Friday, November 1, 2013

From Whence You Came

In honor of the "Lighting of the Lariat" sign last night at the Oats Park Art Center, I'm posting this column which ran several years ago in the Fallon Star Press...

When we were little kids my mom would very often drop the “I remember when…” phrase as the beginning to stories about her life as a child.  We would be in Reno shopping for buckle-up oxford Stride-Rites and she would say something like, “Oh, I remember in high school when there weren’t any houses out here and we would come out to the stable on Baker Lane and ride horses out through the fields.  Things have just changed so much.”
Maybe that explains my constant story telling to the under-aged captives who have no choice but to listen to a similar theme as we drive from various activities and practices past the landmarks of my childhood.
From Coleman Road south on Venturacci, I point out to my own children the houses that have sprung up where corn fields had grown for as far back as my memory goes.  “I remember when the school bus came down this road to drop off the first and second graders at Northside and we were eye level with the tops of the corn when we looked straight out the bus windows.”
“I remember when they moved the train depot to Williams Avenue and turned it into a restaurant, when you went to the Rusty Spur for the best steak in town, my first “grown-up” job was being a clerk at Kolhoss Grocery on Maine Street and people came to buy cigarettes for a dollar-four, we got school clothes upstairs in the Penny’s building right across the street, and on the last day of school every year we got to have the PTA Day Parade.”
My kids are amazed by the stories and they say horrible things like, “Mom!  Did you live in the olden days?”
The other night after a city council meeting a small group of concerned citizens were gathered out back of city hall, solemnly chatting about the changes that have come with Fallon’s booming growth.  They were resigned to the realities of development coming to their neighborhood, accepting the inevitable transformation of their world.  An impromptu session of “Remember When” started up, that for a “sense of place” junkie like me, was pure oxygen.
They talked about when Dairy Queen was on Maine Street and as kids they would cruise the parking lot.  Since we did the same thing in the 80’s when I was in high school, I was amazed to know that they had done the same thing back in the real olden days.
They remembered when Hillyard’s drug store was on the corner and the Starvin’ Marvin’ restaurant was in the pie shaped property where Auction Road comes into Williams.  And then they talked for a while about the old fair grounds, which used to be on Williams Avenue, between Venturacci and Auction Road, and the Dry Gulch—where every Labor Day everyone who had ever gone to school here went when they came home and you had to go down and see all the people you grew up with.
They told about the hay palace that was built every year at the county fair, and the stock car races that used to be held in the arena at the fairgrounds right down town and how the kids would play under the grand stands and collect the empty soda bottles. 
I remembered that my 4-H sewing club in fourth grade was held in Dry Gulch on Wednesday afternoons after school and I had to walk there all by myself from West End, and that year I made a little blue apron that I still have. 
It’s funny how we are shaped by our landmarks and the shared memories of a place—the people we knew there, the experiences we had.  Even though these places may have a different meanings for each of us, having collective memories of the places we have been is a very real part of who we are and in a large part what makes us a community. 
And the beautiful thing about Fallon is that it doesn't take a long time to become a part of it.  New memories are made every day, and the things we do now—the places we meet and the times we have together are going to be “the olden days” before we know it.  Progress marches on, but we do a good job of reminding each other of where we've been and preserving the memories that define us.

My life has been defined by this community.  I felt a part of it early on, and it felt good to know where I fit in the world.  Perhaps the one permanent memory etched forever in the place that makes me who I am, is the reminder I saw out of the school bus window twice a day until fifth grade.  The neon cowboy sign at the Lariat Motel burning an image of “God Bless American” boldly and permanently into my conscience.   For me it’s the symbol of where I belong—God Bless Fallon.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Losing it...It's All How You Look At It.

