what i miss about living in western nebraska:
the streets cracked and pot-holed,
about three stop lights in the whole town.
a slow fade into gravel--
the gravel roads placed in neat rectangular grids
surrounded by fields of corn.
a five minute grocery stop
turned into twenty-five minutes
because nobody goes unnoticed in a small town.
our students--a wonderful mix of quirky and serious with a longing to connect to something outside their small town. many lamented their rural upbringing and dreamed of cities like denver as their escape. our students, who initially resisted our ideas. “we’ve never done it that way” or “we don’t usually do this much work in class” or “you want us to do what?!” like most kids, we invested in them long enough and they bought into what we were selling: fight apathy, work hard, be respectable and respectful, make a difference. the crazy group of kids who’d show up at our house dressed as sailors, plainsmen, indians, pandas, and construction workers in March. students who’d sit on our back patio at 6 am playing chess and drinking coffee. their weird antics an odd sign of affection.
my first running partner.
my 4:30 am, 20 mile running partner
who showed up midway through my long runs
with gatorade and water and companionship
just when i needed her most.
who listened for hours,
who taught me what it means to listen and not just hear.
our tomboy neighbor girl we watched grow up---
5 to 9 in the blink of an eye.
with a curiosity like scout finch--
always outside when the weather invited her out.
who knew we were a sucker for her brown eyes
and anything she was selling---
wrapping paper, girl scout cookies, candies, candles.
who dragged her shy, hesitant older brother
(our student) to our house to say hi.
whose husband died a few years before we moved in.
who kept a wonderful garden every year--
tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, peppers,
who swore every year,
“god damn it. this garden’s too much damn work. it’s the last year, i swear.”
who fed our terrier extra large milk bones--
so many he couldn’t keep up
and turned to burying them in holes throughout the yard.
who found our dog after he’d gotten loose
on her front porch waiting patiently
for perhaps another milk bone.
85 year old ruth, a long time smoker, a transplant from baltimore whose husband died two months after they moved to town, unaccustomed to the dry air and the peace. ruth, who shared stories about city life--about crack houses and gang violence and falling down houses. ruth, who fattened our dog that eventually learned to just sit at our shared gate, his body pressed on the fence, fur sticking into her yard, yapping until she caved and brought chicken nuggets, pieces of hamburger, bread, and anything else she had at the moment.
bob and shannon our western nebraska parents who fed us on the weekends and watched out for us, made sure we had our fill of good wine and music and the stars that could be seen in an abundance pricking the black sky on a clear night. who developed the wrinkles around our eyes from late nights of laughing.
ryan and tracy
who taught us what it truly means to work hard and invest wisely.
late twenties but already a businessman--
five gas stations and a home medical supply store--
with dreams of owning his own ranch.
a farm girl, a compassionate but strict first grade teacher
who took no bullshit from anyone, including her husband.
our first taste of ranch life---
using horses and dogs to herd cattle from the pasture.
ryan and tracy
who attached spurs to my nikes
and set me atop an embarrassed horse on their family’s ranch land.
the only people who ever trusted me with a gun--
shooting rusted, homemade targets listening for that magic “ping.”
big lake mac--in winter or summer, a 22 mile spectacle. in the wind, the wild grasses bowing to the lake’s beauty. beaches of powder white sand. the tops of trees poking the surface of the lake recovered from a ten-year drought. an entire town submerged in the waters, myths of rooftops peeking above the waves. the canyons begging me to jump the fence and sit a while.
our tiny, two-bedroom home. 1950s ranch, original wood floors, kitchen so small not even a table could fit in it. pool blue, obnoxious green, burnt orange, deep red, chocolate brown, slate gray--each room a different hue to soothe my gypsy soul. our first home, $400 mortgage payments. the home where my husband and i finally fell into a rhythm, discovered what it meant for two to become one--where we learned what it meant to be in it for the long haul.
being a wonder in a small town--
one of three 68 county subarus.
our keens and chaco sandals were definitely not boots,
were not functional,
could not be worked in.
“are you from boulder?”
a game and parks officer asked skeptically,
nodding to my tie-dye shirt and hiking pants.
honest and genuine,
sprinkled throughout a misunderstood landscape.
the 6 pm slowdown.
streets nearly empty.
the stillness of an early morning run,
the crunch of gravel the only sound.