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SCOTT SIMON, host:

When we last hard from Caitlin Shetterly in March, she and her husband, Dan, had a two-month-old baby, an empty bank account, and an apartment in Los Angeles they could no longer afford.

Dan, a freelance commercial photographer, hadn't booked a job since December. With a new baby, Caitlin, a freelance public radio reporter, had been counting on Dan's income. Suddenly it looked like their only option was to pack up and head home to Maine, to move in with Caitlin's mother.

Caitlin Shetterly resumes her story.

CAITLIN SHETTERLY: I kept wishing for a miracle. But late one night, towards the end of March, after applying for hundreds of jobs to no avail, Dan told me he wanted to go home.

Mr. DAN DAVIS (Freelance Photographer): You know, I hate saying that because I feel like we're selling our dreams down the river. But you know, this is how I feel. I feel like this situation makes me want to smash something, but the situation itself is already smashing everything. So there's nothing for me to get angry and break about. I mean it's like I can't even break my own dreams because they're being broken for me.

(Soundbite of tape ripping)

SHETTERLY: The next day we started packing. Ten days later we hit the road. We crawled across the country, stopping every hour or so to nurse the baby, change some diapers and set out again. One night in a motel, as the baby slept, Dan was starting to lose his temper.

Mr. DAVIS: Cait, we do have too much stuff. The back tires are pretty much touching the frame of the car. And then you go into the grocery store and you buy three bags of snacks for our road trip.

(Soundbite of a musical mobile)

SHETTERLY: In the time capsule of our small car, packed to the gills with gear, three people and a 90-pound dog, the panorama of America flashed by our windows like a movie set to the soundtrack of our son's musical mobile.

(Soundbite of a musical mobile)

SHETTERLY: In Oklahoma, the wind whipped across the prairie and tossed the car around. Arkansas appeared like a verdant Eden after the dry heat of the Southwest. And then we got snowed in, in Tennessee. We were still about 1,200 miles away from home, and Dan, who was doing all of the driving, as I distracted the baby, was getting tired.

Mr. DAVIS: It's been a long couple of days, between a crying baby, a stressed out family, a depressed dog, and not moving as quickly as I would like to be moving.

SHETTERLY: Even so, two days later…

Mr. DAVIS: Here's the sign that says: Welcome to Maine, the Way Life Should Be.

SHETTERLY: It took us 10 days to cross America. I asked Dan, who had driven the entire way, if he wanted me to drive this last leg of our journey.

Mr. DAVIS: No. Look, I don't want you to drive. For one, I don't trust your driving. But two, I feel responsible for driving us across the country and moving us to Los Angeles. You know, I drove us out and I want to drive us back in.

SHETTERLY: By the way, I'm an excellent driver.

Later that night, we pulled in to my father, Robert's house for dinner. My dad walks out with a beer and hands it to Dan.

Mr. ROBERT SHETTERLY: It is so wonderful to see you here. I mean, I know what you've been through and just how difficult everything's been. But you know, what an incredible upside to, you know, all these trials is having you home. I mean, whatever comes next, this is the best.

SHETTERLY: After a stuffed haddock dinner, we drive the final 20 miles to my mother's. It's late, so we tiptoe in to find a room all set up for us. It's more lovely than either of us could have anticipated.

Mr. DAVIS: And then she put up all kinds of pictures of you as a kid, a little girl, and she just made it really warm. The bed was really beautifully made.

(Soundbite of birds)

Ms. SHETTERLY: We still aren't making anywhere near enough money to get by on our own. But after a couple of weeks, we're settling in to the rhythms of family. One evening, while the spring peepers make their crazy music outside, my mother, Susan, tells me how glad she is to have us.

Ms. SUSAN SHETTERLY: The nice thing about it is that you guys are, first of all, tolerant, and you make wonderful dinners and wash the dishes very well, and it's fun to clean up with you on Saturday, and Dan's outside helping me with the garden, which I really don't think I could have done alone this year. So for me it's a treasure and it makes me think about the old way of doing things, when there were multigenerational families. And for the small amount of time that we have together, it makes me realize the richness of that.

(Soundbite of music)

SHETTERLY: When we drove into L.A. a little over a year ago, full of big dreams and boundless ambitions, we played Solomon Burke's "Millionaire" and sang it at the top of our lungs with the windows down.

(Soundbite of song, "Millionaire")

Mr. SOLOMON BURKE (Singer): (Singing) They say love is more precious than gold. It can't be bought and it can't be sold. I got love, love to spare. And that makes me a millionaire.

SHETTERLY: When we drove out of L.A., we played it again. Maybe that's the real story here — that despite everything we lost, what we got in the end was a deeper sense of family. And that, actually, as we rebuild our lives, might really make us millionaires.

SIMON: You can read Caitlin Shetterly's blog about her journey back home and life with her mother. You can see photos of their cross-country trip taken by her husband Dan at our Web site, NPR.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Millionaire")

Mr. BURKE: (Singing) Love more precious than gold. It can't be bought and it can't be sold. I got love, enough to share. And that makes me a millionaire.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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