All right, chums, here’s the conclusion of stories about my grandma, Mildred, and her brother, Lowell, as they grew up in small-town South Dakota in the early 1900s.
Three years ago, back in 2013 when good things still seemed possible, I started a serial on Facebook involving a snow lady we’d made in the front yard. Periodically, when we weren’t shoveling out from the latest blizzard or fending off mid-winter fluesies, I’d toss out another post about this snow lady and her imagined life.
About six people got really into it, and the rest of FB either ignored it or were bamfoozled by it.
No matter how many understood the snow lady’s very particular vibe, I kept tossing out updates on her until one day I stopped — probably because it was so blasted cold outside that my camera kept seizing up whenever I’d go out to stage another photo shoot…or because my fingers went to frostbite before I could get the shot…or because I was sorry for how thoroughly I’d freaked out the mail carrier. All he wanted to do was drop some envelopes through the slot, but every time he got near his house, he saw this crazy white-fingered lunatic dancing around, stomping her feet, hollering swear words at her camera and carrying on an animated conversation with a snow person.
And then, because it was the snowiest April on record that year, a few more crazy storms dropped inches of fluff, and eventually the scene out our front door was obscured by nature. There will come soft rains and all that jazz.
Anyhow, the other day on Facebook, a friend saw a photo of the snow lady crop up in his memories from past years, and he commented on it. This, of course, in the weirdness of Facebook, meant that the photo showed up in the feeds of a few other folks, and eventually, it became obvious that I should go back and dredge up the posts about my snow lady and pull them together somehow.
That somehow is here. Now.
Please, then, very kindly: enjoy the exploits of our spirited heroine.
The mustachioed man at the bar had her in fits of laughter by her fourth gin & tonic.
After her fifth G & T, they hit the exit together.
The next morning, her head pounding, her mascara smudged, nursing a little hair of the dog, she stumbled home, vowing “Never again.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I present Walk of Shame Snow Woman.
Their eyes had met across a crowded bar.
Dapper. Mustachioed. How could a tipsy girl resist?
After last call, they stumbled back to his place. During the walk, she tried — that minx! — to grab his rear end.
Her vision blurred, she missed her target and punched him in the testes.
Fortunately, his balls were made of ice. He never flinched.
Forty weeks later.
It was only after part of her face fell off (warm temperatures and sheer fatigue) that Walk of Shame Snow Woman’s postpartum issues became obvious.
She was tired of standing in the same place all day, every day, feeling like she was never getting anywhere. She was tired of the baby’s clove-scented breath wafting into the hole where her carrot used to be. Damn it. She was just. so. tired.
Those once-lovin’ arms weren’t so lovin’ any more.
It was fortunate she’d taken his phone number during their one night together. Even more fortunate was the fact that she’d entered his digits correctly, given the five gin & tonics sloshing through her system.
It was fortunate she’d taken his phone number because now, nearly a year later, she needed him. She needed his help. She needed her Baby Daddy to step up.
As Walk of Shame Snow Woman applied herself to postpartum recovery, Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up guy, having just learned he was a father, revealed a strength of character that would have surprised both the Boy Scout troop leader (“NO, THAT IS NOT HOW YOU TIE A FARMER’S LOOP. IF YOU’VE DONE THE KNOT CORRECTLY, I SHOULD NOT BE STRAPPED TO A TREE RIGHT NOW”) and the pastor (“WHEN I SAID ‘LIGHT THE ALTAR CANDLES,’ I DIDN’T MEAN ‘SET FIRE TO THE ENTIRE NAVE'”) from his youth. Dismissed by so many, Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up guy came into his own as a father. The babe, so recently tumbled from his mother’s overwhelmed arms, was surrounded by love at Daddy’s house.
In the meantime, rallying emotionally and physically from the demands of new motherhood, Walk of Shame Snow Woman decided it was time she did something for herself, something that would help her look forward to the future with hope and a positive attitude.
