1 of 490: Intro to the Travel Trailer

Dear Lord, please help me forgive my parents for their dumb idea to move out to the middle of nowhere even though it is a huge mistake.

I’m starting this series of stories with the year our family moved into a travel trailer. I’m starting here because it is what I consider the first of 490 emotional, dramatic, horrific tales of forgiveness.

It was the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years when my parents decided to move. Okay, that’s pretty normal, nothing horrific yet. Many kids have to move. However, my parents also decided to build their own house. By this I mean, they were going to be the ones actually building the house: digging the basement, framing the walls, and even going as far as installing ceiling fans…

…all without professional guidance.

The normal time frame for building a house is, what would you guess, six months…sometimes less? It would be no big deal to do as normal people do and rent an apartment during that period. What would be weird is if my parents bought a 20-foot travel trailer and said, “Let’s live in this!”

Needless to say, my parents are weird, and this is where the horrific tale begins.

Without much foresight, my mom and dad bought a 20-foot 1980 Prowler travel trailer from wherever travel trailers are sold, perhaps aisle 9 in Wal-Mart…

…which I understand are strategically positioned right next to the outhouses (that story is coming later).

The strategy was that if we parked the travel trailer right on the construction site, we could wake up and immediately start hammering away. At night we could brush our teeth, say our prayers, and hammer a few nails before going to bed. If executed to perfection, this strategy could shave an entire 32.5 hours off of the entire house building project. In my parents’ minds, God bless them, it was going to be well worth it.

As to not paint my parents as complete loons, I must back up a little bit. Admittedly, they were making the move for noble reasons. Their purpose for moving had more motive than simply torturing me and inflicting long-lasting emotional damage. The reasons for moving were two-fold. 1.) My dad had always wanted to be a mountain man. 2.) My siblings were falling off a spiritual cliff.

My dad, Sonny, was born about 150 years too late. As evidence of this, one of my father’s favorite things is when the power goes out. Whenever the power goes out, it is like watching a watered down version of Jekyl and Hyde. He goes from a modern tech-savvy pharmacist into a reincarnation of Jim Bridger.

With no electricity, my father is really in his element. While most normal people dread the hours that pass with no TV, music, or electric can opener, my father revels in it. For a few brief hours he is able to travel back in time to the years before Thomas Edison figured out electrical currents.

The first thing my father gets out is his red kerosene hurricane lantern. How many people have a kerosene lantern? This would be odd in and of itself. Now consider that he also has a backup supply of kerosene to fill the lantern. Parts of our house are like a pioneer museum. With lantern filled and lit, he orders the family to gather together.

It is now his obligation to tell us what life was like before electricity as if he had been there himself. “Think of all the things that electricity provides for us,” he begins, holding the kerosene lantern up as though he were the Statue of Liberty, giving light and freedom to an otherwise dark and cruel world. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Then he lists off a number of modern conveniences we take for granted. “Dishwashers, televisions, radios, iPods, water heaters, lights, for Pete Sake. For most of the world’s existence, these things didn’t exist,” he would say.

“Do you know what else didn’t exist?” Mooner would complain. “Happiness.”

Dad would wait for the grumbling to quiet down before continuing, “When the sun went down, the day was pretty much over. All you could do was read by candlelight or just sit around and talk. Hmmm,” he pondered. “Kind of like we’re doing now.”

“This is the worst,” Amanda said.

The second motive behind the move was my sister’s most recent choice in bad friends. They had already lost their oldest son to the powers of peer pressure and methamphetamine, they would be damned to have the same thing happen to their daughter. Even if that meant ruining the life of their youngest son–me.

My sister, only 15 years old and already falling in with the wrong crowd. Their sweet daughter was beginning to get an attitude, skip school, and, worst of all, listen to Nirvana. Like I said, they had just gone through this dog and pony show with my brother, so when she suddenly started smoking cigarettes, they could see where she was headed.

My parents–and by extension their kids–belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The average person knows this denomination by its nickname “The Mormons”. So to us, smoking a cigarette is more than just a bad health choice or lack of common sense. As Mormon’s, tobacco intake is a direct violation of God’s commandments. The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a strict moral code. Abstaining from sex before marriage. Paying a 10% tithe on all income. Just saying “NO” to drugs, alcohol, tabacco, cofee, and tea. The standard doctrine even goes as far as encouraging its members to attend church for a whopping 3 hours per week, at a minimum. If you hold a voluntary position within the church, it can triple our quadruple your time commitment.

