The phrase “in the sticks” conjures images of open fields marked only by crooked old fence lines and weathered barns. You’d have to go passed that, down a washboard gravel road with a dust cloud trailing behind you, up and around the hairpin turn on a cliff drop off to the river below, beyond the last bit of barbed wire, down into the canyon where mountain lions screamed like scared ladies at night, and into the shadows of a man-made plateau. Tucked into the hillside was a tin trailer on wheels with no electricity or running water. That’s where you’d find us. A little to the left of nowhere.
We’d be sitting listlessly outside that signature silver trailer, the last bit of light from the endless summer sun fading behind silhouetted hills. The early serenade of crickets broken by the sound of a bare hand crushing a Coors can and tossing it aside.
“Oh look, bats!” Brother says wide-eyed as they take flight in the night sky. We watch them for a moment, circling and dashing around the trees.
From his post on the cooler, Dad yells, “get my shotgun!”
Mom dutifully runs into the trailer and comes back out with gun and ammo in hand. Dad grabs it and quickly loads a twelve-gauge bullet.
There’s one! He blasts rounds into the sky, shells dropping into the dust. Then another shot. It’s now one drunk versus a handful of dusk feasting flying mammals. A quiet observation of the natural shift of the day has turned into a one-man war.
A few mind rattling, ear shattering blasts later, an innocent bat at last goes down.
“I got eem!” yells the inebriated victor as the others hunt down the fallen victim. Satisfied, the gun is returned to the trailer and the night is momentarily quiet again.
Having had drunken bat wars as the evening entertainment in our neck of nowhere, we were naturally quite unprepared on the rare occasions we went out into the great beyond.
On our first venture to a restaurant that was not a pizza parlor or a burger stand, we no doubt looked exactly like two deer frozen in a headlight beam when the server came to take our order. After poring over the menu and coming up with our choices, he asked us both if we wanted “super salad.” Together, we said, “sure!” Who wouldn’t want super salad?
He just stared at us and repeated the question, “super salad?” Now it was getting weird. “Sure!” we said again, with a bit more enthusiasm. “Yes!”
Still he was not satisfied.
We looked at each other and the menu, uncertain. We looked to our parents, who provided no guidance.
Our server then enunciated slowly and loudly, as if we were both hearing impaired and cognitively delayed, “sssoouuuuup ORRRRR saaallllllllaaaaad.”
Then the confusion really set in. And the panic. We didn’t know that was an option. How would we decide? So many different soups. So many different salad dressings. At least the proverbial deer can hop the fence. There was nowhere for us to run. It’s a miracle we made it out of there alive.
Our first trip to a shopping mall was also enlightening, as we were positively entranced by the escalator. I’m not sure we had ever seen a stair, save for the two wooden steps leading up to the trailer door. So to see such a magical staircase, that took you from one floor all the way up to the next and back down again? That might as well have been a hot new roller coaster at an amusement park. The fear of being sucked into the bottom or top steps and losing life or limb was easily overcome by the joy of riding up and down so quickly. We could have spent hours there. They finally had to pry our little fingers off the side rail so other shoppers could get by and we could get on with our lives.
For two isolated kids, the outside world was a scary and exciting place. We were like captive baby monkeys being exposed to the jungle for the first time. Although simple things like ordering food could cause serious trepidation, we have also been enthralled by things as seemingly mundane as the mall escalator or our very first super salad.
The number of awkward interactions as we continued to explore all this uncharted territory cannot be understated. At least we’re able to laugh about them, knowing that there is so much more to navigate and that the only thing we’re captivated by now is the love of our freedom. We also approach these somewhere places with a sense of wonder and excitement that might have been lost if we hadn’t experienced nowhere first.