Executive Chef

Gilligan’s Island and The Love Boat.
French fries and brown gravy from the Hilton Inn in Santa Fe.
Maraschino cherries and a tiny girl in a dark bar.
Waiting for Grandma to come out from the back, wearing an executive Chef’s uniform- the first female to do so at a Hilton Executive Inn in New Mexico.

Grandma’s bra always came off in the car.
Ten seconds after she sat down, Grandma would wiggle and pull until somehow, the bra would be coerced from a sleeve and deposited, lifeless, on the passenger seat beside her.
While Grandma drove home, she trilled along to her favorite spanish songs.

Watching the dusty desert terrain fly by in a blur, the girl always wished she knew what everyone seemed to be so excited about in those songs.
She didn’t understand the words but the drama played like a silent movie in her thoughts.
She imagined dashingly handsome heroes, tragically beautiful damsels and menacing villians.

Sweet Pea, the chihuahau sitting next to the little girl in the back seat, did no such imagining.
He just sat there looking out the window, smelling like old dog and throwing out a haphazard bark now and then.

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Me & Jeni

It was hot.  Miserably hot.  So much so that I could barely keep focused on the blade of the knife as stinging sweat poured into my eyes. I kept having to stop and wipe my brow, blink tears away.  On top of the sweltering heat, my nerves were destroying me and I was shaking.  In view of the fact that I had never purposefully cut into another person before, the shaking was appropriate.  Rarely appropriate, on the other hand, was a perfect description of the person I was cutting into.  Jeni.  Jeni didn’t really have time for things like being appropriate or conforming to etiquette.

“Oh my Jesus Christ, would you stop jerking around?”  Jeni spoke into the wind as she sat hunched on the hood of her Datsun 210.  “For fuck’s sake, Amber, it’s only a tiny patch! Just cut it out and let’s go!”  We were hungry and this little patch of skin on the back of her shoulder had to be taken care of before she would allow us to do anything else.

I can honestly say that I’d have demanded the same had I found that there was a decapitated tick head just under a patch of skin on my own shoulder. Even now it makes me gag a little.  She’d picked up a tick somewhere in Missouri.  We hadn’t caught it for a couple of days; it was minute in comparison to the Montana ticks we were used to and by the time she found it, it had embedded itself on the back of her left shoulder.  Of course, she swiped at it immediately, which had dislodged it.  She’d made me look at it closely to see if I could determine whether it’s head had come with it. Apparently my affirmative answer had been wrong.  Now, we were pulled over in some desolate parking lot, and I was trying to focus on cutting a patch of her skin out.

Now, before you get all reasonable and start asking stuff like “Hey, why not a doctor or medical clinic?” or “Why, just why?” or “Do you have a dead heart?” I should fill you in on a thing or two:

1.     We were 19

2.     We had just left our home state of Montana

3.      Neither of us had really ever traveled

4.      We were driving across the United States in a less than safe vehicle

5.      We had very little money

6.      We were so, so dumb

7.      We did not care about how dumb we were; we didn’t have a clue

8.      We had begun with two missions and already suffered one failure

9.      We had gone too far to turn back, almost in every way possible

10.    There was no force on Earth that could keep me from him and she knew it.

I was surprised when the blade popped through the surface of her skin.  Immediately, blood welled up around the incision and she yelled out, “Holy shit!” while jerking her body forward.

“Jeni, dammit, I had just got the guts up.  Now you’re just bleeding everywhere.”  Jeni had jumped off the hood of the car and was running in small circles, droplets of blood oozing through her fingers and splattering the ground in a swirl.

“Fuck, fuck fuckfuckfuck!” She was bending over while she screamed now. The blood droplets were finding their way into her mess of black hair, a few splashed against the white tips of her Converse shoes.  “Fuck!” She stood up straight as a board, threw her head back and started laughing like a maniac, tears streaming down the sides of her face.  Luckily, I was used to this action on her part.  It was her way of facing circumstances that were scary to her.  She chose to laugh like a crazy person and push through.

“Shit, we better do this,” she said “We’ve used up all the time we have for a brown person to be standing on the side of road with a knife. Fucking Feds will be rolling along any second now.  You’re ass is grass if we don’t hurry.” She turned her back on me and bit her lip.  I made two more cuts and scooped a triangle shaped chunk of her shoulder out.  Then we drove to the roadside diner down the road and ordered chicken fried steaks.

