Before Slumdog Millionaire, before the weekly Lottery, before overnight fame came from being discovered on YouTube, there was hope fueled by imagination sitting around the coffee table late at night. My Mom met her best friend when we shared space at a local motel in the heart of Silicon Valley- when it was just called Sunnyvale-1966. Ben and Margaret Read had just moved from North Carolina because “Uncle” Ben – (we kids had to address adults as Mr. and Mrs.- or newly adopted- they were our aunt and uncle) had secured a job with Lockheed. He was a brilliant engineer with a literal “rocket scientist” brain. Aunt Margaret was just short of her degree in psychology but opted for full time motherhood. They came to the motel while their new home was being built. We came to the motel because my father had just abandoned my mom with six kids and no money and she had nowhere to go. Our financial chasm was never an issue. We became instant family.
For the next five plus years life was good for the Reads and they became my mom’s Oak tree in our ever changing garden of uncertainty. Through the good and bad of life humor was never in short supply as Mom and Aunt Margaret sat up all night smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and laughing about their daily adventures. Then suddenly, without warning- there was a layoff in the early seventies for the engineering market. Uncle Ben was let go. The Vietnam War was ending and new economic concerns were on the way. The whole world was looking at America wondering what direction we would take; our President was in the middle of being impeached and the middle east was on edge- sound familiar? So, Mom and Aunt Margaret continued their evening banter but now they had a new direction- survival. My family was already in constant survival mode but having the Read family as a vision of strength somehow helped all of us feel safer. Now it was Mom’s turn to offer support to Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ben. She and Aunt Margaret began joking about business opportunities when someone threw out the idea of opening a Taco Stand.
Uncle Ben was an intellectual genius- not a social networker. It was unusual for him to parlay in coffee table chatter- but he found himself drawn in. His mind quickly raced to world events and geographic advantages and reasoned that Australia would be a great place to open a Taco Stand. Before we knew it, both families, all twelve kids were looking at maps and planning for a Noah’s Ark move to Australia to open a Taco Stand. For weeks our idea took root and Uncle Ben drew up plans for the business and for us kids, it seemed like a done deal. We began telling our friends that we were moving to Australia. There was excitement and vision and hope. It didn’t matter that none of us had any money- we had a dream.
Eventually, Uncle Ben found work and Mom and Aunt Margaret stayed up laughing about the trials of raising teenage daughters and sons and how the sexual revolution was affecting parenting and we all prepared for the bi-centennial celebrations. We all forgot about Australia- but we never forgot about the Taco Stand. It became more than just a late night story, it became our permanent reminder of the possibilities of hope when all things appear lost- step across the street and imagine things from a different angle- and I bet you will see that Taco Stand- calling for you to hang the open sign. The American Dream doesn't die when your job ends- it just takes a new shape.