Here's a sneak peek at what's to come. Please let me know what you think!:
I can’t believe I’m going back here. I thought to myself as took the exit off of I-15 and veered onto the off ramp that would lead me to the tiny little town of Jackson. A place I swore I would never return to. I left Jackson when I was 18 and knew everything, and quickly learned that everything was an overstatement by about a hundred miles. I was a free loving girl back in 1999, with long hair, longer legs and all the confidence of a high school graduate homecoming queen. I had been accepted to Montana State University, my college of choice and was ready to save the world, one patient at a time. Just as soon as I passed my classes and the looming nursing licensing exam. But I was young, book smart and thought I had it all. And I did, for the most part any way. I had the world at my fingertips, and for a couple of years it stayed that way.
Jackson had always been stifling for me. My parents had been born and raised there, my mom had been the homecoming queen also, and my dad the quarterback super star. My dad’s parents had both passed away by the time I was 10, but I still remember climbing onto my grandpa’s lap for him to read me a story, or sitting in the kitchen while my grandma made an apple pie for the Sunday potluck. And there was always music in their house. Grandma loved the old hymns and she would blare them as loud as her old hearing aids would let her, singing right along and out of tune. They were always laid back and easy going, not a care in the world. My mom’s parents, on the other hand, were a whole different ballgame. Don’t get me wrong, they loved us all to pieces, but there wasn’t a whole lot of “laid back” about them. Gramps was all metal. He fixed cars and farm equipment, drove a logging truck and was always tinkering around in a garage or under a hood. I don’t remember ever seeing him without grease on his hands and oil under his fingernails. Gran worked just as hard. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her without a broom, load of laundry, or a dust rag in her hand. And when we went to visit, we were put to work too.
Every summer my parents would send me and my little brother Billy, or as he now insists on being called, William, to stay with Gran and Gramps. It’s not like they lived far away, we were all in the same county, but Gran and Gramps lived out of town about 30 miles, and ran a small dairy farm with an apple orchard. My mom told me once that they had meet picking apples in their early teens, and Gramps used to joke that he shook Gran out of an apple tree. She hated when he said that, and would always give him a little smack on the shoulder and walk away shaking her head and mumbling something about how she should have stayed in that tree. But he would just chuckle and grin at me with a twinkle in his deep green eyes. Billy, ahem, William and I had a love-hate relationship with our summers. We both agreed that it was great to be out of school and not have our teachers breathing down our necks for three months, but were also of the firm belief that summer meant sleep, and there was no sleeping in on the farm. Gramps had us up at dawn to milk the cows and feed the chickens, and Gran always had a hot breakfast for us when we came in.
Looking back now I see how happy those summers had really been. The two of us living the simple life, and heading to the river every afternoon to take a turn on the rope swing, plunging into the deep, icy water and emerging gasping for air and laughing. But I remember the hard times, too. Gramps had nightmares, and there was more than one night when I awoke to him yelling from their bedroom, and hearing Gran’s quiet whispering to calm him down. I asked my mom about the nightmares once, but all she told me was that Gramps had seen and heard things no man ever should. I knew he had fought in World War II, and at the time I chalked her response up to his experiences there. She never gave me more information, and I never asked.
It wasn’t until high school that I really started resenting our summers in the country. Like any teenage girl, I wanted to be with my friends, and go to movies and on dates. Living that far out of town and not having a car strongly hindered my ability to live as I was sure I was meant to be living. But that didn’t stop me from trying. On more than one occasion my high school boyfriend, Liam, snuck out to meet me and take me back to town. I would creep back into the house before sunrise and pray to all that was good and holy that Gramps didn’t wake up. Every morning when I stumbled down to my chores and Gran and Gramps didn’t say a word about my mysterious absence, I felt elated and untouchable. Soon I was downright brazen about my little trips off the farm and would sneak out earlier and back in later, but I never got caught.
My parents, however, were much more aware of my night time escapades. When school started back up and William and I went back home, there was no getting away with Liam or my girlfriends. Looking back, I realize that my parents really weren’t all that strict, but as a teenager, I thought they were the worst. First off, I wasn’t allowed to date until I was 16 (oh the horrors) and all of my friends had boyfriends by the time they were 14. And I couldn’t wear skirts shorter than three fingers above my knee or tank tops less than two fingers across at the shoulders. They were thrusting me into fashion hell, I was sure. And church. Lord have mercy did we go to church. Every Sunday morning and evening, Wednesday nights, and any extra prayer meeting or youth group they could throw me into. I knew every book of the bible, competed in memory challenges and babysat for all of the women’s groups and Christmas bazaars. By the time I was 18, I was leaving Jackson, and the church as far behind me as I could.
So, here I am. Thirteen years later. And I’m going back to the place I swore I’d never return. But I don’t have much of a choice. All that stuff I thought I knew? Well I was wrong. The boy in college, the one who said he’d never leave, did. The baby I wasn’t ready to have, well she came anyway. And the man who was tougher than nails, that I thought could never die, he passed away last week. So I’m headed back to Jackson, with the same long hair, slightly chubbier legs, a divorce hot off the press, and a little girl in the backseat. I told my friends I’m going back to help my mom and Gran take care of things after Gramp’s passing, but really I think I’m going for me. It’s time to pick up the pieces, and find that confident, happy girl that left Jackson all those years ago.