One day a girlfriend of mine invited me to a potluck lunch at her office building. I had a great time, and sat next to two of the most charming older gentlemen discussing politics and education. Being a parent, education is always on my mind. These gentlemen were so knowledgeable, and so interested in what I had to say. We talked for a couple of hours, and when the lunch was over my friend asked if I’d had a good time.
“It was great!” I told her.
“Do you know who those men were you were talking to?” She asked.
“Oh Yeah, Tom and Mike…..charming gentlemen,”
“Yes” she said with a grin. “The former senators are charming!”
And that wasn’t the only time that I met Wyoming senators in a casual setting. At one Casper Rockies baseball game, my youngest son, Joey caught a foul ball. John, a friend of ours grabbed Joey and directed him to the other side of the stands.
“See that man over there with the white hair?”
“Yes.” Joey answered, not impressed.
“Take your ball over there and have him sign it.” John instructed.
“I don’t want some stranger to sign my ball!”
“Just do it!” John insisted. He looked at me and winked.
I wasn’t sure why it was important, but I took Joey over and we asked the gentleman to sign his ball. He smiled, signed the ball, and passed it to the gentleman sitting next to him, who much to Joey’s frustration also signed the ball. Then he returned the ball to Joey and told Joey to look up at the higher seats in the stands.
“See that old guy up there?” he asked Joey, who nodded but was clearly tired of this game. “Go tell him I said to sign your ball.”
Well, it turned out that all three men were former Wyoming senators, and the first man was also a former pro ball player in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Joey had met three senators, and the next spring he would shake hands with Governor Dave Freudenthal at his D.A.R.E. graduation, experiences he probably would never have had in Los Angeles.
Now being a good California girl, when “spring” came around, I packed up my winter clothes, and filled my closet and drawers with my summer clothes…..it seemed like a good plan, I’ve been doing it all of my life, it was a little chilly still after March 21st, and into April….and May, and in June when I was dressed in my white capris, sandals, and a ‘cute’ summer top, shivering as I sat in the stands at our local minor league baseball game……and it started to snow….yes, I said it was June…..I know, I know, just think how surprised I was!!! And, this is how I learned that in Wyoming you can put away your summer clothes, but never, NEVER put away your winter clothes……..
I of course joined the PTA at the boys schools. After the first year I was asked to take a position on the County PTA Council, a position that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hold here in Los Angeles. As a result of that position I ended up serving for two years on the Wyoming State PTA Board as the State Arts Chair. I am so grateful for this experience. As a writer, having an opportunity to share the arts and open up opportunities to school kids was an amazing experience. One of the truly wonderful aspects of this experience was coordinating the State level judging of the National PTA’s Reflections Program. The first year that I chaired, the Reflection’s Theme was ‘A Different Kind of Hero’. I found that by just picking up the phone I could speak to a variety of important people and ask them to participate in this special arts program for our school children. This was one of the many advantages of living in a state with such a small population.
My Wyoming friends often laughed at me because I was so thrilled by dirt and open space. They were amazed that a girl who drove on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles wouldn’t drive on the Interstate Highway in Wyoming…because she was afraid of hitting a deer or an antelope (in 6 years I never did leave Casper on my own!). They thought I was overdressed for every meeting, and that I was way too formal when I set up a board meeting.
The tables finally turned a little the year that the National PTA Convention was in Anaheim, California. I came as the County Council President, and our Vice President attended with me. Now we were on my home turf. When our VP left her purse in the chair next to her in the hotel lobby I shook my head and gave instructions on securing your purse at all times….including, in public restroom stalls. When we got on the escalator (I hadn’t been on an escalator in two years) I showed my pushy city side and made her walk up the escalator (it’s not a resting place, you can get to your destination twice as fast if you walk while you ride!) it was that or get run over by the throng of people coming up behind us. And, when she became impatient because we had to wait for a table at virtually every restaurant where we dined, I was able to laugh a little. In Wyoming you rarely wait for a parking spot, or a table. She almost had to force me to get back on the plane to go back to Wyoming, it was good to be home.
