A Willow in the Wind
Natalie Green L-SAW 2006
That brave woman
is dancing in front of the stage again, swaying to the music when no one else
has the nerve to leave the comfort of their blankets and chairs. Each year she
is the first to give in to the music. She moves like nobody is watching,
swiveling her hips, bouncing around and joining hands with random children to
form a circle that spins to the music. Nearly every summer of my life, I've
spent the first weekend in August at the Northern Rockies Folk Festival eating
corn on the cob, seeing old friends, and listening to hours upon hours of music.
All of this while taking in the backdrop of a brilliant blue Idaho sky and the Northern Rocky Mountains themselves. By five o'clock on Friday, the entire city park is
transformed into a patchwork of blankets, beach chairs, and food stands. It is
an event that few people in the town of Hailey miss, but this is the first
summer in quite a while that my entire family is home for the folk festival. My
oldest brother Nate even took the greyhound up from Wyoming for the big event.
While my two brothers, my dad and I are blending into the crowd, one woman is
in front of the stage, twirling around to the sounds of a local band. That
woman is my mom.
My mom was almost
kicked out of Brigham Young University. In most colleges, it takes failing
grades, cheating or drug abuse to get kicked out. What did my mom do? She wore
overalls. Apparently, in the 1970's era Mormon mecca of Provo, Utah, my mom wore pants in public when the Church believed that girls should be wearing
skirts. When she did wear a skirt, she hiked it up, showing her scandalous
knees and garnering yet another warning from the authorities. A third offense
could have resulted in BYU giving her the boot, but before she got the chance
to get kicked out, my mom quit school along with the Mormon religion. This is
when she began what she calls her "willow in the wind" stage.
That next June, my
mom, her older sister Deannie and a few of their friends from their home town
of Rupert decided to make the trip across Idaho to the Weiser National Oldtime
Fiddle Festival. Not only does the festival attract the nation's best fiddlers
as they compete for National Fiddle Champion, but for one week in June, the
little town of Weiser is transformed into a buzzing city of camped out
bluegrass players and music lovers. During the festival, random jam sessions
take over the campgrounds until the early morning hours.
They pulled into
Weiser at eleven o'clock at night, just in time for the much anticipated finals.
Even though the finals were held in the high school auditorium, a rock concert
atmosphere filled the room. People lined the walls and the crowd spilled out
the back doors. When the champion was finally crowned, the audience erupted in
cheers of admiration, as if John Lennon was standing before them instead of the
overall wearing Dick Barret of Roundup, Montana. Amidst the mob of people
outside of the Finals that night was my Dad. He was tall and skinny with a
scruffy beard and hair in need of a trim. Earlier that day, he had used is
pocket knife to turn his jeans into cutoffs, and the straggly edges hung down
over his thighs.
Dad is sprawled out on
an old blanket that my grandma probably made. His shirt is off, and his belly
sticks up towards the sky. A bluegrass band from Colorado is playing now. Four
young guys, one of them still in high school, impress the crowd with their
passionate performance. A visor hat is covering my dad's face, but I can see
his toes moving to the flow of the lively fiddle melody. He came to the
festival right from the construction site. I asked him earlier how work is
going, and he answered, "This job stuff is overrated." He was only partly kidding.
This winter he spent four months traveling the world, a fifty-four year old
vagabond with just a backpack and a couple of continents to explore. He started
in Germany, but journeyed to places like Morocco and Hungary and went as far as
Thailand and Cambodia. People that don't know my dad seem to think his middle-aged
journey was unusual, but to me, it was almost expected. My dad grew up all
over the world. His father was in the Air Force, so he has lived everywhere
from Biloxi, Mississippi to Nagoya, Japan. Despite a shyness that I still see
in him today, I know my dad figured out early on how to meet new people and adapt
to his surroundings.
When he first saw
my mom, my dad told a friend, "That's the girl I'm gonna marry." I don't know
if it was her tiny hot pants or the way she moved to the music, but something
caught my dad's eye that night. He ended up latching on to my mom and followed
her everywhere she went. When my aunt and her friends decided to head back to
a campsite on the other side of the lake, my dad told my mom, "Oh, I know where
they're staying. I'll take you there later." He had no clue where they were.
After wandering around the lake until the early morning hours, mom and dad
finally crashed on a dock. An old quilt that my mom's mom had made covered them
After a few hours
of sleep, they woke up to another world. It was as if the entire festival was
never there. Except for a few empty beer cans, the entire camp was deserted.
Hundreds of tents, trailers and motor homes were packed up and gone, and the
constant sound of fiddle music, was replaced with an eerie silence. My aunt
must have given up on finding my mom and left so she could be back for work on
Monday. Rupert was about five hours away.
"I guess I can
hitchhike back." My mom didn't have many options.
