Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Becoming Idahoan

You might think, given the fact that I write so much about Idaho, that I was born here, raised here, and have always loved it here.


My parents dragged us, quite against our will, from the Eastern state my siblings and I had spent over a decade living in. We were fifth generation Easterners, with ancestors originally hailing from parts of Germany, Holland and England. Our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived back East. So did our friends and neighbors. Moving to Idaho hadn't been on our top list. For years after we'd moved, we wanted the parental units to return us to our former state.

Adjusting was difficult. The Idaho climate was colder and drier. My skin cracked and bled around my eyes, ears, mouth and nose from the harsh, crisp air. The first year we spent in a tiny Eastern Idaho town, it got down to -40 degrees. We'd never seen--or felt-- anything like that before. It was so cold out it hurt.

And the wind...sheesh.

What my parents delightedly commented on and enjoyed as a gentle breeze in July turned into a roaring rage in October, and didn't stop roaring until late May, where it decreased to a constant irritation that never, ever seemed to go away in that valley. Years later I would read about such a wind in Alex Haley's book Roots  that swept their small village, causing normally docile people to become testy, which caused conflict between husbands, wives, siblings and villagers in general. Married people separated, children didn't speak to parents, and roommates moved out. Everyone was irked by the wind that came and wouldn't leave. Then, months later, the wind suddenly stopped and people began to like each other again. A great story, except for in the little town we lived in, that breeze never left. How the people kept their calm, I'll never know. Thinking back, some didn't.

I wonder if it was the wind's fault.

When I moved to the other side of the state, it was with shock that I witnessed snow falling straight down, instead of the customary sideways style of the former windy valley. I cut way down on the hard core hairspray use, too, since my hair now began to stay put.

Blending in with the Idaho culture wasn't easy, either. We had Eastern accents, mannerisms, and a non-Western sounding last name. Our grade school back East had been among the costliest in the area, brand new, with the children producing television and radio shows, and completely costumed, elaborate plays. We were taught not to be prejudiced, the special education students were integrated into all of our activities, and our physical education did not include anything anywhere near competitive. Instead of basketball, we waltzed together and bounced balls in time to choreographed routines.  We were young ladies and gentlemen who were required to stand in the corner if we used improper grammar, or dared to utter words like 'ain't'.

My first day at school in Idaho wasn't anything like that. On that first day, I was shocked to find that we held class in the basement of a rickety old schoolhouse, one that, incredibly, had the Teton Flood waters rushing through it just years before. I guessed that they had dried it out and reused it. The floors were uneven and wavy from the water damage, and it smelled a little like flood mud.

At recess, someone asked me if I wanted to play 'soft ball.' I'd honestly never heard of the game, but figured 'how hard could it be?' I found out when I reached my right hand out to catch a ball that had just been hit by a batter while I was in the outfield. It hurt like Hades and was numb for days afterward. Competitive and painful...what was the deal?

After the game, two boys had a fight out on the blacktop. Everyone stood around, watching and yelling. Once again, I was shocked. Back East, we'd have been expelled for such behavior, maybe even kicked out of school for good. Even just observing would have rendered us as guilty. An adult was nearby, but that grownup chose to let the whole thing play out naturally, with no intervention. It was then that I realized I was in an entirely different world, the... Wild West.  It was a place that would require a thicker skin than I currently wore, and no small amount of mental toughness.

Idaho was about to make an Idahoan out of me.

 *For more adventures in Idaho, (with recipes between the stories!) get the "Appetite for Idaho" book here.

And visit the Appetite for Idaho Facebook page, with new stuff to do posted every weekday!