After kindergarten, our little unemployed family moved to Washington state, way near the Canadian border. My grandparents had retired there and were in the process of building a house. My parents were hoping it would be easier for my dad to find a job there, as my grandparents had informed him. (Actually, I think my dad just couldn’t bear being far away from his parents since he is the baby of the family.)
We loaded up our little 10′ trailer and a 1960s banana yellow Dodge van and drove there. I remember this trip well. I remember seeing billboards of Smoky Bear warning of forest fires. I remember sleeping in the back of the van among some cardboard boxes as the van rumbled down the road. I remember both my sister and I being strapped to one seat, no booster seats back then! But most of all, I remember that it was July 4th, 1986 when we finally pulled into my grandparents’ driveway. It was not quite dark yet and my cousins who were living there for the summer, were already starting to play with sparklers.
My grandparents’ house was still very new. It had a roof, windows, doors and a fireplace, but there was no sheetrock on the walls and the floors were plywood. I remember there was still a large hole in the middle of the main floor where we could look down into the basement; us grandkids were warned to stay far away from it. It was there in that very unfinished living room that I lost my second tooth while watching a movie on an itty-bitty 8 inch TV screen. As I watched my grandparents finish building, decorating and furnishing that house, I grew to really love it. I grew up in or near that house; it will always be a little part of me.
We lived in our little trailer until the weather got too cold and we moved into the unfinished basement in the house. I can’t believe it, but we just slept straight on the cement floor. It felt like a castle though, because it was so spacious compared to the trailer. Plus a wood burning stove and electricity! Later there would be a full kitchen, bathroom and laundry area. I remember my sister was playing with my dad, jumping over him, when she fell and chipped a front tooth on the cement floor.
These living arrangements were temporary though. When spring came, my parents bought a larger trailer, about 45 feet long. Basically the kind you would find in a trailer park. They parked it behind my grandparents’ house on part of their 20 acres. We had electricity and running water there (I’m not sure how that worked, but it did.) My father had found a job at a lumber mill. I think this was also a temporary living situation, but we ended up living there for a few years.
I have many memories attached to these years. We had a pet cat who lost a leg to a slamming door, and a turtle who got eaten by the cat. I remember a skunk one time climbed under our trailer and then died. Ew. After a shift at the lumber mill, my dad would take his rough winter rubber boots off and his feet would literally steam. I can vividly recall hundreds of grasshoppers on the side of the trailer where the summer sun provided a hot surface for them to lounge on. It was in this home that I found out the secret of Santa when I literally woke up Christmas morning and heard my mother arranging gifts under the tree on the other end of the “house.” My grandfather helped the stream running through his property create a little island and installed a sandbox and swings for the grandkids. It was here that, at the age of seven, I finally finished hand washing a large load of dishes, only to walk away and hear the dishes come crashing to the floor. Broken glass everywhere. It was also in this home that I was sick once and when my mom told me I needed to finish my soup I replied, “If I eat that, I am going to throw up.” She still made me eat it. And a few minutes later, those still-intact ramen noodles were all over her living room carpet. I told her so.
One thing I learned about during these years was prejudice. My grandparents were from Detroit and had strong racist feelings toward black people. I remember watching TV with my Grandma once, when a commercial with black actors came on. This disgusted my grandmother, but I remember thinking that her attitude was wrong.
I started first grade in this new little town. Two of my cousins continued to live with my grandparents even when school started in the fall. We would all three stand at the end of the driveway waiting for the bus in the morning. One morning the bus driver not only didn’t stop for us, but he waved at us as he went by. My grandma was furious when we came in telling her what had happened. Halfway through first grade, my parents were asked to come into the school for a conference with the teacher. After this meeting, my parents told me that they wanted to switch me to a new class. I really didn’t much like my teacher, but I was scared of the new situation. I asked why I had to move classes. My dad told me that because of my hispanic last name (my mother’s Dad was Mexican) the school had assigned me to my current teacher, but they realized that I was “too smart” for this class. I spoke english (I didn’t even know spanish!) and was a bright student more appropriate for a different class. Again, I remember thinking how wrong it was that they had put me in the wrong class to begin with.
This time in my life was the beginning of feeling a sense of home and belonging. My love of the outdoors budded. And I learned that sometimes people that you love, or those who should be making good decisions for you, are flawed.
*Giving the story of my life is much more difficult that I realized it would be, and I am just beginning! After I give the big picture story, I plan to go back and write about specific memories. Plus, this has been more difficult for me to face than I thought it would be. Apologies for the delay.