I found my family drawing closer together each summer we spent away from suburban Chicago.
The minivan was filled with anxious bodies as it rolled over side roads on the outskirts of Ashton, Idaho. The smell of the worn out air conditioner blended not so nicely with the fragrance of sweaty socks and stale red vines. It seemed to resemble some sort of treacherous voyage or odyssey as we bickered one with another across the vastness of America’s bread basket. I have often compared the trek to that of a family from the Book of Mormon where the parents, Lehi and Sariah, were forced to leave the comforts Jerusalem and travel to an unknown Promise Land in the west. Their sons, Nephi, Lamen, and Lemuel, seemed to never get along as they crossed the ocean to a new world. My sister Erica and I would refer to our younger sister Tara as Nephi, always tattling and making sure we had our seat belts on. Erica and I were referred to as Lamen and Lemuel, the rebellious and wicked older siblings. But the 24 hour road trip was coming to a close and grandma’s house was quickly approaching.
School was out for the summer and we were happy to get out of suburban Chicago for at least a few weeks. Straight roads with curbs, sidewalks, and fire hydrants were no longer. Here, roads were curving and natural, making its way around the groves of aspen trees, juniper bushes, old granaries and feed sheds. Every year without fault the trek is made from Chicago to Grandma’s farm.
The sound of the rubber tires of the van slowing to a crawl on the gravel road, then onto the fluffy dirt of an eastern Idaho driveway was a familiar experience. One can hear the willow branches rustling in the wind with the soft tinkering sound of a wind chime in the dry gusts. The willow droops over the front yard of the old farm house. The Teton Mountains stand just outside the door across from the expansive fields of hay and potato. Though more than 40 miles away, they seemed just a few miles. The clouds are scattered in the sky on a late summer afternoon, allowing light to push through and bring out majestic shapes and textures of the clouds. The sky is open and unrestricted here. Besides the jutting mountain range in the distance, clouds were free to roam above the miles of farm land.
There across the gravel road stood the remains of the old wooden coral. The wooden barn stands strong and tall despite the missing patches of sheet metal on the roof. An Ice cold creek snakes around the farm yard. The water is clear and its bed is sandy. The sand is soft enough to walk bare foot in it, perfect for catching frogs. Despite the cold, it made for a perfect swimming hole. After a long day swimming in the sandy bottom creek, Grandma made sure none of the sand made its way into the house. There by the front door, the command was given to drop your trunks to your ankles so grandma can spray you down.
The house had the smell of a lot of farming history. A musty smell came up from the potato seller. A faint smell of burning pine wood came from the wood burning stove in the old family room. Loaded 22 caliber rifles and 12 Gage shotguns lean precariously by the wooden door as grand-kids play on the floor. Many years ago, my cousin Kody and I sat on the hard multicolored rug of the dusty farm house floor. We sat playing with the small plastic fences, bulls, and cows that came with a toy set. Grandpa came in, and stood in the doorway. With a sad complex but minimal visible emotion, he shares the news that my Great Grandma Bowman just died in a car accident. He walks onward towards the kitchen away from view. The innocence of childhood toys with my cousin seemed to disappear. I did not know my Great Grandmother well. Feelings I didn’t understand were pushed to the side. The adventure of grandma’s farm with the sand creek, splintery old barn, half standing coral, rolling sand dunes, and the distant tree line kept my intrigue.
After a few short weeks at grandmas, it was time to make the long road trip home to Chicago. The van was packed once more to make the grueling journey east. The family gathered around and knelt in prayer. Grandma offered the prayer. She stumbled over her few words and held in emotions as much as she could. It was the only time I saw emotion from Grandma May. She wept. Being young I wondered why. I knew we would be leaving, only to return in one years’ time.
Grandma’s house brought the emotion of freedom and adventure trickled with subconscious feelings of appreciation and love for my family. With growing up in a suburb of Chicago Illinois, I felt that my Idaho heritage separated me from my acquaintances and friends back at home. I felt pride for my Mountain West heritage and missed the raw West atmosphere that did not exist in suburban Chicago. My large extended family was there and their raw authentic nature made me proud of them. They seemed tougher than everyone I knew back at home.
I see Lehi’s travels to this new western world comparable to mine. Leaving a land of paved roads and tall buildings in Jerusalem, they must have seen adventure in this Promised Land. It was a land where he could unite his family. Old family members died and were buried there. The trip may have had its rough patches but the Wild West of the Promise Land held an opportunity unlike any other. It was a new wilderness with new creatures and landscapes. But it is time to load up the van and drive back to Jerusalem. Threats were often made to tie siblings up like Nephi of old but they were in vain. My annual western voyage and the adventures of the Promise Land became the location of my scattered and wandering thoughts through the long school years of suburban Jerusalem.