She scheduled a visit with the plastic surgeon. A few weeks later, recovering from rhinoplasty, Walk of Shame Snow Woman eyed herself in the mirror, smiling as hugely as her straight stick allowed.
Finally, she had the little button nose she’d coveted her whole life.
He called her and left a message: “Could the baby stay with me for a few more weeks? I know you’ve been feeling better since getting that little button nose, and I’m sure you’re eager to have the baby come back, but, well, we’re having a really good time and enjoying all the new toys I bought, so maybe if we could extend the stay…?”
And although she was feeling more like herself again as the post-partum haze lifted and her new nose settled into its pit, Walk of Shame Snow Woman knew that the baby was still better off with Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up Baby Daddy, for the time being.
…because she still had some livin’ to do before settling down, returning to motherhood, and introducing Baby to its first solids (softened ice cream sandwiches). Thus, two days after agreeing to let MBH-UBD continue to care for their child, WoSSW left him this gleeful voicemail: “I did it! I’ve always wanted some ink, so I did it! Thank you for helping me find the time and space to make some of my tattoo dreams come true! I’m sending you photos of the work I had done last night after last call. They closed the bar, and then Charmaine and Patricka and I walked down to The Poison Pin and got inked! Check your phone; I’m texting pictures! I got one tatt on my bottom ball and one on my middle ball–wanted to get one on my head ball, too, but chickened out. Probably a good thing I didn’t have that seventh Fuzzy Navel, actually!”
He checked his phone. He saw the images of her tattoos.
He wondered how hard it would be to gain permanent custody.
Whistling “The Wheels on the Bus” as he and the baby exited their Daddy and Me Gymboree class, Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up Baby Daddy checked his messages.
Well, there: a message from Walk of Shame Snow Woman. She was finally checking in. It had been a few days since he’d heard from her. MBH-UBD had been starting to worry she’d been hospitalized for Tattoo Infection or jailed for Exuberant Denial of Motherhood.
She picked up her phone on the first ring, bursting out, “HI! How’ve you and the baby been doing? Bonding a lot? I’m really glad you two are having this time together–”
“Yes, about that–” he tried to interject, but she interrupted.
“I know I sure am having a blast. Charmaine and Patricka liked my new ink so much that we had to go back the next night and get some work done on them. And then today, I thought to myself, ‘Girl, you need to pamper yourself; life is short!’ so I went to the salon and had LeTrice do my make-up and give my hair a blow-out, and now I’m feeling like a kajillion!”
Although his first reaction was to redefine “pampering” as “selfishness,” he counted to ten and aimed for compassion. These last months hadn’t been easy on WoSSW, and, to be honest, he, too, had gone through phases of self-exploration, like the time he got into ear gauges and stretched his lobes to the point of sporting 3/4″ plugs.
“Well, okay, then,” he replied slowly. “I’m glad you’re flying high, albeit from your same frozen spot, and I’m sure that blow-out looks appropriately storm tangled. I’d like to propose an idea, though: why don’t we have the baby continue to stay with me while you work on some things that are less, well, body oriented. Since you’ve put in some time on your appearance, could I ask that you now focus on strengthening and improving the other parts of your life? I really feel like our baby could use a mother who can read books more than pour drinks; who can tell stories that aren’t about hours in the tattoo artist’s chair; who can make food instead of eating other patrons’ Happy Hour leftovers off the bar; who can play freeze tag instead of quarters.”
There was silence on the line. Finally, she spoke: “Huh to the what at the where?”
Trying to clarify, he asked more directly: “I ask this with complete empathy — I mean, I’ve definitely sown a few wild oats in my day what with being the drummer for a major rock band and all — but how about you take some time now to grow up and become a parent?”
Still on the phone with Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up Baby Daddy, registering his strong words regarding her need to grow up, Walk of Shame Snow Woman felt defensive.