"I can go with you if
you want," my dad wasn't about to let her get away that easily, "...But my friend
and I were on our way to the World's Fair up in Spokane. You should come with
been to Washington...", and like a willow in the wind, she agreed to the
adventure. I like to think that in the same situation I too would've taken the
chance and gone to Washington. Still, it's hard to imagine my mom, a woman who
refused to use a microwave throughout my childhood for fear radioactivity,
taking such a risk. Somehow though, with only the clothes she was wearing,
cutoff shorts and a home made halter top, my mom was taking off with a stranger
to uncharted territory. But first she called home to let her family know where
My aunt's husband
Jock answered the phone and my mom let him know that she was safe and that she
was going to Spokane with a really nice guy. Unfortunately, Jock was so stoned
that this important information was instantly lost. Deannie never got the
message, and didn't know where her sister was until she received a letter from
my mom two weeks later. So, as her family got increasingly nervous about her
whereabouts, my mom ventured on with my dad to the World's Fair in Spokane and
then on to Bellingham, Washington, a city on the Puget Sound with exotic
rainforests and even more exotic people. It was like no place she had ever
been. After growing up among rows and rows of the same old sugar beet crops
and pew after pew of the same old boring faces, my mom was getting an education
in the colorful outside world.
The sun is completely
behind the mountains now. The first couple of stars are starting to appear,
and as if on cue, the headlining band takes the stage. Tonight, the headliner
is a band called the Subdudes, who play an amalgamation of blues, rock, and
even zydeco. The Subdudes have five men, most of them with gray hair and beards
to match, but it's soon obvious that these old men rock. With the first squeeze
of the accordion, the sprawl of blankets and beach chairs throughout the park is
deserted, and the majority of my home town has formed a dancing mob in front of
the stage. This is what I always remember the most about the folk festival,
these few hours when everyone turns into wild animals dancing under the
moonlight. When I was in middle school, a more self-conscious, angsty version
of myself, I would try to resist the dancing and stay glued to our blanket.
But just as I do every year, I eventually gave in to the child within who
dances like crazy without a care in the world. When I was small enough and my
legs got tired, I loved to perch on my dad's shoulders where I could better
observe the seemingly ordinary people of my town unleashing their inner selves.
This year, standing on my own two legs, I can see my brother's fifth grade
teacher getting down with a security guard, and the town librarian, usually so
proper and quiet, is shaking her booty like a go-go dancer. It's a beautiful
My dad owned an old
school bus in Bellingham that became their home. It was painted a robin's egg
blue, had a wood-stove and a table that turned into a bed. My mom even macraméd
curtains for their little home on wheels. Sometimes they parked in front a house
owned by a man named Skip. I don't really know how or why my dad knew Skip,
but I do know that he was in and out of insane asylums and invited people he
met in the mental hospital to stay at the house. One man was catatonic, and
just sat in a corner of the house and stared. There was also a woman who
incessantly scrubbed the floor with a toothbrush. Her newborn child had just
been taken away from her, and as she sat sobbing and scrubbing the floor, her
swollen breasts let out milk through the front of her shirt. These people had
no friends, no family, nobody to love or to love them. My mom realized how
lucky she was. After three months in Bellingham, she was ready to go home.
"I'll come with you,"
my dad said, but my mom was hesitant. For one, he smoked a pack of non-filtered
camel cigarettes a day. She couldn't stand it, so he offered to quit. I don't
know if there was something in my dad that my mom couldn't resist or if she
just couldn't get rid of him, but before too long, they were headed in the blue
bus across Washington, across Idaho, and back to my mom's home town of Rupert. They bathed in an irrigation canal outside Rupert in an attempt to look
presentable at my grandma's house. Still, when she first met my dad, my
grandma was not impressed. At that point, she had probably still harbored the
hope that my mom would meet a nice Mormon boy and settle down. My dad was not
the boy she had in mind. At some point, though, he grew on her, and the older
she got the more she liked him. By the time Grandma was in her nineties, she
would brag to anyone within earshot about her wonderful son-in-law.
In Rupert my parents
worked in the wheat fields moving sprinkler pipe with Mexican immigrants. Over
the next couple years, they continued their adventures across the west and
worked everywhere from apple orchards to ski areas. They were married in the
hills outside of Great Falls, Montana by a friend of theirs who also provided
the keg. Mom had a crown of wildflowers on her head. Dad had the same scruffy
beard as when they met, but mom had just cut his hair that morning. My brother
Nate was born about five months later.
I used to have to
get down from my dad's shoulders when the band played a slow song so my parents
could dance in each others arms. Feeling invisible, I would run off in the
crowd to find my friends. The Subdudes are playing a slow jazzy number now, and
I am very aware of the fact that my parents aren't dancing together. In fact,
they are on opposite sides of the crowd. Through the mass of people, I can see
my dad flirting with that fifth grade teacher.
It's been about two
years since my parents divorced. They were together for thirty years. My mom
is cutting the hair of another man now, but continues to turn heads with her
dance moves. My dad is adjusting to bachelorhood, and has been camping out for
most of the summer, ready at any time to move on to a new adventure. In a few
weeks, I'll be going back to the surreal world of college. My life without my
parents is just beginning, and it's anybody's guess where I'm going or who I'll
become. My mom would say I'm just a willow in the wind. The way I see it, the
winds may come and go and its branches may bend and waver, but at its roots,
the willow remains unchanged.