When I was maybe eight years old, my family inexplicably moved to the middle of nowhere in the countryside of Oklahoma, not far from a town of 200 people. We had a been living in a suburb of Tulsa for about a year and I have no idea why my parents (or really, my stepdad) decided to move and how they even found such a remote and random place to move to.
I can see the appeal for them though. It’s easy to blame a lot of the crazy that went on in my childhood on my stepdad, but in reality, my mom was a willing participant. And it’s not that hard to see how we would end up, for instance, in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma based even on a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago.
I was sitting outside my mom’s current house, inexplicably in a suburb of Sacramento, at my niece’s birthday party. I forget sometimes how other people’s lives generally go, and am continually surprised when people I’ve never met assume for me a normal and traditional upbringing.
One of the moms watching her daughter at the party started talking to me, and at some point I realized she thought this had been our childhood home. I explained that my mom had moved here just a few years ago.
“Oh, where did you grow up?”
That’s always a tough one to explain. Depending on how much energy I have, or the likelihood that I will ever see this person again and have need for an accurate narrative, I generally either say “California” or “we moved a lot”. When pressed (and people don’t generally realize they are pressuring me to relive childhood trauma when they simply ask where I grew up), I pick a point in time: I was born in southern California; I graduated from high school in central California; I went to college in northern California.
The next question, however, I had no idea how to answer.
“So, why did you mom move here?”
That, I have no idea.
I have no idea why she chose this particular town, but I do know why she chose this particular house. The rent was cheap. The house was large (as a single person, she still requires at least three bedrooms for the amazing amount of random stuff she’s accumulated over the years — and it is truly astonishing to me that someone chooses a house not to live in, but to store things in). The house is old, which to her means it has “charm”. It’s in the “country”, which by her measure is the epitome of location.
Things she has never considered when determining where to live: proximity to anything at all; cost and hassle of the upkeep of an ancient residence; whether or not she actually needs an entire room to display her scary doll and santa claus collections.
At that point in the conversation, my mom came over and started complaining about the noise from the nearby train tracks. One of the moms said, “I guess after a while you get used to it.”
My mom’s response, ever the martyr: “No, I never do.”
She then proceeded to complain about the nearby quarry and how dust was always everywhere. (Yes, my mom purposely chose a house directly next to both railroad tracks and a quarry, likely in part so that she’d always have at least two things to point to as her burdens to bear in life.)
I noted that both the train tracks and quarry were in fact already there when my mom decided to move into the house. It wasn’t as though she found her perfect home, moved in, and then the city decided to install them next door. (As you might imagine, she wasn’t overly impressed with my logic.)
And so I’m sure it went with our house in the country. Sure, the closest grocery store was an hour away in Tulsa and even the closest school was at least 30 minutes, and all bets were off in the winter when all the roads were covered in ice, but the house was probably pretty cheap and it had lots of land around it. What more could you want?
So we would make the weekly trip to the grocery store and (I swear this is true) my mom would can vegetables and things and store them in the musty, dirty cellar and what I remember most about living there was all the hours I spent stacking wood, as our only source of heat was a wood-burning stove. I don’t how many other eight year old girls know dimensions of a rick and a cord of wood, but I sure did.
I thought it was all normal at the time. After all, Laura Ingalls lived this way. And we didn’t even have to heat water on the stove for baths. (Although we did have to check the bathtub before we got in for scorpions.)
One of my favorite things about being an adult? Being able to choose to live in the middle of a city, so that I can decide I want a cup of coffee and a muffin and can walk three minutes to buy them.