Friday, January 4, 2013

Chapter 1: The place where the clock ticks slower. No, I'm not talking about my head.

In truth, my life started with a bet. My dad's friend bet him that if I was born on his birthday, February 21, that he would pay all the hospital bills. Well, I was born on February 21. I don't know if this friend of my dad's actually paid for me to come into the world, but I think the point here is when I came into it, a man had to part with a lot of cash, a man had to part with a tiny bit of dignity and a determined and well-meaning woman did the majority of the work while experiencing severe pain. When you look at it this way, this innocent bet and the situation surrounding it, probably all created by the magic of liquor, has been a driving force in my entire life. Well played, God. Well played.

I grew up, mostly, in a sleepy little village in Iowa. Van Buren County is located in the heavily forested hills between the Des Moines River, an abundance of rich farmland and Amish country. People say that the clock ticks a little slower in Van Buren County. While I doubt that is a scientific fact, I will say that life there is fairly relaxed. For instance, if your car won't start, it is perfectly acceptable to drive your tractor into town. Oh, and no one uses turn signals. Ever. Also, you will know pretty much everyone in town. Even if you don't know them, they are pretty certain that they know you. It's their business. It's what they do. You can't step outside and fart without three people knowing about it and using it as a topic for coffee hour discussion at the local cafe. I know this because I worked as a waitress in that cafe when I was 19.

Growing up in such a small community in America's heartland had its good points. Being part of such a close-knit environment taught me a lot of skills that have formed me and helped me navigate my way through life. It also pushed me to master the art of the SBD (silent but deadly) fart.

The main area where rural Iowa educated me, besides in crops, hogs and deep fried pork tenderloins, was in the idea of accepting responsibility for my actions. In a tiny town, in a tiny school, your actions were being monitored by someone AT ALL TIMES. For example, if you pushed someone down in the cafeteria, you weren't a bully to be feared, you were THE asshole that everyone avoided while they simultaneously discussed that time you had head lice in the 4th grade. If you pulled out of the gas station without paying, your grandmother three states away would have heard about and called your mom before you even pulled into the driveway. Nothing holds a person accountable for their actions better than a party line and the town gossip. NOTHING. Well, except maybe a gun-owning father with the title to your vehicle and a voice conditioned to be heard over a stampede of cattle. You have to mind your manners in a small town because there simply aren't enough places to hide. Wasn't it a small town where Hillary Swank wasn't allowed to cry, Laura Ingalls was caught lying and Demi Moore was whoring around and forced to wear a big A on her chest? How do you feel, to this day, about Nellie Oleson? If I were a betting woman, I would wager that you are still not fond of her smug little mouth and those annoying ringlet pigtails.

I was a pixie of a child, nothing more than a giant pair of blue eyes settled into a mostly bald, extremely pale head. I'm told that I was quite charming, a story which seems factual to me, and also that I was a bit of a stinker, which I cannot confirm nor deny. I do know that I laughed while being spanked, keeping the spanker from using too much force because my tiny giggle was like the tinkering of one thousand bells being held by fairies riding unicorns over a double rainbow, thus filling the disciplinarian's heart with a profound love and devotion to the greater good. Or something like that.

A mere 14 months before me, my sister Jessi was born. While I was the equivalent of an Anemic Anime Albino, she was born with rolls of tubby squishiness, squinty black eyes and thick hair. It is no surprise that later in life, we were often mistaken for twins. While I grew to be an awkward, skinny, blue-eyed shy girl with skin so white that it almost appeared lavender in some lights, Jessi was always a foot taller than me, had curves,black eyes, a natural tendency to "run the show" and tanned like a Native American. But, you see, we both had long blond braids, wore jeans with boots and rode horses, so clearly, we were identical.

My parents were pioneers of sorts. When Jessi and I were wee tots, they sold their farm and went on a great adventure. The high school sweethearts turned entrepreneurs took their profit, loaded up two dogs and two babies into an RV and headed west, looking for a new place to start. After a long journey which includes unexpected guidance from someone that my mom refers to as "The Man on The Mountain" (it does sound more majestic than "some dude that sold used cars with your dad"), they landed in Estes Park, CO where they leased a livery stable at a quaint lodge. They simply needed to gather up enough horses and tack to provide the public with guided tours through Roosevelt National Forest, and that is just what they did... with two babies in tow. Easy Peasy, lemon squeezy. I'm sure that no one thought that they were crazy. Nope, not a soul.

Because land in Colorado, even in 1976, was extremely expensive in comparison to land in Southeast Iowa, my parents chose to rent the seasonally operated livery stable and to buy a farmstead in Iowa, thus providing the growing horse herd with affordable pasture and hay, and our family with a place to call home in the winter months. This meant that we moved from Iowa to Colorado every May, just about when the weather in Iowa started to get pleasant, and returned to Iowa every September, just before the skies turned concrete grey for six months and that wet winter chill settled into your bones for another long season of snow, ice and basketball. When I say "we" I mean my parents, my sister, myself, our two to three dogs, a few special stuffed animals and 28 horses. This bi-annual relocation became the norm for me. It is also, I tell myself, the reason that I rather enjoy a change of scenery and moved approximately 32.6 times in a ten year span that was also known as "my 20's". It is definitely the primary reason that I chose Colorado as my residence. In every one of those trips back to the Midwest in my youth, I was in tears because I had to leave my beloved mountains behind. I also prefer my air thin, so that I don't feel the need to chew before swallowing it. Still, as much as Colorado means to me, it is that tiny community in Iowa, with its rich black soil and honest, hardworking people, that my roots remain firmly planted. And yes, those roots are blond... and currently chemically treated.

Read Chapter 2 here...



  1. I love this. You know who will love it more? Your children. No, wait. They're boys: your children's wives and THEIR children will love it. I also want to move to Colorado with two babies and ride horses through mountains.

    1. Thank you! The beginning of the story is easy, and you all pretty much know the end, it's the middle that could prove tricky.

  2. Wow, so your dad won a bet when you were born on time? Probably the first, and last, time you ever did exactly as he expected of you, yes? ;)

    Love the story telling. Can't wait for more chapters! :)

  3. You've been holding back, Johi. Glad to see the stories of your past are finally being released, no matter how albino you were/are.