It was December 1975 when the Blue Gypsy rolled into town.
The place was called Nevada; it rhymed with tomata, potata and alligata. When our VW hit town, it was loaded down with 6 rowdy kids, a couple bags of clothes and our mom, ostensibly to spend Christmas with our grandparents in the huge, drafty house they bought after relocating to the Midwest earlier that year. I had no way of knowing back then how worried our grandparents must have been for us all.
We arrived late on a gray December afternoon imagining we were staying for a week, and before we knew it, we had been enrolled in school.
It was another new beginning. It was another “fresh start.”
Frankly, I was sick to death of fresh starts by the time we reached Nevada. In the first ten years of my life, we had moved many times; first from our family farm into a town in New Hampshire, then halfway across the known world to live in one small town after another in the middle of nowhere. By which I mean Kansas. With our Northeastern accents and no local blood relatives or country club ties, our lot was ripe for ribbing.
“You talk funny,” they would say. “Where do you come from?”
“New Hampshire.” (pronounced Nyoo He-am’-shah)
“What state is that in?”
Try explaining a tiny triangle in the Northeastern corner of America to kids in the heartland. We may as well have dropped off another planet as far as they were concerned, and our presence there was governed by this one simple equation:
Not German + Not Catholic = Not from Kansas.
No, Lacrosse, Kansas was not a lot of fun, unless you count the great excitement we felt dicing death when our Blue Gypsy was struck by a ground-twister. Oh, there was a bloody nose or two, but we survived. In Lacrosse, we discovered sand burs and thorn trees and the flattest land we had ever seen. We discovered grain elevators, apocalyptic storms, sunbaked earth and wind that just would not stop.
Phillipsburg was a little better, in large part because we lived there in a rented farmhouse surrounded once more by cattle and fruit trees. A creek ran through the property, and we had bluffs to explore and trees to climb. In short, it felt more like our old farmhouse back in New Hampshire. I loved the heady heat of our single summer spent there, the abandoned workman’s quarters we used as a playhouse and the sound of tree locusts buzzing us to sleep at night.
I spent the first half of my fifth grade year there. With my super cool flowery notebook and Mr. Johnson as my teacher, 75-76 had all the earmarks of a great school year in the making. Until Christmas rolled around, and this family of reprobate Yankee tumbleweeds had to roll once more.
To this day, I wonder whatever happened to my flowery notebook abandoned in a Kansas classroom. Did anyone there miss us? I wonder.
Our relationship with Nevada has been sort of “love-hate” over the years. It is where we slowly grew roots and eventually formed long and lasting friendships, many of which still remain intact. It is where I spent summers between the pool and the baseball field, where we attended the Carnival and Bushwhacker Days and the County Fair. I performed under the stars for the Community Theatre and spent most of High School on stage. Nevada is where I graduated, and it is where my Mom and Step-dad live to this day.
It is, actually, what I consider my hometown.
But, back when I was ten, the teething pains of moving mid-year into a closed and society-conscious town were massive and left deep scars, though perhaps no more so than many children face in their course of life. Change for a kid is hard no matter how easy the adults try to make it for them. These Yankee tumbleweeds were scarred and vulnerable before we even hit town. The damage to our familial root system had already been done, and this town, this “fresh start,” this “Nevada-rhymes-with-potata” had little if anything to do with that.
When I grew up and moved away, like a seed on the wind I flew as far and as fast as I could to escape that place. How ironic that now, in middle age, now that I am at peace with myself and my past and my future, with my roots buried many thousands of miles away, I find myself pining for its streets and the summery sounds of the baseball diamond. Perhaps some of my roots remain buried there. Buried deep in the rich Missouri soil and interlocked with the roots of others; buried in the bricks of my old school and in the memories, both sweet and painful, that still breathe there.
Feature photo: Five of us six siblings with our grandfather outside the Grand Street house, summer 1976. We were the Fashionista, The Bookworm (ah – that would be me there in the glasses!), The Rebel With Cause, the Beauty Queen, and our little sis in front, The Little Sweetheart. Our Grandpa’s face says it all… I miss him to this day.
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