Pop is worried about me. He has been watching my video logs on YouTube, and he says I am getting too skinny. He thinks I should be eating more rich foods and drinking hot coffee in the morning. He suggested I take a library day to review my goals. He begs the question: How are my present personal sacrifices being leveraged for my future happiness?
My future father-in-law is totally sweet, and I appreciate the sentiment. We have lived very different lives, and I am sure it is difficult for him to imagine why I would be driving alone across the country, imposing mean conditions on myself, chasing a dream that is still largely undefined. You may be wondering the same.
As fate would have it, I am entering the American Plains, a region that holds my roots and many childhood memories. A goal review at this time, in this place, is perfect. We are nearing the end of the year’s first quarter, and I am thus about 25% into my project. Looking toward the future, I take time to remember where I came from – small town USA.
My kin on my mother’s side moved to Arizona from Montana when mom was still a young girl, and the family lived modestly as grandpa continued farming and beekeeping. My kin on my father’s side lived in Kansas and rural Oklahoma, where my grandmother had a cellar and canned her own vegetables and preserves.
My earliest memories are walking my sandles through rusty-colored dirt, chasing the baby horned toads because the big ones scared me, staying in the old converted school bus on grandpa’s farm, making mud pies and a delicacy I called “piccolosherie” from old can tabs, pebbles and other items I could scavenge from about the neighborhood. Did you know that if you trap a grasshopper in your hands, it will spit on you?
I grew up an army brat, and my family moved frequently. When my father was stateside, we lived on the army bases. When he was abroad, we often lived with family. He would send pictures and postcards from his foreign duty stations. I was beguiled by the images of these iconic structures and exotic landscapes, and I wanted so badly to be there myself. I was jealous that my father got to visit all of these amazing places, while I was stuck at home, day after day, with the same old dirt and rubble and horned toads and spitting grasshoppers.
At least we got to move around when he was back stateside. Each new duty station brought a new adventure for me. I got to go snow tubing on the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I got to tap my toes in real blue grass in Kentucky. One time our family actually got to accompany my father overseas. We lived in Germany for a year, and I thought it was the most magical experience imaginable. Though we lived on the base among the other American families, I attended a Host Nations class at school, where I got to learn practical German and practice what I learned on field trips, like going to the market and trying to buy tomatoes for the evening’s dinner salad. I was hooked.
Our military life ended when I was in fourth grade, and we settled back into Carnegie, Oklahoma. I thought it was utterly boring. I thought I would be stuck in that place for the rest of my life. I spent my summers at the park and the swimming pool, running around barefoot, sleeping outside under the stars, going to the pow-wows and rodeos, anything to bring the sparkle of life to my dull, brown world. I spent my winters devoted to school. We qualified for free breakfast and lunch, and I worked hard to earn good grades and ignore the fact that the other girls rode horses and wore leg warmers and I did not. I believed if I got smart enough, I could make the kind of life I really wanted for myself.
I became obsessed with the spelling bee. I found out that the national competition was held in Washington, DC. If I could make it to nationals, I would get to go there. Words were now my very best friends, my ticket out of town. I took home the practice book, which was a thick pamphlet of stapled papers containing column after alphabetical column of words, words, words. I studied those columns of words all summer long, dreaming of climbing the stairs of the Washington Monument and sitting in the giant lap of Abraham Lincoln himself. That winter, I won my school bee and was runner-up the regional bee. I made it to the state competition in Oklahoma City, where I misspelled the word dishwasher. Well… I was never a very good one. 😉
A couple of years later, my family moved to northern Virginia, and my dream of DC became a reality after all.
It took several months of concentrated effort to remove the southern twang from my voice. Adapting myself to a changing environment was exciting, and I was relieved to distance myself from that dull, dirty existence I once knew. I was metropolitan now. I ate seafood and took a foreign language. I saw cherry blossoms on the Mall and masterpieces by Monet. I wore dangle earrings and saved my money for two months to buy a pair of white jeans and a t-shirt by the Colors of Benetton.
Such would be the motion of my life over the next thirty years.
Ironically, the pursuit of my dreams has led me back to my roots. Connecting with the land, sleeping under the stars, finding inspiration in the song of the whippoorwill… I missed the meaning in those simple messages long ago. I am learning to listen more carefully now, wearing messy hair and dirty feet once again. My southern twang is gleefully returning to me. Finding my message and my authentic voice is a journey whose time has come.
I don’t view my present circumstances as a sacrifice. I am living in my happiness. A simple life is not necessarily a mean one. I am discarding all of the distractions and discovering what is truly important to me, as the cotton gin separates the fibers from the seed. I am becoming ever more grateful for every small pleasure, like hot coffee and linen napkins and grasshoppers.
The grasshopper is both grounded and free, connected to the earth yet able to fly with the currents. With a single thrust of its strong hind legs, grasshopper takes flight with a leap of faith, not knowing exactly where it will land. I believe it is imperative for me to do the same. I may not know exactly where this leap of faith will take me, but I trust myself to ride the wind.