It’s always hard to move away from the area you grew up, married and raised your family. My mother, Dorothea was born in a small town on the plains of southern Minnesota. She grew up there, went to the local schools and eventually married a young man who, according to mom, was the best dancer in the county. Over the years she gave birth to 9 children. I was #7 out of the 9.
When I was about 11 years old my parents got a divorce. It was a difficult time for all of us. Financial stress and all the other problems that come from being a single mother created quite a bit of stress for everyone.
When I was about 15 years old, my mom was invited to join a friend of hers and travel to Southern California. She didn’t know anyone there but she had never seen California and thought the trip would be a great adventure. When she and her friend drove through the small down of San Juan Capistrano she fell in love with the place. She immediately decided that she would leave everything behind in Minnesota and move with us last 3 kids to San Juan, California to live out her life.
In late summer of 1969, she left Minnesota and drove by herself to California to see if she could find a job and an apartment. She left Minnesota in a very old run down Oldsmobile and traveled more than 1,800 miles by herself. She didn’t know how to get there (she didn’t know how to read rode maps) but trusted that God would show her the way. Mom fought rain storms, high winds, flat tires, engine troubles and food poisoning all the way there. Eventually, she made it to California. She found a job as a cook in a convalescent hospital that paid $2.15 an hour and place to live in a little town called Capistrano Beach. She was only about 4 miles from San Juan Capistrano. Her dream had come true.
My sister joined mom just after Thanksgiving of that year while my brother Tom and I stayed behind in Luverne to finish the school year. We had no desire to leave our home and all of our friends. Tom and I were doing so great with school sports and weren’t interested in giving them up. I was in 9th grade and was running on the varsity track team. I had everything going for me. We simply didn’t want to leave everything that was dear to us to move to a state that we had heard will filled with drugs and hippies. Little did we know how slanted those stories were.
That first summer was not a fun summer. We had no friends, no job, and nothing meaningful to do. My brother, my sister and I spent a lot of time sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves. Tom and I went to the beach every day just to get away from the house.
Mom worked hard to make ends meet. We lived on a shoestring budget. Mom’s Oldsmobile died only a week after she arrive in California, so we walked everywhere we needed to go. There was no public transportation in Capistrano Beach nor in any of the neighboring communities.
But with time, we made new friends and joined the LDS Church. Our school was huge and spread over several acres. I felt like I was going to school on a college campus. I was taking classes that were never available to us in our small hometown in Minnesota. An entirely new worlds of friends, opportunities, adventures and dreams were open to us kids.
I still love my home town and go back from time to time visit and see of friends. But I will be forever grateful to my mom for making my me and my younger brother and sister do something none of us wanted to do. It was the hardest thing we had ever done up to that time but it changed our lives in ways we never imagined possible.
Looking back I can see the enormous price my mom paid to make that move happen. Much of who I am today is the result of what my mother did for me when I was a young teenager. What can I say, but “Thank you Mom.” I will always owe you for that.
Upload and share your photos and stories for Mother’s Day. It is a simple way to preserve a memory and let your mother know how much you appreciate her.
This story was submitted to FamilySearch by Stephen Birkeland