Monday, January 28, 2013

Chapter 2: Parenting without safety devices and improper use of puppets

This is the second entry in my memoir. Read the first chapter here.

Some people, upon the opening of a business, do things like throw a party, cut some tape with giant scissors or frame the first dollar bill that they earn. My parents unwittingly marked that first year of their business with both the Centennial celebration of Colorado and its most deadly flood in recorded history. While Mom and Dad were busy renting horses to tourists, the Big Thompson Canyon flood swept through the mountains just east of Estes Park and claimed 144 lives. 1976 marked the end for those unfortunate souls, and pain and suffering for their friends and families, just as it signified the beginning of my family's journey. I like to see it as finding the light in a dark situation and not as an omen for disaster.

We lived in a tiny cabin built into the mountain, situated right next to the stable. My sister and I had our own bedroom, complete with Mickey Mouse toddler beds. My parents slept on an old iron bed in the living room. The living room doubled as a bunkhouse bedroom, as the two staff members (or Wranglers) also slept there. And no, my parents weren't hippies accustomed to communal living; they were Catholics accustomed to large families due to the Catholic fact that birth control is the work of Satan... or something like that.

I fear to ask how my parents managed running a business for the public with two toddlers in tow. Most parents of two toddlers can hardly find time for a shower, much less can they manage 28 head of horses, a new business, a biyearly move, two dogs and 8 llamas. Okay, so there were no llamas and obviously my sister and I were exemplary children, but it still seems like quite a feat. Not to mention that my folks did all of this while catering to the vacationing general public. It is a little known fact that IQ's are instantly lowered when a person grasps the keys to their rental car. As someone who once discovered that she was driving the wrong way on a one way street, and decided that shorts and cowboys boots are an awesome combination, I am a shining example of how vacationing can make a moderately intelligent person turn into an unconscious moron. Add small, screaming people (I'm not talking about Joe Pesci) following you everywhere and demanding things like Food and Water and 99 cent toys priced at $5.99, and it is total brain meltdown time. This is why you should never expect friendly service when you visit a tourist town at the end of the season. All the locals are done answering idiotic questions like, "When do the elk parade down mainstreet?" and "Are you a REAL cowboy???". They are over driving behind people who suddenly slam on their brakes because there is a chipmunk eating a peanut on the side of the road. (Those people often have TEXAS printed on their license plates. True story.)

Yet, my parents pioneered forward and embraced the idiotic general public. They added to the chaos by providing the same people who think flip flops are proper barnyard attire with 1,000 pound horses shod in iron shoes. Even more amazing, my parents did this (with two babies in tow!!!!) without the modern conveniences of today. Conveniences like baby monitors that enable humans to have a tiny bit of freedom from the house arrest that is being a parent to young children. There were no baby monitors in 1976, and they certainly didn't have the ones or you could watch precious junior sleeping in their crib. According to my memory of listening to the poetic crooning of CW McCall on 8 track , CB's were the popular form of communication in the 70's. I have a mental picture of my sister picking up a CB duct taped to Mickey's ears on her bed, pressing the button and saying, "breaker breaker one nine, this is golden child 1. Do you copy? We have a soggy diaper situation and bitches want some Cheerios. Over N Out."

That probably never happened, Jessi hardly ever uses foul language.

Despite the odds, and thanks to a grain bin that locked... and a horse trailer that locked... and leadropes could clip onto toddler sized belt loops... and natural born Ninja skills.... my sister and I survived the first summer in Estes Park. My parents had accomplished their goal and by September, they headed back to Iowa to winter the horses on affordable pasture.