My memory of that diner is that everything seemed to be trapped in a time warp, cast under an orange glow and languishing under a thick layer of cigarette smoke.  The entries on the menu were numbered and foreign sounding, but there were some old familiars.  Jeni and I smoked our cigarettes boldly and drank coffee amidst tables full of elderly people who must have wondered a lot about the two of us.  We were not concerned with them at all.  I’d be willing to bet any of the biddies who eavesdropped on our conversation went home and blessed their own ears for having listened to the way Jeni and I used words.

 

Poor Man’s Camper

My dad used to tell me and my brothers that patience is a virtue.  As an adult, I have come to view this saying as a both a truth and a tactic.  It’s no coincidence that he would impart this nugget of wisdom on us during times when HE needed patience to deal with our antics, I just didn’t notice that as a child.

Looking back, I know that he lived by this saying for a number of reasons.  It’s a good mantra for people who are poor or struggling.  And for most of his life, my dad has been poor or struggling or both.  Sometimes people get offended by the use of the word “poor”.  Trust me, it is not a description that my father would hesitate to use for himself.  Ever ridden in a Poor Man’s Camper? Not a recognizable term?  Probably because it is one of those things that my father invented out of desperation.

Poor Man’s Camper defined:  A refrigerator box in the back of a pickup truck, filled with kids and about to travel a few hundred miles on MT roads so that transport of the entire family would be possible in the one vehicle we owned.  Also known as a box of potential death or, to my brother, Sonny, the box of torture where he was forced to lick chicken Mcnugget sweet & sour sauce off the cardboard walls. Forced by me. Because he spilled it and I didn’t want it to get in my hair.  It was fine, he could see the gross spots with no struggle; we were child geniuses and had poked holes through the cardboard for light.

My father is a highly talented sculptor.  He can paint and draw too, but he loved sculpting.  His sculptures are breathtaking- and not in the “I can kind of relate to what the artist is doing on subconscious level” way… more in the “holy &%$&^, that is so beautiful I can’t believe you made it” way.  I truly believe that if he had more administrative skills and less children, his career would have been much different.  He never gave up with his work, even though it meant months of travelling, going to art shows all over the US and long stretches of having no money at all.  My childhood memories are riddled with waxballs, foundry tailings, paint specks and art pencils.  He believed in following his dreams, he wanted all of us to believe in our following our own dreams too.  My mom tried not to give up, she really did- but years of near isolation and being almost solely responsible for the daily tasks of raising four kids eventually took their toll.
Of course when the marriage ended, I blamed her- because I was 12 and dumb. Romance and dreams just don’t feed, clothe or diaper children and you can’t stay in love with someone who is always gone. He was running around the country as a hip, starving artist (ok, he probably would say that is not as glorious as it sounds, and I know it wasn’t). She was the “welfare mom” dragging 4 kids around Montana towns where she knew no one without a car. I can understand this now that I’m almost 40 and a little less dumb.  Mom only had to wait for about 10 years for me to come to my senses and cut her some slack.

Still, my brothers and I idolized our dad.  Remember how when taking a solemn vow as a kid, you used to say “I swear to God” because you really, really meant it?  It seemed that the consequences of having lied in an oath including God’s name were bad beyond imagination.  Well…my brothers and I used to ask each other “You swear in Dad’s Name?” to ascertain whether the truth was being told.  I know.  It’s hilarious and sad and we’re all cool with that because sad is always easier with a little bit of humor.  Those who have done some real suffering in life know that this is a truth of surviving tragedy and hardship.   The divorce between my parents was long, truth be told, it pretty much consumed my life after the age of 12. By the time I was 16, I was thoroughly convinced that my parents would hate each other forever and I would never be allowed the privilege of planning an event with my future husband and kids that wouldn’t include having to keep my parents separate.

That was true for a few years, but thankfully, patience is a virtue and grand-kids change everything. I think the reason for that is because grand-kids mean your kids are full grown and you KNOW how fast it happened.  You realize that time with them while they are little really should be a high priority and you’re willing to work through your own personal issues in order to soak up that time. By the time my parents came up for air from their custody battle, two of their kids were old enough to decide who they wanted to live with.   These days, my parents easily hang out with eachother at family functions and, actually, my brothers and I get totally creeped out if they spend any amount of time alone. No, Mom & Dad, you can’t go outside and share a smoke, we’ve had enough of your antics, thank you.