Our commitment to such commandments stems from a long legacy of faithful Latter-day Saints, going all the way back to the 1830s. Our ancestors made great personal sacrifices because of their convictions, and we were expected to carry on the tradition. Any departure from the Mormon way of life was frowned upon. As you will come to learn, my parent’s frowned a lot throughout the years…

…almost risking frown permanence.

These were the high, nearly unachievable expectations of our family, and my parents sincerely wanted a winning record in the kids department. If one out of three kids strays from the faith, it could be considered a fluke. If two out of three kids stray, it may require some serious self-reflection.

My sister was slipping away fast, and my parents were out of options.

At some risk of embarrassment to the family, I remember one episode that probably pushed my parents to the brink of making the decision to move. My parents had just banned my sister from spending the night at any friends’ house. This was completely justified. Whenever my sister and her friends got together, they raised hell–sneaking out, stealing stuff, and smoking who knows what.

My sister, though, full of rebellious attitude, was not going to let this rule stand without some defiance. Instead of smoking cigarettes in private with her friends, she lit up a cigarette right on the back porch of our house. Even I couldn’t believe her audacity. I halfway expected a scene similar to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah…

…People have been turned into pillars of salt for much less grievous offenses.

I stared in disbelief as she pulled a pack of cigarettes out of her pocket. Dark clouds began to gather above our house. She removed a stick. Rain started to fall. She overtly stuck the orange end into her mouth. The winds blew stronger and lightning began to strike. This was the end of the world, I was sure of it. Holding the lighter up, she flicked the igniter with her thumb, and the cigarette tip began to burn…

…And that’s when it happened. Something far more bizarre than Sodom and Gomorrah.

Usually my parents could keep their composure, but not this time. Not only was my sister breaking one of the fundamental laws of God, she was doing so on my parents’ property.

What ensued next has a couple different perspectives. My mother’s recollection was as if she were the Incredible Hulk coming down from a hormone high. The cigarette triggered a murderous rage that could not be contained. The blackout period occurred and my mother, now completely controlled by anger, did unimaginable things to her daughter.

My sister remembers being chased around the lawn by her mom. Despite her best attempts to distance herself, she could not outrun my mother’s anger. Mom grabbed her and wrestled her to the ground. Then something was shoved into my sister’s mouth. To this day we often debate whether that was the cigarette butt itself or a piece of dog poop.

So as any story goes that ends with dog poop, it was time for something dramatic to happen.

“We’re moving to Eden,” mom told me in the parking lot of a K-mart.

As an early lesson in life, Mom taught me right there and then that no message of emotional import should ever occur in a K-mart parking lot. Just envision the following statements being made under the glow of the big red “K”.

  1. Old Yeller is dead.
  2. Will you marry me?
  3. I’m pregnant.
  4. Frankly Dear, I don’t give a damn.
  5. Duck Dynasty just got cancelled.

So for a 12 year-old boy, “We’re moving to Eden” should have been more thought out. Couldn’t Dad have incorporated it into one of his power outage Mountain Man stories? Because seriously, as long as Eden had electricity, I would have accepted the news willingly.

“Where the hell is Eden, Idaho?” I thought to myself. “Where is Eden, Idaho?” I said out loud.

To understand how small Eden, Idaho is, it was only 15 minutes from Twin Falls, and I had never heard of it. I had driven through the heart of Eden, Idaho multiple times and still had never heard of it. No doubt my parents were going to turn me into a hillbilly.

All this because of my dad’s unfulfilled dream to be a mountain man and my sister’s outright rebellion. I know life isn’t fair, but c’mon.

Then came the news that we were going to build our own house.

I ended my 7th grade year not knowing what was in store for me, but my parents were sure this move was the key to saving their family. They had prayed many, many times about the decision and felt it was the right thing to do.

So one day early in the summer of 1994, my dad came home with a 20-foot travel trailer. Our house in Twin Falls had sold much earlier than expected. “Of course it sold quickly,” I thought. “Who wouldn’t want to move into our house? It’s perfect.”

“Don’t worry, son,” my dad assured. “This is only temporary over the summer. Living in the travel trailer will help us finish the house faster.”

Soon after that we had packed up all our belongings and moved them into a temporary storage unit. The word “temporary” was getting thrown around a lot.

We drove away from our house in Twin Falls, travel trailer in tow, on a sunny summer day to begin a new journey.