I am standing in line at the cashier’s counter at JC Penney’s with an armload of gorgeous white plush top-of-the line rubber-backed Royal Velvet bathroom rugs. I am sweating ever so slightly, not just because the rugs are surprisingly heavy and awkward to hold, but because I am about to break through eons of genetic programming and family history. I feel a little nervous, even mildly reckless about this impulsive purchase, but anyone in their right mind would agree that the drastically marked down sale price is just too good to pass up. Anyway, I’ve been needing to replace my old rugs for ages, and this has got to be a sign, an omen, right? I didn’t just walk into this huge storewide sale by accident. I was led here by benevolent cosmic forces. It’s a fabulous deal.
Still, the rugs are not cheap. And they are white. Shockingly, unapologetically, luxuriously snow white, totally impractical, bordering on decadent. I love them. I know exactly what they will feel like on my bare feet on a cold winter’s morning.
Still....white? Mrs. Warden, my 7th grade Home Ec teacher, would be counselling me rather sternly to stick with beige, but she does not control me anymore, and my decision today will not go on my permanent record. I don’t have the cash to cover this purchase, but my Visa card is practically burning a hole in my pocket.
I breeze through the sales transaction as if I had money and confidence to burn. All the ladies behind the counter are making comments about how pretty the rugs are, but how they could never get away with white themselves, because their husbands (and dogs) are such slobs. I smile weakly, and walk bravely out the door and into the rest of my life.
The night before all this happened, JD and I went to see the movie “Nebraska,” starring Bruce Dern. It is beautifully filmed in black and white, a stunningly stark yet compassionate portrayal of life in that often harsh and heart-rending place. They cast local actors and regular townspeople in all but the main roles, and it was all so real, and true-to-life, and familiar, that I felt like crying. Except if you’re from Nebraska you don’t cry, you just take things in stride and get through it, whatever it is.
My whole family is from Nebraska. My Mom’s people were farmers and ranchers, and as a kid I sweated through plenty of hot humid summer vacations there with my cousins, before homes or even the public library had air conditioning. My folks used to pack us kids in the car and drive through hours of boringly flat corn fields and endless cow pastures to get to the little rural town where my Mom grew up. Once there we would hang out with all the aunts and uncles and cousins around Grandma’s big old walnut dining room table eating and laughing and telling stories for hours and days, in between chores. The men would smoke cigarettes and drink bourbon in the parlor, while the women gossiped and joked around in the kitchen, taking care of the endless food prep and clean up. No one ever thought of having a white rug in the bathroom.
It went without saying that everyone worked their ass off from morning to night, taking care of the crops and livestock. Nobody ever took a real vacation. Dinner out meant driving half an hour to the nearest town with an Elk’s Club where you could get a good steak dinner with a baked potato and maybe a little sprig of parsley on the plate. That was about as much luxury as anyone could ask for.
My great great grandparents were homesteaders in Valley County Nebraska, in the 1880’s, and that stubborn pioneer blood runs thick in my veins. I wish my folks were still alive so I could tell them again how proud I am that they got OUT of there, and started a new life for themselves in Loveland Colorado in 1946, right after the 2nd World War. That’s where we kids grew up.
The ones who stayed behind continued to work, and go without, and make do, and stick it out no matter what. My cousin Jim, who left the farm and did quite well for himself financially in Omaha, became an avid golfer. He once famously told his Dad, my uncle Allen, he wanted to take him on a cruise or a fancy golf vacation. He had the money. Jim said, “Really Dad, anything. Where should we go? What’s your idea of the perfect day?”
Allen thought for a minute and then said, “Well, I’d get out to the North 40 on a fine spring day, maybe 6:00 in the morning, and I’d start with the disker, going around the field. Then I’d take a break around noon, have a good lunch, and get back at it for the rest of the day.”
When Allen died last winter at the age of 93 he left behind an estate worth about $4,000,000. Four million dollars.
My lovely white rugs won’t last forever. Nothing ever does, including me, and even you, dear reader. But for the moment I am so grateful that I am, that we all are, so gifted with this amazing chance to be alive….to be who we are, where we are, and when we are….and to appreciate whatever comes our way. Every time I see and feel those gorgeous white rugs I will remember that, and be thankful for evolution, and for the love that fuels it.
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