It was a hot summer night in July, probably 1977, and my best friend Steve and I were laying on our sleeping bags close to the cherry tree in my backyard. We had been laying there looking at the stars and talking about deep subjects related to the universe, space travel, and girls, Silence had taken over and we were just about to drift off.
In that moment I remember suddenly being completely aware of the smell of the grass, and for a moment I lay there staring up at the universe contemplating how different my experience with that yard was from my fathers.
I knew where the holes in the lawn where that would make the mower dip and cut the grass too short. Every time I cut the lawn I had to trim the grass along the edges with hand trimmers, so I knew about the spot in the retaining wall that had been broken decades before. I would always find earwigs scurrying for cover as I cut the grass away from their hidden cave.
And I knew the smell. I loved when my friends and I would wrestle in the grass, the smell of the warmth and earth and sweat all mingled with the grass as we would struggle for momentary dominance in the scuffles of youth…
I loved the coolness of it in the evening as my friends and I would gather after a rousing game of kick-the-can, and sit around cooling off on the lawn…talking about the important things of our youth… jockeying for the attention of whatever girls happened to join us that evening…
My dad rarely left the sidewalk. To him it was a decoration for his real estate investment. It was the fringe between him and the asphalt. Or the carpet he would walk across to get to his garden….
I think a lot of things in life are like that though.
Highway 24 in Idaho slashes southwest from Minidoka to I-84. It passes through Rupert on the east side, mere blocks away from the old town center. Thousands of cars pass through that part of the highway every month, few find the town center, and I wonder how many of them appreciate Rupert the way Shelly does.
Shelly comes from a family of nomads. She told me about her grandfather who bought a 1,000 acres of land in Canada for a penny an acre. In the summer he would move his family to Canada and plant that land, work the land and work on building a home, harvest the crops and move back to Illinois for the winter. He did that until the house in Canada was built many years later as I remember it, and then settled his family there.
Shelly was born in Canada, but her parents divorced when she was young and she went with her dad. He sold potato harvesters, a traveling salesman, so the nomadic life was the life Shelly lived.
Well it’s not too much of a stretch to see how a potato harvester salesman and his kid would wind up in Rupert, Idaho. I’ve driven through a hundred miles of potato fields to get here. When it was time for dad to move on, Rupert was the place Shelly finally decided to put down roots and grow.
My family and I went to the July 4th celebration at her invitation, she’s part of the planning committee. She laughs as she tells us about the lawnmower races she’s organized this year – she seems surprised that it’s such a hit with the local people. She laughs as she tells us the stands were packed.
She is on other planning committees too… but her love for Rupert goes beyond the “loving what you serve” that I talked about a few blog posts ago. As she and I and my family talk I can’t put my finger on it.. Honestly, a lot of that has to do with the fact that she’s a non-stop talker. Shelly’s excited about life, and has a million stories to tell, and she keeps them coming in rapid-fire succession… even my 16-year old is laughing and engaged in this conversation. We laugh and talk and get to know each other as the sun sets into the western sky. We were sure to see lots of fireworks on our drive back to Utah…
I’ve had a month to think about it now, about what is different about Shelly’s appreciation of that place. I think there might be some magic to the act of choosing. When you’ve grown up in a family that has moved constantly, and you finally choose, chose THIS place to find your lover, have kids, build a family… This is the place where no matter what you will find a way to make it work… well I think that’s a little different than “born and raised and this is where I ended up staying but it’s a pretty good place”.
Here’s what I’m sure of. Shelly loves Rupert. It’s contagious. By the time we were done with dinner and our fun conversation with her, we loved Rupert too. It had already started feeling a little more like home. We felt welcome.
We found that Rupert is much more than the place you have to slow down on highway 24, more than the fringe between Minidoka and the freeway. I’m happy that Shelly took some time to help us see Rupert for the great town that it is.