planned to do right after high school but my mind wasn't in the right place at that time so I took the detour into the Navy. By the time of my discharge, I would have been out of school for 4 years and although I had completed dozens of training courses in the Navy, I wasn't fooling myself into thinking college would be easy. The Navy had also matured me way beyond my 21 years and I anticipated there would be problems with some of the more immature students who had only recently graduated high school. This was in the late 70's when there were some conflicts on college campuses. 

And there it was again, just as it had been at other times,,, a fork in the road of my life. One (re-enlisting), was a safe and pretty much known commodity. The other (college), was a real unknown. Either choice would create a "new me". 

I chose to leave the Navy and go the college route. I started my planning a few months before I was discharged. I had several thousand dollars saved, a car that was paid off and my G.I. college benefits. Uhmmm, next question I needed answered was which college to attend. I had moved around my entire life so I didn't have a permanent home. I literally could choose any college in the country. Now that is freedom. Of course to solve the problem, I bought a book. I don't remember the name of the book but it listed every college and junior/community college in the country. It also listed the degrees offered at each and the current tuition costs, etc, etc. I don't remember all of the thought process of choosing or the pros and cons of each school but somehow I decided on Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado (town sound familiar??, one of life's circles). Heck, I had never even been in Colorado. I just picked it out of a book and found it on a map. I thought it would be nice to be near the Rocky Mountains. Little did I know, you can't even see them from this town. I had also been hankering for a motorcycle and figured that would play a part in my life as a carefree single man.

So, the plan was finalized. I would be discharged in late November of 1977. I would pack all of my belongings in my sea bag and drive my Chevy Vega to the town of Justice, West Virginia. That was the place my parents were currently living while the company my father worked with built the R.D. Bailey Dam. The plan was for me to work for the company as a member of the survey crew until the fall of 1978 when I would head off to college. That meant I could save more money and buy the motorcycle. I paid cash for a brand new Suzuki 750 in the spring of 1978 after the snow melted. That scooter was fast! 

Oh, did I mention the girl who worked in the company office at the dam. I met her a day or so after I started work at the dam. She was real pretty and just a few months younger then me. (you can see where this is going can't you?). Well, up jumped another fork in my road of life. She asked me to go for a walk one day and six weeks later we were married. That's not a typo, six weeks is correct. She had a son named Jerry who had just turned 3 years of age. The date that the three of us got married was June 9, 1978 (tomorrow would have been 39 years). My father was the best man at my wedding, and last month on May 13, 2017, I was the best man at Jerry's wedding. Another one of life's circles. 

Well now, I worked the day of Friday, June 9th, got married that evening, honeymooned over the weekend at a state park and then back to work on Monday. You can sure tell what a romantic soul I was back then, unfortunately I didn't improve much over the years. We had to quickly modify the individual plans Kathy and I had when we were single and come up with one for the three of us. There's that fork in the road again. Where do we live? What do we do to make a living? It seems she didn't have a lot of hard fast plans of her own and she was more than happy to leave West Virginia, so she and Jerry sort of adopted mine. We sold my Chevy Vega and her Chevy Monza and bought a new Red Chevy Monte Carlo with a T-top. It was a sweet car. Notice I didn't say we sold the motorcycle. I figured I would be able to ride it to school while leaving the Monte Carlo for Kathy. That made enough sense for me not to sell it. By the way, it still wasn't licensed. 

I don't remember the exact date, but would guess it to be sometime in July of 1978, about one month after our wedding. We rented a U-haul truck and packed everything we owned inside, including the motorcycle. Along with the truck, we got a hitch to tow the Monte Carlo. My father showed me how to take the drive shaft out so it could be towed without a dolly. Off we go, a brand new family of three, heading 1,300 miles across country to a town none of us had ever been to or knew anybody in the town. I don't remember stopping except for fuel and eating so it was a long and exhausting trip in that truck. We arrived in La Junta and the first thing I noticed was no Rocky Mountains in view. Darn, strike one. We got a motel room and started looking for a place to live. We contacted a realtor who showed us several houses and apartments but none suited us. Looking back, that may have been the official reason, but perhaps neither of us were too excited about the town. I have looked at the town again yesterday and today with the eyes of a 61 year old and it looks OK. Back then, we never even drove by the college, but I did yesterday and it looks really nice. 

After a couple of days unsuccessfully searching for a place to stay, that fork in the road came up again. Do we continue looking or do we go somewhere else. Hmmm, I knew of another place. In fact, it had been on my list of possible colleges. Alvin Community College in Alvin, Texas. It had pre-engineering classes which I needed before transferring to a four year school to finish up. An added benefit is that my older brother (10 years older), lived in Alvin. We called him from the motel in La Junta to see if he could find out if the fall session had started. Remember, this is way before internet. He called me right back and said it started in a few days. He also said we could stay with him and his family until we found a place of our own. So, Kathy and I decided to follow that fork and traveled another 900 miles to Alvin, Texas. After a couple of weeks, we found a trailer for rent in a town down the road called Manville. Kathy stayed home with Jerry while I drove a school bus for extra cash and went to classes. Life was good. We celebrated our one year wedding anniversary as I finished the school year with high enough grades to know I could compete, academically, on the college level. Another decision was needed as to where to go to school next. Stay in Alvin for one more year or transfer to a four year school. That decision would wait until the end of the summer of 1979. The three of us packed everything up again and headed back to West Virginia, minus the motorcycle. Money got tight and I wasn't riding it much so we sold it (never did get a license for it). After working on the dam for the summer, we decided to go to Lafayette, Louisiana where I would enroll in the University of Southwest Louisiana. And wouldn't you know it, another family member lived there. My sister and her husband lived there and we stayed with them for a couple of weeks until we found a place of our own. I enrolled in USL, now called ULL. Kathy started work at Eckerds Drug Store and was very successful in working her way up to assistant manager. She was very impressive at her job.

