69: Adventures in Staying

69: Adventures in Staying

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

Adventures in Staying

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Dad embodied adventure. Mom focused on the ordinary. He tickled me nightly on the living room floor, while she finished up in the kitchen. He took me on his rounds on the farm to water the fields of sprouting cotton crops, to jump in the trailers of freshly picked cotton, or to slide into the irrigation canals and ride the current. She made sure I made my bed.

I never lacked for excitement with Dad. He taught me how to catch and bridle my horse, and to snow ski at a young age. He would invent new ways to scare the daylights out of us every Halloween. And on after-dark hikes, he would eagerly recite his menacing “Headless Horseman” tale, as his dimly lit buddy skidded down a nearby mountain, supposedly without a head.

Dad was larger than life to me. I thrived on watching him in action — aiding the roadside birth of a new calf, rescuing the bloody neighbor who ran through the sliding glass door, or capturing the wounded coyote to mend in the empty chicken pen. I loved adventure and he was the adventurer.

Near the end of my third grade year, the action screeched to a halt. A closed-door discussion between Dad and Mom ended with Dad making trips to his truck with all his personal belongings. I walked each painful load to the truck with Dad the night he left. I did not witness my siblings huddled around Mom crying in the living room. I was so focused on the one who left that I didn’t think of the one who remained. But in the years since that night, I have had the opportunity to discover who the true adventurer was — the one who stayed.

A single mom with four small daughters and no job — that, in itself, set the stage for disaster to come. Who would have guessed that, instead, life would evolve into one huge adventure?

It started small as we adjusted — watching the black-and-white Wizard of Oz with green sunglasses, pulling to the side of the road to gape at the special Christmas star, investigating a flood at the ranch from which we had moved.

Mom became creative. In an electrical outage, a flashlight at the player piano kept us busy for hours. Our not-so-intelligent dogs fighting through the glass sliding door served as simple and silly entertainment. And somehow, saltine crackers crumbled into a bowl, topped with milk and sugar, became a delicacy we begged for at suppertime.

Then the adventure grew. Simple outings transformed into explorations of uncharted territory, usually on the nearby Native American reservations. We escaped falling walls in dilapidated and crumbling Native American ruins. We appeased haunted spirits in Native American graveyards with the eye of the Kabbalah. We hunted for buried treasure in the old Cooley Civil War mansion. Each escapade left us with memories and scars to prove its worth.

Ordinary hikes became grand conquests of terrain, often leaving wisdom and safety back home. One ten-hour spree landed us above the snow and timberline with no supplies other than a picnic lunch and no more protection than an eight-inch tall dog.

Another day’s jaunt led us high atop the nearby Hopi mesa. In the history of the Hopi Nation, they had allowed the public to view their ceremonial snake dances only twice. We were there, sitting cross-legged with the Native Americans and scampering panic-stricken when a rattler escaped into our ranks. Our interest level always seemed to outweigh the liabilities and risks.

We no longer vacationed, but set out on investigations into the fascinating. The boiling mud pots at Yellowstone National Park made us all feel unsteady, but no more than Mom’s reading of The Night of the Grizzly in the tent — a poor choice in travel literature.

It never mattered that there was no father, uncle, brother, grandpa, male cousin, male anything around — we would bait, gut, and untangle at the toughest trout streams anyway. It never occurred to us that we should have experience. We naively assumed we could learn how to erect a tent on the first night of the two-week camping trip to Canada. And we did — a two-hour task, compared to the fifteen-minute job we whittled it down to by the end.

So adventure characterized Mom after all. But the adventure was not always easy. It required night classes to finish her college degree, and the after-work trip each week to the ranch, now over an hour away, to make payroll. It included not always having the money to pay all the bills. It involved de-skunking the ripe aroma from our over-friendly dog, picking up pieces of the glass sliding door I kicked in, and a lot of broom swinging to dislodge bats from the rafters. Yet she stayed.

It entailed the endless disciplining of four girls, who could easily find trouble. It also included raising us with no relative to pick up the slack. Mom lived with a constant fear of her four girls being separated into foster homes if something were to happen to her. So she stayed.

But in staying, Mom got to see her girls grow up. She whooped and hollered when we made the team. She scoured the racks with us for the perfect prom dress. She endured every concert and musical we performed. And she was there to plan each of our weddings. Hers was an adventure of family, of relationship, of love. And it produced a lifetime bond among five women.

Her adventurous spirit became so ingrained in me that it affected my choices on a regular basis. It influenced the way I raised my own kids, who, in turn, were fascinated by treasure hunts that never took them beyond their own back yard, and amazed at what kind of critters they could find under a rock. I will never feel compelled to look for adventure out there. Mom has proven there is great adventure in staying.

~Ann Kronwald

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