But, when we landed at Natrona County International Airport, and it was quieter at the airport than in my South Bay backyard, it felt pretty good to be in Wyoming. Although, I have to admit that first little trip back home was the beginning of my yearning to return to California.
Then a former neighbor from the South Bay called, and said her husband was considering applying for a job in Casper. I was thrilled, they were great friends, and we would love to have someone from home nearby. She asked some questions, I sent her some information, and a few weeks later she called and asked if her husband could come and stay at our house for a few days while he applied for the job and looked around town.
As she gave me his flight information she became a little frustrated. “Darn it, I didn’t get his gate number…. I know it should be here.” I almost burst out laughing. “Jacquie,” I said, “I don’t need a gate number, there’s only one gate. There will only be one small plane coming in with maybe 50 people on it, and I promise you, your husband will be the only tall Mexican guy getting off of the plane….we’ll find each other!” It was true of course. I drove at a leisurely pace to our International Airport, pulled right into a spot a row or two from the entrance. No charge for parking. The plane landed, Jacquie’s husband exited, grabbed his bag, we walked over to the rental car desk, he picked up a car, and we were done. I doubt if we were in the airport more than 15 minutes. The antelope barely looked up from where they were grazing at the end of the runway as we left.
One autumn day my, husband and I decided to take our boys to a pumpkin patch we’d heard about in Riverton, a town a couple of hours west of us. On the way there we passed through the small town of Shoshone, population just over 600 people. As we passed the little “street” with the saloon and the little shop that serves the most amazing “world famous Yellowstone Milkshakes”, we noticed a bunch of flatbed trailers lining the little block. It appeared to be some kind of street sale, so we got out and looked. As we were browsing, I had this eerie “Twilight Zone” feeling. Everything there was brand new….and yet, it looked like items from the 70’s. There was a rocking chair that reminded me of something one of my grandmothers owned when I was small, and a plastic kitchen clock that looked very similar to something the other grandmother had. Almost everything was avocado green, or harvest gold. The clothing styles, were dated, and was that a brand new shrink wrapped Six Million Dollar Man board game? Well as it turned out, it was an auction, and we were a little late to get in on the bidding. The items for sale were from the general store across the street. Sometime in the early or mid-70’s, or so we were told, the owner had gotten ill, and never returned to work. For about 30 years everything was just left in the store as it was….other than a fire that had done some damage….nothing had changed. It was like a little time capsule, and we were just amazed. We were too late to bid on some of the things we would have loved to purchase, but my husband did buy a beautiful leather jacket, lined with sheepskin for next to nothing. It’s original price in nineteen seventy something was $240. I tease him and call him McCloud when he wears it, because it reminds me of the jacket that Dennis Weaver wore in that 1970’s tv series.
In early 2007 we got a phone call telling us that my father in law was dying of cancer. We were only able to return to California once to see him before his funeral that November. We knew we were just a little too far from home, and that it was time to end our great adventure.
We’ve been back a year now, and it didn’t take long to get back into the swing of city life. When we signed the stack of documents that killed 2 trees (are we really environmentalists here in California) in order to close escrow on our new home, I thought about the few pages we signed to sell our home in Wyoming. When I made my appointment to register our car at the Department of Motor Vehicles, so that I would only wait for 30 or 40 minutes (hopefully) as opposed to 2-3 hours, I thought about the fact that Wyoming has no DMV. I could go to the court house, generally walk right up to a cashier and pay my registration fees then go home. This year when I waited in line for nearly 2 hours just to get fabric cut at JoAnne’s the week before Christmas, I thought about the fact that if I was in Casper, I’d have been home sewing before I even got in line to pay for that fabric.
And, yet, I have to admit, that I’m happy to be back home. I didn’t realize how much I missed authentic Mexican food, and Japanese, and Mediterranean …and…… I knew how much I missed fresh produce and being able to find a farmer’s market every day of the week. I missed the ocean, and although I loved the snow….those frigid temperatures often made me long for a Southern California winter. I definitely missed my family and friends….although now I miss the good friends I made in Wyoming. And, I missed being someplace that was familiar, that I had a history…..where I knew I belonged. I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to make “The Great Escape”, but for all it’s imperfections, there is no place like Los Angeles, and I’m so glad to be back.