Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Known Universe

By Laurie Kay Olson
Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

It is amazing some of the things you remember from childhood.
Mom and I sat on the back steps not long after the rain had stopped. She was helping me learn how to hold my fingers for the number three because when someone asks how old I was I would still hold up two fingers. My little fingers were struggling to learn the new position. She would show me with her fingers and then help me get my fingers into the right configuration.
“Free!” I exclaimed, holding up my hand. Two fingers were fully upright, but the third was still cramped over a bit. Mom had stopped paying attention to the task at hand. She was looking up and away.
“See the rainbow, Lilly?” she asked, but she didn’t turn back to me. “Isn’t it pretty?”
I looked up in the direction she was looking. I couldn’t see a bow. There was nothing out of the ordinary that I could tell.
“See, it is right up there!” Mom encouraged. She pointed up.
My eyes scanned the known universe. I still couldn’t see a bow.
“It has such pretty colors,” she said, pointing. Whatever she was seeing was making her happy. I wanted to see it too.
I scrunched my face in concentration. I kept looking for the bow. Was it tied to the telephone pole? Was it on one of the power lines? Perhaps tied on one of the branches in the hedge? I still couldn’t see it.
“Oh, look, now it is a double!” cried Mom enthusiastically.
I looked up at her questioningly. What was it that she could see that I couldn’t. Adults were strange creatures for sure.
“That means that there are two of them now,” Mom explained.
I turned my face upward again. Again I scanned the telephone poles, power lines, trees and hedges. Not a ribbon tied to anything that I could see.
“Can’t see it!” I was almost in tears with frustration.
Mom tried again, demonstrating with a wide sweep of her arm. I sidled closer to her and tried to look again. I still saw nothing. I wanted to see what she saw. I wanted to see the pretty ribbon tied in a bow, and now there were two of them and I still couldn’t see them. Unlike Daddy, Mommy was not one to tease me. If she said she saw something, then she saw something.
I strained to see what it was she was trying to show me, but it was no good. There were no ribbons tied to anything. It was time for a different tact – change the subject.
“Free!” I told her, holding up my fingers. This time all three were a little cramped, but it was the right number.
I didn’t completely understand the memory that stayed with me over the years. Obviously, I had misunderstood what a rainbow was, but I had not been able to see any pretty thing out there. Then one day, years later, my husband and I were lying in bed one morning with our daughter, Annie, tucked warmly between us. All of a sudden her hand shot out from under the covers and pointed up at the ceiling..
“Oh, look, there is a little wall up there!” she exclaimed in epiphany.
I also had an epiphany at that moment. That I had misunderstood what a rainbow was was not the only reason I had not been able to see it. It, like the ceiling, had existed outside of my known universe at that moment. I also realized that there was an awful lot that Annie could teach me. I committed myself in that moment to being a good student. I wanted to see all the rainbows she had to share and help to expand her known universe.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Snow Business

Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

Colorado was a beautiful place, thought Shirley, but she ached for Minnesota in her heart. The summer had been so dry that her skin had been parched with the dryness. Autumn was gorgeous with quaking aspen trees, but hardly the lakes and forests of home. The year 1953 was starting to draw toward its close. Finally, at long last, it was snowing! A white Thanksgiving was on the way.
Life as a newlywed never seemed to live up to the hype everyone had insisted giving it. There was only so much cleaning to do in the tiny basement apartment. That strange purple sink did nothing to make doing dishes any more entertaining.  She sat by the window watching the flakes falling. For just a moment here it felt more like she was back home. Caesar was curled up in her lap, happy to find a warm spot and an ear scratch. It would be better once she found a regular teaching job. The apartment was very empty when Ken was away at work all day.
When the snow had reached an appropriate depth, Shirley leapt to her feet, unceremoniously dumping Caesar to the floor. In a flash she was buttoning up her plaid wool coat, wrapping a muffler around her neck, donning a hat, and pulling on thick gloves. There was something new and yet familiar to do. Snow was here!
 As she went outside, she grabbed the snow shovel by the door. There was a narrow sidewalk between their door and the street that they are responsible for shoveling. Shirley paused for a moment to gaze at the frosty path for a long moment. The homesickness that she had been feeling for the past couple of weeks abated somewhat. She breathed in a deep breath of air. There was a piney tang in it that was different from home, but a nice, clean touch. It was exhilarating.
She dug into the snow with a right good will. Before she was a half dozen shovelfuls down the walk she was sweating. She unwound the muffler and fanned the cold air toward herself. Another three shovelfuls and she took off her hat and dropped it in the snow. What on earth was happening? A moment later the muffler was discarded in the snow. Then she unbuttoned her coat. The gloves were next. When she got to the end of the sidewalk she turned and looked back. It didn’t look quite right. It looked . . . wet. Dang! It was melting already. No wonder she was so hot! She had bundled up for a Minnesota snow storm. With the dry air and warmer temperatures all she would have needed was a jacket and light gloves.
She leaned on the shovel and pushed at her bangs. They were damp with the perspiration of exertion. There was more to getting used to life in Colorado than she had expected. She turned her face to the sky and let the flakes fall gently on her skin. Definitely not like Minnesota. The tiny flakes barely produced any moisture as they melted.
With a sigh she walked back up the wet concrete path, picking up pieces of discarded clothing as she went. At least it was a story that she could entertain Ken with at dinner tonight. Perhaps by then she would feel more like laughing over it. For now all she wanted to do was curl up on the couch under the cat.
Suddenly a though occurred to her. What would her mother think if she found out that moving to Colorado had turned her into a stripper?  Okay, there was the laugh.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Boulder Canyon Boogie

Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

I first met Elsa at church, although I no longer remember the moment. She was a sweet, round, woman who was down on her luck and had just landed a job as a nanny. As we became friends she told me the stories that made up her amazing life.
She had been born in Helsinki a few years before the outbreak of World War II to a Finnish father and Swedish mother. Her little girl memories consisted of enemy planes flying overhead, going to school and coming home to find that their house no longer existed, and of having to move into the Swedish consulate and accidentally walking in on Swedish ambassador in his private chambers. Eventually many children in Finland were evacuated to neutral Sweden.
During the transport, because she was able to speak both languages, she was selected to be a sort of “spokeschild” for the transport. Upon arrival in Stockholm it would be her duty to greet the king on behalf of all the children.
The children were assembled to be assigned to families who had volunteered to take them in. Elsa stood waiting for the king to arrive, imagining what it would be like. Trumpets, a red carpet rolled out, and a grand man in a gold crown and robes striding in. She was drawn from her daydreams by a man in a gray suit. The man asked her to come and sit with him so that they could talk. She politely declined with an explanation that she was to wait for the king. The man laughed and explained that he was the king. She looked at him skeptically until someone else addressed him as “your majesty.”
Elsa would laugh over the memory. During the war she lived with two different families. When the war was over she returned to her own family. Eventually, Elsa emigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life. For those first few frightening years she had worked as a nanny. Then she fell in love, married, and had a daughter, but the marriage was made in hell. Her husband was an unkind, egotistical man who would beat her. When she was pregnant with their second child, a son, he beat her so severely that the boy had died. By the time that they had moved to Colorado it was clear to her that she had to leave before he killed her.
Once she had made sure that she had once again escaped the threat of death in her life, she struggled to pick up the pieces. She returned to taking care of other people’s children. She very carefully constructed new dreams. She longed for quiet solace, a place truly her own, a cabin in the mountains. She longed to just be herself. Not someone’s daughter, wife, mother or nanny. She had once wanted to be an artist, but her husband had killed that dream just as certainly as he had killed their son.
Several years after our first meeting she managed to buy a small, rundown cabin at the top of Boulder Canyon. Slowly but surely she renovated the place into something livable, comfortable and all her own. I often drove up the canyon to join her there for a cup of tea and another story from her amazing life. I would invariably encourage her to write her stories to share with the world.
When we would meet for lunch in the city and it was time to go home, she would say. “Well, I’ve got to boogie up the canyon!” If we were at her place and I told her about something new in town she would remark, “I’m going to have to boogie down the canyon and check that out!” She was the only person I knew who made the word boogie part of her regular vocabulary, especially since disco was dead. I always had to laugh over the image in my head of this plump little Scandinavian woman shaking her chubby booty up and down the canyon. Of course, I always saw it without her car.
One day my mother called to tell me that she had heard that Elsa had been boogying down the canyon and had missed one of the many sharp curves. For a moment I thought that my own heart had stopped. Elsa was gone from this world? How could that be? It wasn’t fair that her life was cut short just as she was beginning to find herself and some peace.
That canyon is haunted by many souls who have come to grief on those dangerous curves. One of them is now a plump blond dancing and shaking her booty as she boogies up and down the canyon, free at last.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Riding the Green