Iowa was selected as our (mostly)permanent location for many reasons other than affordability, there were about 30 reasons. I was related to most of them. Growing up around family was one of the greatest privileges of my childhood. I was surrounded by the loving arms of wonderful grandparents, aunts and uncles. I was fortunate enough to have celebrated the births of many of my first cousins, and their subsequent birthdays in the years to follow. (I love birthdays!) A lot of my family cooked, sang, danced, cheated at cards, enjoyed cheap beer and strong martinis. Most of them masterfully maneuvered a stick shift, too (not necessarily in that order). Unlike many transplanted Americans, I still look forward to getting together with my extended family because it is full of my favorite types of people: intelligent, caring, attractive, and funny. Those rumors in town were true, my family was full of awesome.
Most people live life the normal easy way. Not my parents, they found the alternate route. When they established their Iowa farmstead, Lick Creek Farm, in 1976, they did not chose land full of convenient things. They didn't buy a property with useful stuff, like a garage or a barn...or a driveway.... or a house. They didn't even chose a location with electricity or water. And a phone line? Phsssh! Those were for fancy "city folk". What my parents did, with two babies in tow, was construct a house. They temporarily moved us (plus dogs!) into their parents' house. First we lived with my mom's parents, then my dad's. While I'm assuming that meant some free babysitting services, I'm certain that my parents were eager to have their own place. My young, apparently insane energetic folks shouldered the majority of the construction work. They carved a long, winding gravel driveway into a thicket of maple, oak and elm trees and at the end, they built a custom home with a walkout basement. Okay, so all it consisted of was a walk out basement, but in the Midwest, basement houses are totally a thing. Yet even there, on that wooded Iowa building site, the essence of Colorado was present. My dad created a giant fireplace made from Colorado stones that were hand selected and transported to Iowa via horse trailer. My dad even hand crafted all of the kitchen cabinets and doors (all three of them!) out of knotty pine, echoing every cabin that ever existed in Colorado in the 1970's. Just like the cabin that we rented in Colorado, the basement house had one bedroom which my sister and I shared. My parents slept on pull-out couch in the living room.
We lived in that little basement house nestled into 400 acres of land for six years. It was there, in that flat roofed house, that I learned how to tie my shoes, sing my ABC's and make disgusting little cakes in an easy bake oven. It was there, in that cozy home with its southern facing sliding glass doors, that my crayons melted into the carpeting from the intense rays of the sun, thus causing me to melt in a puddle of tears into the very same carpet. It was there, in that living room with the Southwestern patterned, crayon stained carpeting, that I watched classic television, like Captain Kangaroo, The Brady Bunch and Hollywood Squares. It was also there, in that house with a fireplace crafted from stone, that I developed a traumatizing fear of puppets, specifically the Madame puppet from Hollywood Squares.
All too often my mother or father would be sitting in the living room, on the orange and brown plaid couch that they still own, and one would call to me in a sweet, sing song voice, "Joooooohi! Come in here! I have something to shoooooooow you!" I, with my tiny white pigtails and blue eyes wide with excitement, would bound around the corner of my room to see what treasure they were revealing to my precious child soul. It was that fucking puppet, Madame, with her jutting wooden chin, her hideous, distorted nose and those horrible, horrible evil eyes. As soon as I laid eyes upon that monstrosity made of wood, I would scream bloody murder, cry and run from the room. Then my parents would laugh. They would laugh so hard that tears of joy sprang from their eyes. Their enormous cackles could be heard over the shrieks from my tiny preschool mouth; their glee at my horror could not be contained. This torture continued for years, yet every time, I fell for the sweet way that my parents sung my name and I eagerly ran to their beck and call. I don't know if this made them cruel, or me a trusting fool. I don't know if the vision of terrifying an innocent child is like a movie reel that they play back in their head for entertainment or perhaps, guilt; but I'm certain that it is an experience that will be remembered by little old me when their decaying, aged, geriatric bodies are in my tender, loving care.
While my brain retains only the utmost important things from this period of time, like the fact that I could make better soap bubbles in the tub than my sister, other, harsh and critical things were happening to my parents. Things like the Iowa blizzard of 1977. Over a 24 hours period, thirty inches of snow fell. My parents were snowed in, trapped with two toddlers who probably demanded an unending supply of snacks, and no phone or means of escape. Lick Creek Farm was surrounded by Shimek State Forest, which was ideal for privacy and recreation. What the remote location was not ideal for was the cutting edge technology of rotary phones or top priority to the county snow plows. The phone company refused to run a phone line down a rural country road without a second residence, and the snow plows had more highly populated areas to service (like roads where six whole people lived). So the snow fell and horses needed to be fed and no one could contact my parents. Then panic, the kind known only to mothers, kicked in and my Dad's mother dialed my uncle and asked him and his wife to PLEASE check on my family. I'm sure she imagined the four of us stranded in the desolate woods, without proper food reserves or childcare items, with no way to drive to town and obtain supplies. Unable to drive in, my aunt and uncle donned snowshoes and set out on a three mile trek to our house. They arrived bearing red noses, cold fingers and the most important provision on Earth, beer.
My mom didn't drink beer.
That first winter on Lick Creek Farm, my parents struggled to make ends meet. I was almost two and my priority was picking out names for all of the feral barn cats and attempting to ensnare them so that I could hold them close and love them properly (petting them hard with my teeth gritted). Oh kitty kitty, please don't go! I'll eat you up; I love you so!  The seasonal summer business that they loved so much was simply not providing them with adequate income to get through the off season. Even without the necessity of car seats, jogger strollers and 1,235 safety approved items that today's parents are required to buy for babies and tots, my sister and I were still two additional mouths to feed and the bills were stacking up.
Speaking of the lack of car seats in the simpler times of the 70's... I distinctly remember riding in the truck as a child, gloriously unconfined. I stood on the bench seat of the truck next my dad. I used my knees as shock absorbers, as I bounced along the gravel roads and enjoyed being able to see the actual landscape, rather than just gazing at the endless sky that hovered above the burgundy dashboard. Then a stop sign appeared and the safety restraints of 1977 jolted into action; a giant man arm unfolded like the stop sign of a school bus and sprang out in front of my tiny, child body. You know, for security. That man arm often swung at me with more force than required to stop a 24 pound pixie child from flying through the windshield, but it kept me safe and moderately free of head injury. Sometimes, if I was sleepy, I simply curled up onto a warm coat and fell asleep on the floorboard of the truck, which granted at least one dog a treasured pass to sit on the seat.
But my sister, the dogs and I did not only require food and proper safety devices. No. We also required clothing.Well, not the dogs... but I personally needed a multitude of pink lacy dresses that I insisted on wearing with my cowboy boots. I think Jessi wore sensible child size leisure suits, denim trousers with patches on the knees and floor length gowns made from old quilts and pillowcases, but I'm not entirely certain. All of these expenses, including 28 horses to feed, property to maintain and a considerable farm payment (400 acres!), made it necessary for both my parents to take second jobs in the winter months. My mother commuted 30 minutes on gravel roads to schlep boots and hats at a Western Store and my dad started up a demolition business with my mom's brother. Even with the extra income, and savings on Jessi's and the dogs' clothing, they were still failing financially.