Three and a half years later, in the fall of 1982, we graduated from USL, our daughter Brittanie was born and we were faced with another fork in the road. Where do I work? As it was seen in the past, we didn't have a problem moving anywhere in the country. Again, like some of the forks in the past showed, it was freedom. We received a pretty good job offer from the construction company my father worked for and we were very tempted to take it. It would mean Jerry and Brittanie would live a life similar to the one I grew up in with moving from town to town as construction projects started and finished. Wow, I had to think that one over pretty hard. I liked the life in which I was raised. It never really bothered me moving every 2 years or so. One of the things that I did miss out on while growing up was staying in a place long enough to develop long term friends. The only kids I knew longer than a couple of years were the children of the other company employees. Would I want that for my children?

Another offer came in from the State of Louisiana, Department of Transportation and Development. They were staffing up in the northwestern district for the imminent construction of the Interstate Highway 49 and were looking for young engineers. The starting pay was smaller but the long term benefits, job stability and promotional opportunities were greater.

Two offers with two distinctly different paths. Kathy was leaving this decision up to me.

I chose the DOTD and began work in January of 1983 in the town of Mansfield, Louisiana, about 35 miles south of Shreveport. Two years later Brandon was born and that made us a family of five. After years of baseball and gymnastics all of the kids graduated from the same high school with friends they had known for over a decade. They cruised the same streets after getting their drivers license and could recognize most of the people in town by sight. Jerry went on to college and graduated from Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana. Brittanie also went to college and graduated at Louisiana State University at Shreveport. Brandon chose a different fork than his brother and sister and graduated from Universal Technical Institute in Houston, Texas. By the way, he also had a heart stint installed while going to UTI and it only set him back about one week. 

Along the way, the marriage that began in that summer of 1978 ended in the early fall of 2006 after 28 years and 2 months. It was a sad day, and I learned too late that you never take anything for granted, even marriages. In the spring of 2014, I retired from the DOTD after 31 years. I had reached the highest position a person could achieve in the district. Another promotion would have meant moving to the state capital in Baton Rouge. Even though I probably could have received another promotion, I just didn't have it in me to make the move. 

Jerry, his son, step-son and new bride live in Sulphur, Louisiana which is in the southwestern corner of the state near the Texas border.

Brittanie, her husband and daughter live in Plain Dealing, Louisiana in the northwestern corner of the state near the Arkansas border.

Kathy and Brandon live in Mansfield, Louisiana. They are in the house we bought when the children were still small. Brandon is the one that never wanted to leave the town he was raised in except when he went to Houston to attend UTI.

And me, I live in an RV named Liberty, towed by a truck named Freedom, and travel around the country. I guess I do have a few more moves left in me. 

So here I sit, in the town where Kathy, Jerry and I thought were were going to start our new lives together, 39 years ago. We were wide eyed and in our early 20's with nothing but our futures ahead of us. Little did we know the ride we had began as just the Goza3 eventually would became the Goza5. 

Life's circles and forks are all around us, you just have to look for them. And remember, everything happens for a reason.

Tomorrow is moving day. Yep, I'm the Goza that is still moving. The move is going to be a long one, almost 450 miles. I don't like moving such great distances in one day any more, but there is nothing that interests me between here and Oklahoma City, so I'll just drive. If I get too tired, I'll find a place to stop. I expect it to be a good thought-clearing drive. 

Grandbabies; I hope this piece of history is of interest to you. I also hope it helps me remember it in a few year if my memory fades. 

Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.   


  1. From one civil engineer to another, I say well done!

  2. I enjoyed reading this post. There were details that I didn't know. I am thankful you took the job at DOTD and did not follow in Pa's footsteps. It allowed all of us kids to make lifelong friendships! :)

    1. I'm glad I made that decision too. :) Be sure to let Olivia know when she gets older.

  3. I grew up in the Air Force until I was in High School and I hate, hate, hated moving every 2 to 4 years. I wasn't happy until I made it to the farm. My boys hated living on a farm and had no interest in farming. One joined the Air Force and traveled all over. They are both back close to home after 20 something years.

  4. My Dad had the wanderlust gene. I inherited it and we moved our children quite a bit. Two loved it and one hated it. She has firmly planted her feet and will never move her children. Great job in putting your thoughts down for your grandchildren. They will appreciate it.

    1. Thanks Barb. I hope they do. Be careful out there.

  5. Thanks for sharing your story. I really enjoyed it. It is amazing how what seem like small decisions at the time turn in to life altering moments.

    1. Thanks Shawn. Little things turn into major things.

  6. I, your big sister, needs to add something. Our parents we're always proud of every decision you made. And would be very proud of the "old" man you've become. I tease you about being Mom's Baby but you were and always will be--you just grew up!