You know when you are driving through town on Williams Avenue in the left-hand (fast) lane and all of a sudden you come upon one of “Fallon’s finest” meandering in the right-hand (slow) lane?  You take it down to 25 miles per hour as subtly as possible, fingers tapping on the steering wheel, pretending like you’re all well-behaved as you ease on past him, which I’m not convinced is a good thing. It happened to me a couple of weeks ago after a particularly grueling day in Reno with all three kids.  
     And then I came up to that horrible left hand turn at Maine Street which is a gauntlet even on a good day, and at the very moment I reached the intersection the light turned yellow so of course I went right through it rather than deploy the air bags.  Any cop would have clearly had to stop at the resulting red light, allowing for plenty of get away time.
     So we’re cruising along in front on the old post office, radio blaring, kids singing at the top of their lungs headed for home two blocks away when the woop-woop sirens went off and sure enough lights flashing, he’s right behind me.  Clearly I have sinned.
       Pulling across both lanes of traffic, and mumbling under my breath, I dig in the glove compartment for insurance, and ransack my purse for the driver’s license which I’m sure he thought I got out of the gum ball machine at the grocery store.  I swear to the kids I can’t imagine what I did wrong.  I wasn't speeding, the light wasn't red, what the h-e-double hockey sticks could he be pulling me over for, when he appears over my left shoulder and asks that most thoughtful of all questions, “How are you today?”
     “I was doing really well up until about two minutes ago,” I say.
     And he says to me, “You aren't going to be doing very well if you keep driving on that flat tire.”
     Isn't that nice.  I swear one of those kids snorted under their breath.
     So it’s now 5:30 pm and the guy at the tire shop says by cell phone that all his help has gone home for the day but he’ll send someone to the house first thing in the morning to change the tire.  Beautiful tire shop man.
     However, at 10 am the next morning when the tire is still flat in the street, the Man-child has a dentist appointment, my sense of humor has all but evaporated and I’m seriously contemplating a Fallon Chapter of the She-Woman-Man-Haters Club, I decided to teach the kids how to change a flat tire.  What the heck, it can’t get any worse.
     Ha!  We will use the term “jack” loosely.  We will use the term “tire iron” loosely.  We are happy we are not using expletives. 
     Referring in the little direction book from the glove compartment to page 118 we see a diagram showing the thingy that the jack is supposed to attach to on what seems to be a stable piece of metal near the right front tire.  Whoever drew the picture was not aware of the plastic molding which effectively prevented the proper placement of said jack and optimum turning radius for the tire iron. 
     I’m am now sitting on pavement in an adorable little pink outfit, cranking the tire iron at quarter turns to raise the top of the jack close enough to attach it to the thingy while the Big Daughter lies under the van directing the jack into place.  The Man-child is trying to hold the molding out and away from our immediate work area, the baby is in her stroller providing instructions in two-year old babble from the sidewalk, and cousin Jeremy is telling a fascinating story about the baseball game last night.  Morning traffic cruises by and I swear the guys in the big triple-trucks hauling dirt from the new subdivision are hysterical.  My life is rich and full.
     Luckily, we remembered to loosen the lug nuts before we got the whole mess jacked up, but it took quite an effort to get things high enough to get the flat tire off—a quarter turn at a time. 
     An engineer I’m not, nor do I possess a particular aptitude for spacial relations so when we tried to put the spare tire back on and the van was not sufficiently elevated, I almost burst into tears.  Those poor kids stood there and held that dirty, nasty tire up while I kept turning the tire iron, taking it off the jack and repositioning it and turning it again over and over until I was certain the van would come crashing down or the jack would just break.  They were cheering and yelling and saying “one more turn, mom, no, one more…come on you can do it.” 
     At the very moment when I’m feeling the most venomous and hateful, put upon, overwhelmed, and disgusted with the world, The sweet Man-child pipes up, “Mom, this is so much fun, we need to do this more often!”
     You know, I guess it's all about perspective.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Losing it...The People We Meet

I met a lady the other day at the deli counter in one of the local grocery stores.  She was waiting for her order and I was waiting in line behind her and we struck up a conversation. 
   She was a beautiful woman, who looked to be about sixty, tall with silver hair tucked in a loose bun.  Her skin was a healthy tan and glowed like a stair railing that had been shined by the hands of time.  Her silver eyes were clear and bright, her face etched with character lines; she was fit and a little hippie looking.
   We talked about raising kids; she had six scattered across the country and I learned all about their successes and how proud she was and how much they loved her.  She told me about her husband who had recently passed away.  How sad she had been without him and how she was finally venturing out to live again. 
   She talked about how sick he had been for many, many years and how he worried about burdening her and that he would offer to go to a rest home where someone else could do the yucky stuff and she could come and visit.  She made me cry when she told me how taking care of him every day was just the way they loved each other.  She had told him that she was perfectly capable of caring for him, and that she wanted to be with him every minute she could, and then she told me how mad she had been that he would have considered taking that away from her. 
    She asked me all about my kids and she asked me about my mother, who she didn’t know any more than she knew me and then she told me to be good to my children and love them every day as much as I could because one day before I knew it they would leave me.  She told me that I had a good mother, and she could tell because of the way I talked about my kids. 
   The woman then said something fleeting about her age and her life at this point and something a little self-conscious and female-ish about her looks, so I asked how old she was. 
   Eighty-one.  I know my manners were lacking because it took a minute to gather up my chin off the floor.  I told her I hoped that age would treat me as well as it had her, and she laughed with her silver eyes glittering.  Belatedly we introduced ourselves and shook hands.  Her name was Jane. 
   And then her roast beef was done, and she turned and walked away. 
   Just like that, a meeting, a connection, giving and taking and then it was over.
   How many times does that happen to us throughout the course of a lifetime?  The people who share our lives, who for a time are our supporting cast or we theirs, and then are gone.  
   There are people who over a period of months or years share our stage, shaping us and we them.  Sometimes we know people for 20 years and end up wishing we had only known them for 20 minutes, while others we will never get to know long enough. 
   And then there are people like Jane whose impact is so strong, their entrance and exit providing such a profound jolt of awareness that it wouldn’t matter if they played their scene for days or months or in this case minutes, just having graced the stage improves the whole show.
   When I was a little kid my dad used to say, “Rachel never has met a stranger.”  And I guess that’s true.  There are too many people to get to know to hang ourselves up on ceremony and too often our time together is fleeting. 
   Tonight I’m thankful for the friends who have been with me for so long.  Sammi and Heidi and Suzie and Ronni, who I’ve known since grade school; and for all the mischief we caused and the boys we lived through.  I’m grateful for my grown-up friends, the ones I’ve made in the different circles of my crazy life; on the campaign trail, in college, the parents of my children’s friends, and for the more specific, focused time we spend together.  Relationships built out of circumstances and commonality rather than neighborhoods and homeroom teachers. 
   And I’m thankful for Jane.  She reminded me of all the people who’ve come and gone in my life, and she reminded me that people often leave before we’re ready for them to and we should love them as much as we can while we have them.  I’m glad to have known her.