What was wrong with getting a nose job? She’d have him know her confidence had skyrocketed since getting that little button nose! She was handing out her number to all the elves at the Horn O’ Plenty since the rhinoplasty! And what was so bad about her new tattoos? They were symbolic…of…you know…things. Like how sometimes she got hungry just like a Hungry, Hungry Hippo.
However, the same sense of self-preservation that had gotten her through eight months in juvie when she was fifteen kicked in now. If she lit into him and tore him another carrot hole, he might get peeved in return and refuse to keep the baby for a few more weeks.
She wasn’t quite ready for the baby to come back to her place yet. She and Charmaine and Patricka were going to the casino to play some keno Friday night, and then she wanted to go get her nails done at Klassy ‘Cures like that one lady at the bowling alley who never bowled. It wasn’t easy, having a broken lacrosse scoop for a hand; what girl wouldn’t want to freshen that look with a kick-ass mani?
What she needed to do was buy herself some more baby-free time.
Thus, Walk of Shame Snow Woman tamped down her urge to shriek and instead warmed her voice so as to sound less icy:
“You know, MBH-UBD, you’re right. I do need to start being less selfish. I do need to start improving other parts of my life besides my own appearance. At some point, a girl should just say to herself, ‘Sweetheart, relax. Your bottom ball of snow is already as taut as a watermelon rind. It’s okay to miss a day or two at the gym.'”
Stuttering a bit, for he’d rather expected to melt in the face of a blistering response, he managed, “Tha-, that’s great to hear. So maybe you can get your life pulled together, and then the baby can have some time with you.”
“Yea, sure. Just give me a few weeks to, y’know, do some laundry and find the toaster and catch up on Springer. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.”
Attempting to rub his head with frustration, but finding his arm couldn’t bend, Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up Baby Daddy put on the pressure: “You might need to fast track some of that. The thing is, I actually need to you take the baby next week, because I’m going out on tour with the boys.”
“What? What boys? What tour? Whaddya mean you’re ‘going on tour with the boys’? Wait a moonshine minute: do you lead rich dicks on some sort of Grand Tour and drag them through Les Invalides or something? Do. not. tell. me. you are a cicerone who exposes the upper crust to fencing and the Alps? Do you bend the ears of callow youth in the Uffizi as you babble about about the subtle use of light in di Cosimo’s ‘Portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi’? Well, well, well, slam the rusty gate on my festering big toe and get me a tetanus shot!” she bellowed, scratching her armpit and inhaling as she lit a Marlboro (menthol).
Completely exasperated, Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up Baby Daddy clipped out, “Come ON. No, I am not a cicerone — and by the way, your accent is amazing — nor do I lead lads from the Hamptons around Europe. You know full well what I mean when I say I’m ‘going on tour with the boys.’ I told you the night we met that I’m a drummer in a band, that I’m known for my unique style of not using drumsticks. I told you how I just use my arms because they percuss and chshshshsh and whama-whama-whama like no manufactured stick ever could. I told you all this.”
Although his words beat a faint bada-bing on her mental hi-hat, WoSSW didn’t exactly recall all this information, what with the five gin & tonics she’d had the night they’d met. Attempting to appease him, WoSSW asked, “You know, although I was very clearly attracted to your sassy knit cap that night at the bar, I actually am a little fuzzy about the rest. Like, for one, how we got a baby out of it. Also, um, that you’re in a band. Do you do, like, a drumline? Whenever drums go by in a parade, I jump around like I’m moshing and can’t stop until the woodwinds body surf me over to the clown candy.”
Sighing deeply, once again blaming the eleven shots of Jägermeister he’d had at the bar that night for messing up what had previously been a relatively simple life, MBH-UBD informed her, “NO, I do not make my living playing in a drumline. No one does, you powder-for-brains goose. I’ll send you a picture of me with the guys, and then you’ll get it. And once you realize who the lead singer is, you’ll understand why I’m so good at taking care of babies. Hang up. I’m sending it.”
Given a timeline, motivated by the hope that she might gain access to Slash, she reassessed. Frick yea, she could do this.
