May 02, 2017
The Minnesota relatives visited. Our grandfather had visited us. He walked among the thistles and goats and chickens while we showed him where the events of our lives happened – the place where I fell off the horse, the place where Brian found a big frog. The goats sniffed his shiny shoes.
Uncle John lived in a cottage behind the house for several months after he returned from Vietnam. He needed some time alone, Mom said. He’d gone to “Dog Lab,” become a medic, and served two tours. He left again to Minnesota, married aunt Barb and adopted the little boy she’d had from her first marriage, and they visited the farm. I remembered he said he wanted to spank his little boy one hundred times. After he spanked the child and joined us outside by the livestock gate, he said he’d counted pretty high, but didn’t get to a hundred. We’d heard a cry per strike. Mom told me not to speak about it as I stood beside her counting heart beats, blocking out the crying. I don’t know how many smacks I heard.
Brian and I imagined ourselves to be pioneers because the grown men and women in our lives believed themselves to be pioneers. Our father, in particular, had a mythology he built with stories that he told at random intervals while taking breaks from fixing a truck or sitting on the back step sharpening a knife.
He told stories about eighty-pound porcupines to scare us. My brother feared nothing, he said, but I feared vampires and volcanoes and porcupines.
Dad said, “I did the first ever front flip off a ski jump in the Vail Valley.” He had a sidewise smile, his eyes magnified large and round through his thick glasses.
And he said, “I’m the only one who’ll ski down into the avalanche areas because I know the snow like the back of my hand. I know how it thinks.” Partly true, we all knew about the landscape, having lived in it, but Mom told us to be humble when Dad talked like that. She told us nobody was smarter than snow in an avalanche. Best to stay clear. Or maybe she only said it to me. My brother has no memory of this.
Our father said, “I saved hundreds of lives. You wouldn’t believe the scrapes people get into at ski resorts,” and he said, “I’m a Minnesotan, a descendent of Vikings.”
He hated the federal government. “That land over there,” he looked across the small mountain highway, “owned by a seventy-year-old rancher, but the feds put him in jail anyway. He paid the Basque shepherds in cash only, and the feds didn’t like that. He tried to explain that he had to pay them in cash because the Basques don’t trust anything but cash. He told them it was their way of life, and he couldn’t just change their way of life. But, they put him in jail.”
According to Dad, Earth First! had it in for him and his friends – he had a friend of a friend who had to report to the police that a bomb had been planted by Earth First! on one of the newer ski runs, which cut the trees out of the mountains and reached ever further back to where the mountains turned to stone and glacier.
“Innocent Ski Patrollers coulda been killed. Those guys were out there helping people – innocent skiers.”
He talked about “liberal pansies” and corrupt politicians.
He called doctors by their first names. “I’m on the ski patrol. We’ve worked on ski accident victims together.” Mom whispered to Brian and me that it was rude to do that. “Thinks he’s allowed,” she breathed anger we weren’t supposed to respond to and should act like we didn’t hear. The navigating of parents and their rages and secrets.
JENNY FORRESTER has been published in a number of print and online publications including Seattle’s City Arts Magazine, Nailed Magazine, Hip Mama, The Literary Kitchen, Indiana Review, and Columbia Journal. Her work is included in Listen to Your Mother anthology, published by Putnam. She curates the Unchaste Readers Series. Her memoir, Narrow River, Wide Sky, publishes in May from Hawthorne Books.