Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dirt Roads


I grew up in Chicago. Four generations of my family grew up in Chicago. Both sides.

When my Great Grandmother was 15, she emigrated from Denmark. Alone. She had no family there yet, but word on the street was that there was a solid Danish community in Chicago, so, that is where she went. She found my Great Grandfather swiftly, settled down, and got to the business of child bearing.

My entire extended family found one another in the windy city.

Until me.

When I was 16, my Mother and Father decided that farm country would be a great change of scenery. Nevermind that I was right smack in the middle of my formative , panic inducing high school years. Nevermind that it was the middle of the school year. Nevermind that they had never lived in the country let alone a tiny country town. Population 6000. I think that would have been the size of my graduating class.

So, off we went to Charles City, Iowa. Me, in rainbow painted peeling combat boots, 13 earrings in one ear, a black leather jacket complete with my painted version of Piaf attached to the back with silver spikes and ATTITUDE. You can guess that my initial reception at the local high school was not well taken.

Then, there's my Mother. She's loud, and beautiful, and full of outspoken laughter. You do not miss her in a room. My Father discovered her stage presence one night when she was singing at Aerie Crown Theater in Chicago. Months later, after he had broken his leg in a motorcycle accident and was on crutches but still present at every concert, she finally noticed him. They've been together ever since.

But I digress. Back to the story at hand.

Well, my Mother, having grown up surrounded by the noise and the hustle and bustle of the city found the solitude of the country deafening. Her vivacious personality wasn't suited to the quiet life she had just landed herself in. Needless to say, she and my Father moved away after I graduated.

I stayed.

I had found something.

I found Nathan.

And Nicole.

And life.

And what it means to be a whole person.

And I am crying again (you must think I am such a sap) but I don't know if I would have liked who I had become if not for the country. For the nosy neighbors and practical reality and that greasy spoon where I drank too much coffee and smoked too many cigarettes and contemplated everything I would never know. I still don't.

So, here's to you Mom. Here's to you Nathan and Nicole. And that tiny little town named Charles City, Iowa.

This one's for you:

Manners

For a Child of 1918

Elizabeth Bishop

My grandfather said to me
as we sat on the wagon seat,
"Be sure to remember to always speak to everyone you meet."

We met a stranger on foot.
My grandfather's whip tapped his hat.
"Good day, sir. Good day. A fine day."
And I said it and bowed where I sat.

Then we overtook a boy we knew
with his big pet crow on his shoulder.
"Always offer everyone a ride;
don't forget that when you get older,"

my grandfather said. So Willy
climbed up with us, but the crow
gave a "Caw!" and flew off. I was worried.
How would he know where to go?

But he flew a little way at a time
from fence post to fence post, ahead;
and when Willy whistled he answered.
"A fine bird," my grandfather said,

"and he's well brought up. See, he answers
nicely when he's spoken to.
Man or beast, that's good manners.
Be sure that you both always do."

When automobiles went by,
the dust hid the people's faces,
but we shouted "Good day! Good day!
Fine day!" at the top of our voices.

When we cam to Hustler Hill,
he said that the mare was tired,
so we all got down and walked,
as our good manners required.

4 comments:

by Johanna Brandvik said...

Having grown up in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, I totally appreciate this post! As a teenager I really disliked being there, but now when I go back and visit I am awestruck by the beauty of the land - swept with wheat and corn and patterned with groves of maple and birch trees and streams of fresh river water - that stretches as far as the eye can see. The beauty of southern Minnesota is so rare to me.

BTW, I always seemed to make friends with the girls who moved to our little town from the big cities, as they usually possessed an appealing dark side. And the quirky foreign exchange students too!

Bethany said...

Johanna-

You are so right about the beauty of the land. The seasonal change is so clear when you are surrounded by farmland.

I love going back there now. It's peaceful and I feel like I can finally slow down and take a minute to enjoy it all.

Yeah...haha. I've got a dark side alright! In comes out in my twisted sense of humor...I often find myself laughing out loud about the peculiar aspects of life...right in the middle of work. My co-workers often look at me like I've lost it.

Example: The other day I was in a meeting and the speaker kept using multiple acronyms (SOP for the BTR etc.). I found myself giggling at how hilarious it sounded and got piercing looks from those around me. As if to say, "This is serious!". That made it so much funnier!

Hey- I've tagged you! Hope you don't mind!

BDK

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

This was so nice! I am enjoying reading through your archives and getting to know you!

Bethany said...

Thanks, Heather!
I love peaking in at your blog...you're so creative!