Giving it her best “wastrel tramp who likes Jim Beam” effort, Walk of Shame Snow Woman started to make some changes. Two days later, MBH-UBD’s phone rang; it was she. Breathlessly, WoSSW announced, “Dude, I rule. I got a job. Sure it’s seasonal, only a couple of days this week, in fact — but that just means I have more time to work on getting my trash heap of a subsidized apartment ready for the baby to move in while you’re touring with Axl and the boys. And the great thing about this job is that I totally get the idea of working now. Working is killer! I just stand there and vape a little Peach Schnapps e-cig and chat with my colleague Aunistee while people drop stuff off. I get seven bucks for every sixty ticks — and that’s totally two margaritas at Happy Hour!”
Wanting to be supportive but feeling flummoxed, Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up Baby Daddy managed, “That’s great, Walk of Shame. Yea, work can be all right, depending on the job. I know with Axl, sometimes things get tense, especially when I suggest he consider a little bit more in the pants department, but mostly, being a drummer rocks. Soooo: what IS your new job?”
A bit distracted by the notion of Axl’s lack of pants, WoSSW didn’t answer at first. Eventually, though, she revealed, “Oh, I’m a Christmas Tree Drop-Off Site Logistician and Coordinator. I run the chipper.”
And that’s where we left this romance of and from the snow: with two lost souls lurching through their days, banging their way through the world. The baby is now three — benefiting from the enrichments of Head Start. Currently, Mustachioed Bar Hook-Up Baby Daddy is drumming for Kings of Leon.
And our heroine?
Sometimes she still gets overwhelmed. Sometimes she spends her rent money on new ink. Always, she drinks too much. Every week, she spends two hours at her job — emptying the quarters out of the machines at a laundromat, pouring them into a heavy plastic bag that she then thumps onto the desk of a cigar-chewing guy named Lenny.
And twice a week, she has a session with her therapist, the renowned Dr. Paco. Known for his unorthodox methods, he reclines on a snow chaise longue while WoSSW stands rigidly in the corner. But as soon as the kindly doc looks her in the leafy eye and asks — with the only compassion she’s ever known — “Why do you suppose you’re so bent on self-sabotage?” —
After visiting the Great Sand Dunes, we continued to drive through Colorado, towards Wyoming. Before we could really gun the car and head north, however, we needed to pull over for gas. And Jocelyn might have needed a bag of beef jerky. As is her way.
As soon as we turned off the engine, we glanced out the window–and saw this:
Plus, a bunch of other runners dragging llamas went by. Part of me wanted to shrug and act nonchalant, like this was the stuff of every Saturday. Most of me wanted to shout “What in the holy mother of pack animals is going on here?”
Turns out it was “Burro Days.” Which apparently means “Llama Races.” Of course.
Well fueled by fossils and jerky, we continued to drive. Getting around Denver took insanely long. My overriding impression of the population centers of Colorado, both from living there and from traveling through, is that there are too many people, and all those people are driving cars around, and it is just frustrating and blech. I just don’t want to spend that much of my life sitting in a car, watching the same light turn from red to green to yellow to red to green to yellow to red to you get it.
Providing the perfect counterpoint to the traffic of Colorado is the wide openness that is Wyoming. As we neared our destination for the evening, Guernsey State Park, the terrain began to look more and more like Home to this Montana girl.
Dear The West: You can give me all the browns and beiges and taupes in the spectrum, and I’ll find them dazzling.
Dear The West Some More: You can also keep painting the sky with pastels every night.
Because we were doomed on this trip to have terrible nights’ sleep in campgrounds, the lovely Guernsey tent site offered up eleventy kajillion bugs, rampant cow manure smell, and coal trains running along nearby tracks from, um, Sleep O’Clock to Wake A.M.
Fortunately, our tired selves were restored the next day in South Dakota–a state with plenty of its own natural beauty but which, inexplicably, has tried to up its appeal by schlockifying every possible pull-over.