By Laurie Kay Olson
Copyright ©2012 by Laurie Kay Olson

It was our first vacation as a new family. A “blended” family they call it. For the first time in my life I had a brother and sister, both older. We filled the old VW bus and headed across Colorado. At Dinosaur National Monument we picked up the Green River to spend four glorious days. My father and stepmother were brave to take three teenagers on such a trip, trapped with us for hours in a vehicle and in the wilderness for days.
It was gorgeous weather as we took off, a float tour of three rafts. One of the river guides had his parents and sister in from Arkansas, which was entertaining as Jim picked on poor Heidi. The guide for our raft pointed out various points of interest, starting with a rock outcropping in the shape of a St. Bernard’s head. He regaled us with tales of Powell’s first expedition to explore the river.
Beth, Owen and I were in the midst of working out our territorial issues. I had never had siblings before and this was new ground. I made the mistake of borrowing one of Owen’s books and leaving it open face down to save my place. All hell broke loose for a bit as I learned that Owen had a pet peeve about people doing such a thing. There was ever such a verbal scuffle over that one.
Beth, Heidi and I hung out as the three girls on the trip. Heidi was a bit squeamish over the indigenous reptile population, particularly snakes. She would periodically start shrieking “SNAIK!” in her best Arkansas accent. Invariably, as she did so, one of the handsome young guides was walking by. Before we knew it “snaik” was our watchword for the approach of one of these men. The term was accompanied by giggles and glances over the secret meaning.
Evenings were spent around campfires. For the first time in my life, nights were slept out beneath the stars. For the first time in my life I used a down sleeping bag. For the first time in my life we found out that I was allergic and that I developed a rash. Spending the days wet with river water soothed the itch.
We made it through Hell’s Half Mile, Upper Disaster, and Lower Disaster. Amazing, adrenalin filled rides. Jim put Heidi in the raft so that she would face plant in the. Below such places we would find and pick up paddles lost by people on paddle trips who had not made it through so cleanly. In other places we floated along with the guide gently directing the raft with his one big oar, while we sat and enjoyed the journey.
On the third day the river widened out of canyons and steep valleys into vast, shallow flats. Sand bars with tall grasses interrupted the river in long intervals. The trip slowed. As the wind rose we found ourselves in the doldrums of the Green. The flow of the river in one direction was matched by the wind from the other.
We broke out the paddles we had found along, hove to, and paddled with a right good will. At last we made small progress. Right up until we lodged in the shallows and came to a complete stop; beached like some freshwater whale. We had to lighten the load to get moving again. Everyone jumped into the shallow water and pushed the raft back into the main current. Then they jumped back in. Except for me, I was about as athletic as a tortoise. They had to drag me back aboard and dump me in the bottom of the raft. Dad was looking down at me with that “Oh, Lilly, you are so embarrassing!” look on his face. I scrambled back into my place on the raft’s edge and put my face into the wind. I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere in Utah to make a good impression. Making a good impression would require things like a daily shower and clothes that weren’t spending the day soaked with river water. After 13 years with the man, you’d think I’d be used to disappointing him. Beth cast a sympathetic and supportive glance my way. Suddenly I realized that I was no longer all alone. My spirits rebounded as the river narrowed into another canyon and we sped up.
Other than my run in with my father issues, it was the trip of a lifetime, to be remembered forever. Beth became a permanent friend and ally. We sat together on the bus ride back to where the car was parked. I was amazed, while in the doldrums we had become the sisters we had never had.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Local Man Worried by Drought

(c)2011 by Laurie Kay Olson

Well, I can tell you, I ain’t the only one! This is a crisis of epic proportions! I kin tell you, the town council really screwed up when they didn’t even consider puttin’ in the pipeline That was proposed. And here we are, completely dry!
Okay, okay, okay. Maybe I’m over-reactin’ a bit, an’ maybe a beer pipeline IS a little impractical. But one lousy truckers’ strike an’ we’re sittin’ high an’ dry. I was thinkin’ o’ sendin’ Bubba on a run to St. Louis in the truck, but I wasn’t entirely sure that it would all make it back here.
Elmo’s Bar an’ Grill is all but abandoned these days an’ the weekly poker game over to the Legion Hall has been called off. I even heard the Emory has been spotted wand’rin’ around town sober!
Now ol’ Doug Miller does have some bottles o’ home brew stored up, but not near enough to lubricate all o’ the beer drinkers in town. An’ I understand that there is still a fair supply of the hard stuff on hand.
How could we have been so blind as to not have been prepared! I found out a few nights ago that Erma Rose had been keepin’ back a six o’ the cheap stuff for the garden. But that’s gone now. How am I supposed to eat pretzels now? Or peanuts. There’s a reason they call ‘em Beer Nuts!
Erma Rose says it won’t hurt me none to be on the wagon for awhile, but I ain’t so sure. I can’t watch football. I can’t watch basketball. I can’t pretend to watch golf. I tell ya, the end of the world has come. It’s a big ol’ right wing conspiracy. First they take away your beer an’ then they think that they can do anything they want with you. But I’ll show them. I’ll show them. I’ll switch from beer to that British lager stuff.
What do you mean, that’s what they call beer in England? It can’t be. I heard that it’s something they drink warm. Warm beer? That’s insane!
That tears it. I’m sendin’ Bubba north. He’s a good boy. He’ll save us. So what if a six or two disappear along the way? It’ll leave the rest for us. Yes, I’ll be able to sleep again now. An’ maybe my hands’ll stop shakin’ too.