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Wednesday, February 08, 2006


This was just a scene I wanted to capture.  I want to overhaul it into a slice of rural Idaho life, with the poverty (both financial and of the imagination) and lack of movement or hope.  This is choppy and is only a beginning;  words felt like sludge today.  I may revisit it and I may not...

I was sitting on the edge of the river, dangling my feet in the water while watching my children swim.  Another wife was sitting with me, also watching her children.  We were both "reunion spouses;" our husbands had gone to school together and were convened with the rest of their class at the 20-year reunion barbecue party by the river.

There weren't too many of us spouses, at least ones that hadn't also gone to the same school.  This was a small town in Idaho and most of the couples had been couples back in high school, too.  Or if the original couples had divorced, they had paired off with other former classmates, making complicated work of sorting out which children belonged to whom.  Not that most of the children of these classmates were young, other than mine and those of my new acquaintance.  It had been shocking for me to discover how many people my age had grown children and even grandchildren.  But that comes with marrying one's high school sweetheart and settling down early.

My husband had ventured out.  He'd joined the navy at 19 and though we met and married (I was a college student) only a few years later, at 22, we opted not to have children right away so that Bill could go to college when he got out of the navy.  Although he ended up going to the university that is only about 45 minutes away from his hometown, it might as well have been a different state altogether.  Or country.  The few times he would run into a an old classmate during those college years, maybe two years after their last chance encounter, maybe even one, there'd inevitably be a conversation such as:

"So, you still up at the college?"

"Yep," Bill would say.  "I'm in my sophomore year.  Two years down and two to go!"

"That many?!  How many years is this deal again?"

I still don't know how many people he went to high school with really understood that he was in college, and not training for some sort of certificate program.  It was just a completely different view of life.

So at 38 we had the youngest children of the class and the woman sitting next to me at the river was someone I desperately wanted to get to know better, as she had the next-youngest children.  Her husband had also ventured beyond the state boundaries of Idaho and that and the fact that we were both outsiders - she had grown up in Texas - was promising.  There was another night of reunion festivities ahead of me this weekend and I was hoping to have an ally.

Mostly we were talking about how we didn't know anyone there.  "We haven't been back here since we got married," she'd say.  Since we lived about five hours away I had to resort to a more emotional distance.

"Well, we come back every year, maybe twice a year, but I never really fit in," I'd counter.

"Oh, my husband's family doesn't know what to think of me, what with the way I talk and all," she drawled.  "But they just don't get that there are cities in Texas, too!  They assume that I know how to ride a horse and drive a tractor but I'd just as soon spend the day at the mall!" she laughed.

Not one to enjoy shopping, I was trumped.  For a minute.  "Yeah, even the women in Bill's family hunt and fish.  And I'm a vegetarian!" I produced this proudly, only realizing at the last moment that I'd be eating all weekend.  While I had an on-again, off-again relationship with vegetarianism, I was currently off.  Now I'd have to shun the meat all weekend or eat when she wasn't looking.

I was staring at the water and periodically mediating squabbles between my children when I suddenly heard a voice call out, "Aunt Diane?"  Even after being married for 16 years most people in Bill's family get my name wrong.  I was a little dizzy for a moment; I'd spent the past twenty minutes detailing what an outsider I was and then I was being recognized by a niece at the river.  It was a little unsettling.

As we chatted - she was scoping the sites by the river for her upcoming wedding and Bill and I, and the kids, "should come" - I marvelled at her new height and poise.  The first time I had ever met her was just after Bill and I had gotten married and were on our long honeymoon trip.  She was about four and had settled immediately onto my lap.  "I should have gotten you a present," she said mournfully.  "Maybe a watch!"  My heart had melted.  I'd squeezed her tightly and assured her that no present was needed and just as I'd said this her father, one of Bill's older brothers, had growled at her.  "You leave them alone!  Go play!"

She'd slipped off of my lap and slunk dejectedly off, despite my stammering protestations that all was fine, that I liked talking to her, but Don would have none of it. 

Looking at her now, with her toddler on her hip (she'd gotten pregnant high school, and the man she would be marrying was not the father) as she discussed wedding plans, I felt maternal, or whatever the equivalent for aunts is. 

[segue to wedding] - This part is lifted in pieces from an old blog archive:

Ah, Idaho weddings. I fretted a bit on the way over there, thinking that I hadn't dressed up enough. On the one hand, I know Bill's family. They are casual, to say the least. But it was a wedding. I had chosen the only thing I could think of, considering the heat, a casual sundress sort of thing. Bill and the kids were also in "casual Friday" regalia. But as soon as we arrived, I was reasssured. Jeans. Shorts. T-shirts with topless bar logos. I was considered dressed up.

The bride was scheduled to arrive by boat, on the river. Everyone was milling around the folding chairs, drinking. Drinking? Isn't that supposed to be after the wedding ceremony? Oh, but I had forgotten that in rural north Idaho, you always byob. People arrive even at a wedding with their big plastic cups of "pop."

Comments on "river"


Blogger Rozanne said ... (9:42 AM) : 

Wow. Really good job of conveying the outsider perspective. The gruff brother telling his little girl to leave you alone; the T-shirts with the tittie bar logos; the awkward conversations; trying to find someone with whom you had a tiny bit of something in common. I could easily imagine struggling in a situation like that.

You should keep going with this one.


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