Case in point:
Fortunately, as much as I thrill to a beautiful landscape, I also lurves me some schlock.
And twist cone soft serve featuring half vanilla ice cream and half lemon-lime sherbert. You know, as ice cream occurs in nature.
We needed a sugar infusion so that we could be at the top of our energies whilst viewing a major American attraction. See it, off in the distance?
Here’s another hint:
I’ve seen Mt. Rushmore at least a handful of times, if not more, and every time it’s moving and majestic, and I’m not one to get soppy over presidents, except for the first time I saw Barack Obama on Jay Leno, way back before the presidency was on his radar. Watching Obama work the interview, I turned to Byron and said, “I would date that man. You are invited to come along.”
After a night’s rest in a real room with real walls, our whirl across South Dakota continued to fluctuate from fake crap to majesty and back to fake crap again. That is to say, we stopped at the legendary Wall Drug. While I’ve probably been there at least fifteen times, the kids didn’t remember our last time through, as they were too young. Paco was very excited to try Wall Drug’s famed “free ice water”; gulping down his first swallow, he clutched at his throat and cast about for a place to spit dramatically while yelling, “YUCK. That water is terrible! There is no water like Lake Superior water!”
The only way I could calm him down was to pose him and his new l’il-cutie-fluffy stuffed bison in front of its inspiration.
In the meantime, Allegra had found a girlfriend. She’s a quiet girl, our Allegra, but I got the sense these two could sit side by side on the porch for decades, exchanging only the occasional, “You cold? You need sleeves yet?”
After bolting from Wall Drug, we headed into the Badlands, a place where one can stare at the earth and think about them fancy striated Fourth of July Jell-O dishes that Aunt Mabel likes to bring to the family gathering.
We pulled over multiple times in the Badlands; after about the first five stops, the kids lost interest and energy for getting out of the car and staring at beautiful erosions. By the end, we were hard pressed to peel them out of the back seat, away from their books (Allegra ended up reading almost ten books on the trip).
There are worse problems to have.
So those of us with the will got out of the car repeatedly and applied our best oooohs and ahhhhs to the landscape.
After exiting the Badlands, we pulled over at a sod house that has been restored. I really wanted our family to stop here because my grandma Dorothy was born in a sod house on the family ranch in Montana. When I was in junior high, I had an assignment in biology to collect as many wildflower specimens as possible and compile them into a labeled collection. One Sunday afternoon, we walked around the ranch with Grandma, picking wildflowers. She saw flowers I didn’t even know how to notice, and she knew the lay person’s name for almost every one of them. At one point, casually, she gestured across an open expanse at a caved-in-looking hill and said, “That’s the sod house where I was born.”
So, yea, I wanted the kids to get a feel for their great-grandmother’s beginnings. Plus, I always like a chance to bring history to life.
On our last evening of the road trip, before our last long day of driving, we stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota, to meet up with my aunt Geri and uncle Gale. It was fitting that we stopped at Culver’s on the last night of our trip since we had spent the first evening of our trip (in Austin, MN) having Culver’s with a loved one as well. Thanks to Culver’s and its amazing frozen custard, we were given the sense of coming full circle.
After a night’s sleep in Sioux Falls, we pushed our way to Duluth the following day. One of my favorite moments of any trip away is when we pull up to our house and crack open the doors of the car, for the smells of pine and water are distinct markers that we are Home.
A few days after our return home, Byron finally finished the blackwork embroidery (his first) that he’d been experimenting with throughout our journey.
He’d stitched a picture of the second night of our trip, when we’d camped in Nebraska. Plagued by a fearful thunderstorm, we’d all huddled in the blacked-out campground bathrooms for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. Look at our little tent there, getting battered by the elements!
Ultimately, our weeks on the road confirmed what my heart already knew:
If I have to huddle anywhere for an extended period of time,
my husband, son, and daughter are the people I want to be leaning against in the darkness.