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 (who shall be named Sonny and Starla henceforth) 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, and even less rationality, 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 portray my parents as complete loons (no disrespect to the loon), I must back up a little. Admittedly, they were making the move for seemingly noble reasons. They had more motive than simply torturing me and inflicting long-lasting emotional damage. The reason was that my siblings were falling off a spiritual cliff.
At this point in our calamitous tale, we had already lost my older brother (who shall be named Mooner henceforth) to the powers of peer pressure and methamphetamine. And my sister (who shall be named Amanda henceforth) was following up with her own sinister sequel. Amanda was 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 mutt and grade show with my brother, so when she suddenly started smoking cigarettes, my parents would be damned to sit idly by and have the same thing happen to their daughter. Even if it meant ruining the life of their youngest son–me…
…No doubt I would have much preferred for them to do some idle by-sitting.
Now let’s dive into the murky depths of my parents psyche at the time and how something like a simple cigarette could jump start such radical change . 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 promotes a strict health and moral code. Things like abstaining from sex before marriage. Paying a 10% tithe on all income. Just saying “NO” to drugs, alcohol, tobacco, coffee, 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 your 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 might require some serious self-reflection.
Amanda was slipping away fast, and my parents were out of options.
Now back to the cigarette and the moment of cataclysm. My parents had just told my sister she couldn’t spend the night at her 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 rebelliousness, 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 stuck the orange-colored filter 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 glow…
…And that’s when it happened. Something far more bizarre than anything that took place in Sodom and Gomorrah.
Usually my parents could keep their cool, 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 Hulkess coming down from a hormone high. The burning 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 fury. Starla 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. So for a 12 year-old boy, “We’re moving to Eden” should have been more thought out. “Where the f*ck 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 where we lived, 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 sister’s 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, but my parents were sure this move was the key to saving their family and their Mormon dignity. They had prayed many, many times about the decision and felt it was, quote, “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.