Band-Aids Fix Everything

My two-year old has discovered Band-Aids.  It was a crisis involving the reckless driving one of those Flintstones cars that toddlers cruise around in, and resulted in a scraped up toe. 
            The baby is kind of a drama queen anyway, but the whole scene was quite a production.  She was balanced in my left arm, clinging to me like a little monkey and wailing at 27 decibels while I’m flinging through the medicine shelf looking for something to put her out of my misery.  Under an ace bandage that would have worked on an elephant and a prescription for something called Trimox dated May 2001, I managed to find some antiseptic goop and several hundred left-over generic brand “coverlets” that the hospital sent home in bulk after ex-husband number two and three tried to cut off his thumb with a meat slicer.  (But that’s a story for a different day). 
            After some soothing words and a little application of mommy lovin’ along with the rudimentary practice of my limited first aid that wouldn't have passed me out of first year girls camp, the hiccups came on as crocodile tears subsided and everything was as good as new. 
            Soon every traumatic situation required a trip to the medicine cupboard with a request for “a bannaid mommy.”  Of course there were the regular skinned knees but honestly how often does a two-year old really ever get hurt badly enough to legitimately require taping her up?  Over the next few days, however, I noticed a marked run on the Band-Aid supply.  Come to find out, Sara and Trev (sister and brother, 13 and 10, respectively) had discovered a handy and quick way to shut the kid up.  She was beginning to look like a blind knife juggler judging from the number of “coverlets” covering her tiny person. 
            Lest you pass us off as child abusers, rest assured there wasn't anything wrong with the little missy that really required a Band-Aid, but sometimes it’s easier to play along.  It actually got so bad, that one day when I asked her to stop dragging the dog around by its ear, her feelings were apparently wounded to such a degree that she came sobbing to me…you guessed it, asking for a Band-Aid. 
            That’s when it dawned on me…wouldn't it be great if it was that easy to fix our real-life owies?  Pass me over that giant-sized Band-Aid would you, I just lost the election.  (By four stinking votes).  Or how about an ace-bandage-for-the-heart when we've lost our one true love?  How many times would I have had a use for a mean-ol’-sister fix-it kit when one of my four female siblings was feeling particularly prickly?  Or maybe they needed one because of me. 
            Sometimes as adults we tend to make our own Band-Aids and self-medicate with whatever substance happens to be lying around closest to the pain.   We all know someone who has applied therapy through the use of alcohol or drugs, food or shopping, fast cars or faster women.  Wouldn't a strip of adhesive lined plastic with a soft cotton middle stuck to where it hurts work so much better?  Imagine the decrease in instances of liver disease, time spent in rehab, bad poetry and even worse country/western songs if only we could patch things up with the help of a Sponge Bob Square pants Band-Aid and a kiss from mommy.
            As they say, perception is everything and as big people we tend to get lost in the drama ourselves.  When little Sloanie gets a boo-boo, she gets it fixed and is on to the next sand pile.  There are dragons to slay and dollies to drag around; you’re holding me up, mom.  As a child, who really has time to bleed all over the carpet when the next adventure is waiting?  Alas, being a grown up is slightly more difficult.  Often we indulge ourselves and just wallow in the pain, making it bigger than it is, letting it take over the field of vision.  Then we drag our friends into it for validation and they get to roll around in it.  Suddenly our boo-boo has taken on a life of its own and we become a slave to keeping it alive.
            When Trev was little and he would wreck his bike, or hit his head, or peal four layers of skin off a knee, he would take a look at whatever wound had been inflicted and without fail say in a curious sort of way, “that was fun,” and take off on the next project.  Sara always looked at me for direction when she hurt herself.  If I panicked and got hysterical she would do the same, but a well timed “you’re o.k., honey, what a tough little girl” seemed to fix most disasters. 

            I say we take a lesson from our own little people and patch things up and get on with it.  There are dragons to slay, bills to pay, people to love.  You’ll be just fine honey, you’re a tough kid, now go play.