Then sometime that spring, just after I turned two, I quietly wandered into the horse pen that was adjacent to my grandparents' back yard. I was kicked in the head by an irritated, but thankfully unshod mare. Any typos, tense issues and grammatical errors found here are certainly all due to that trauma. So is the giant scar on my head. So is most of my twenties...

I recovered and the following summer, there was an opportunity to obtain a lease at a second stable in Estes Park. Excited by the prospect of an increased income and new riding trails, my parents purchased 10 additional horses and two ponies, which brought their equine herd to a total of 40 head. It was a fairly successful summer living in our little leased cabin built into the slope of Giant Track mountain and renting horses to tourists. After inhaling clean mountain air, Ponderosa Pine and happiness for five months, we returned back to Iowa for the winter. A friend of my parents parked his fifth wheel on the property, officially making Lick Creek Farm a place with two residences, and we got a phone.
Relief was sure to follow.


  1. The saga continues . . . and OUCH to the horse kicking you in the head! But now things are just a bit clearer. It's making sense. It's all about that kick. I see. ;)

    1. I like to have a scapegoat for my inadequacies. I use my hair color as well.

  2. Ah, loving on the barn cats and riding unfettered in trucks, those were good times.

  3. I love you with your adorable cowgirl ways and pupaphobia.

    1. You know that I adore you too. You with your crafty stitching, reverse SAD and use of the term "for the love of glob".