Throughout my childhood, the Rothrocks were a bit of a vagabond family. In my first 18 years, we moved five times and lived in 3 different states. I attended 6 schools in 4 different cities. It was not that my father couldn’t hold a job. He just kept getting better ones as he moved his way up the school administrator ladder from teacher to finance to superintendent.
We had lived in Jackson, Michigan from 1966 – 1968 before moving down to West Virginia. Most of my childhood passed there and I loved it: six years in the northern steel town of Weirton and 5 years in the state capital of Charleston. Then in the spring of 1979, my father got a job at Pontiac Schools and we prepared to move back to the Wolverine State.
By this time, the Rothrock family consisted of three individuals on different life paths. My two older sisters had grown up and moved on to adulthood in other states. That left Mom, Dad, and me in Charleston. But even that did not remain constant once Dad took the new job in Pontiac, Michigan.
He moved up to Michigan with the aim of starting his job and looking for a new place for us to live. That left Mom and I back in West Virginia. It is important to emphasize here that my parents were fine people who taught me most of what I know (Mom passed away in 2002 and Dad in 2014) and I loved them both very very much. But part of growing up is realizing that people can have more than one side. They can be good or bad or ugly and what constitutes the whole person is how they are most of the time. My parents were two lovely people. They just probably should not have been married to each other because they tended to bring out the worst in the other.
It didn’t help that I viewed this upcoming move with as much relish as one views the end of the world. In the midst of high school, I was having the time of my life. For the first time, I had a solid group of friends and was coming out of my introvert shell. Now it was coming to an all too soon end. All that had to happen was for our house to sell and away we would go: away from West Virginia, away from my school, away from my friends.
Consequently, I started spending as much time out as possible with my friends. With Dad in Michigan and me out on the town that left Mom home alone to begin slowly developing a drinking habit and to nurse the suspicion that Dad wasn’t in any particular hurry to find a home and move us up to Michigan.
By the spring of 1979, Mom had decided she had waited long enough and announced that we were spending spring break up in Michigan. On previous moves when Dad had had to go ahead early, he had usually rented a bedroom in some widowed woman’s house. This time around, he had taken a room in nearby Waterford at the Cascade Motel (it is now the Olde Mill Inn at the corner of Dixie Highway and Andersonville Road). He had a two-room “suite” right next to the main office. One room was a living room with a TV and a kitchenette. The other contained the bedroom and bathroom. Naturally, Mom and Dad got the bedroom. I got the sleeper sofa in the living room.
I don’t remember too many things about that week. I am sure we drove around during the day and looked at the malls and restaurants and got the general lay of the land. I know we looked at homes though I cannot recall a single one and we never did end up buying any of them. What I do remember are two things.
And what I remember more than anything about that trip was laying on that sofa bed feeling totally helpless and totally deserted. Deserted by my sisters who had done nothing wrong, just grown up and moved away, and deserted by my parents who now seemed totally consumed by their mutual power plays in which I was either the unwanted baggage or a timely pawn.
My outlook on life would brighten more in the future. I would eventually meet some of my favorite people here in Michigan who remain my best friends to this day. But I never forgot that feeling of laying there knowing that I was soon facing a life far away from all my friends and far away from anything I cared about.
The only things I would be able to hold onto were my memories and racing and books and the movies. And to enjoy all good things while they lasted because I never knew when they would end: leaving me alone again on a sofa bed in a second rate motel somewhere in Michigan.