One of my biggest fears, living and raising a family in North Dakota, is failing to expose my children to different cultures. Not only do I live in a state who's population is more than 90 percent white, but it's also mostly Christian and predominantly German- and Norwegian white.
Don't get me wrong, living in a state so small and area so rural has SUPER advantages for child-rearing, namely, my child will never have to walk through metal detectors on his way to school. Check mark: pro.
I grew up in a bigger city and at age four, still touched the head of a little black girl at Sesame Street Live. I wanted to know what her hair felt like. Even with my upbringing, I didn't and don't know nearly enough.
I don't want my son to walk the graduation stage without ever meeting someone who's skin tanned faster than his does.
So what to do?
* Cable TV, movies, media is a start. Watch a show with black people in it. And if I'm feeling really civil rights-y, I can throw in "The Color Purple" or "How to Kill a Mockingbird." I guess that has potential. The problem is, reality TV is so seldom realistic. I don't want him getting the impression that these over-the-top personalities represent any one culture as a whole. And he won't have much by way of real people and local examples to teach him any different. Plus, I don't subscribe to cable. Figures.
* Art: I can't think of any other offering here that would expose him to more cultures and perspectives. Even if the project is a little cheesy, like: here, make a fan. That's what Asian people do... A project like that at least it opens the door for opportunities to explore that fan and the reasons and culture behind it. He and I can read books on the topic or research "Asia" on the internet. In fact, I like that idea. I'm pretty sure hand-held fans don't represent modern Asia, but perhaps making one represents an opportunity to explore another heritage.
* Travel: Duh! It's the bottom line frightens me. On our budget, traveling to relatives and friends in Colorado and small-town Iowa will have to suffice. As much as I'd love summer vacations in India, Egypt and Ireland, something tells me they'll have to discover oil in LaMoure County first.
After watching this video multiple times and even Levi laughing, I figured I'd better share. As of today, 93,000 people had watched the video. That's like the entire city of Fargo. My goal is these bois will reach 700,000 and surpass the population of the state of North Dakota.
My favorite parts in the song are about knoephla and kuchen. Those dishes are totally German and totally regional. My grandmother is 100 percent German, and even she hadn't heard of them. I *may* speak ill of N.D. from time to time, but one joke I will not crack is the food. Unless you count lutefisk. Shiny, see-through fish really shouldn't count as food.
So I pitched the idea of a mommy blog to my bosses at work and amazingly, they bit. It's an audience we don't target, they said. We think it's a great idea.
Hence, why I love my job and never left North Dakota. Oh and the husband/baby thing. I guess you could count that too. :)
Anyways, we're still in the planning stages and I'm rounding up content, guest bloggers, images, house ads and desperately trying to develop a clever name relating to "Jamestown" and "mom." Advice? I'm all ears.
I'm so excited about this opportunity and hope that it turns into half of what other newspapers have done. It's an opportunity for both revenue and readership growth in a struggling industry and best of all, that growth comes from providing useful and helpful information to readers - exactly why newspapers exist and what they do best.
These blogs won't be the same. This blog is totally personal and frankly, Katie-centric. Sometimes, I don't even care to read it. Who cares about that Katie-chic anyway? The mommy blog will have silly, fun stories, but also informational posts as well, sometimes straight from the source's mouth. Already, I've asked the police and sheriff's departments if they want to take part. Again, all parties expressed interest. Success.
So far, so good on the mommy blog front. I feared the start-up would require more work, more convincing than this. I'm so happy to be wrong. So happy, in fact, I might even knit an extra reindeer on Levi's Christmas sweater. :)
Ok, not literally, just in the figurative way that makes it sound like I have an excuse for not posting. Also, I got stuck in a cave with a wildebeest watering at the mouth and because it was a cave, I had no internet or cell phone service. (A guy told me that once, it worked.) Forgive me too?
With the exception of about six thank you cards for which I have no address, all are mailed. Phew!
And with the exception of this post, none of you have read (on this blog at least) about the new man in my life:
Meet Mr. Feisty. The ultrasound tech gave him that name after the child refused to remove his hands from his face.
Maybe he's shy, I said, eyeing my son for the first time and trying to soak up every detail of his appearance and learn all I could of his personality.
Maybe, the tech said. But he doesn't seem to have a problem when I photograph his rear end.
He gets that from you, I said to Levi.
I'm due Sept. 25.
Ok, perhaps I could have mentioned this pre-seven weeks before my due date, but I wasn't ready to release it until all was legal. You know, the get married THEN get pregnant type rules and regulations drilled into my head by many a nun wielding welt-giving yard sticks.
I've never understood the theory. I mean, if a girl's knocked up, she has three options. Catholics frown/protest/fast for the abolishment of abortion, so why judge a lady for keeping the baby, even if its conception is out of wedlock? But I suppose that argument is for another day.
Today is about beautiful baby Cole. Cole Ryan Anderson. AKA Mr. Feisty. I hope he lives up to his nickname. For then, I'll forever have blog material.
In other news, I'm not quite a new mommy yet, but the maternal instincts have already kicked in. Like decorating. Oh how I long for winter (did I really just say that??) so I can decorate my house in stockings, lights and a trimmed tree. I'm so into decorating, I've shopped online for Christmas/winter-themed bedding. Levi balked at the idea, he doesn't understand.
But then again, so did my mother. And she added outlets to her house specifically for string lights and a Department 56 Christmas Village.
"There is a line you can cross, Katie," she said.
Well, if they won't appreciate it, Cole Ryan will. I'm sure he'll LOVE wearing the Santa hats and matching sweaters I buy for the family ever year.
When wedding planning, the mom and I concluded: the best option for little wedding gifts were Hershey Kisses wrapped in black fabric, tied with a green bow. Guests could enjoy the sweet before, after or never during the reception and the only work we’d have to do was purchase the buggers and their wrapping. We’d wrap them the day before the wedding and presto change-o, DECORATIONS!
Peanut butter balls are round, delicate, peanut-butter infused rice krispe treats the size of a 3-D quarter dipped in chocolate of milk or dark varieties. They require multiple steps of working, waiting and freezing as well as about a hundred hours to complete. I’ve only helped make them once or twice, for fear the sheer mass of work and time required would prevent me from enjoying the morsels in the future.
My mom and aunts insist they’re a Christmastime only treat. They take sooo long, they say. Perhaps the you-can’t-have-it nature adds to the flavor, but every time my mom would call and ask what I wanted her to cook for upcoming holidays or family gatherings, skip the casseroles mom, "peanut butter balls" was always my answer. I’d plead for them at Christmas, after Christmas and the entire duration of North Dakota winters -- six months in some cases.
Sometimes mom made scotcheroos or peanut butter balls in a pan, but the result was never the same. Peanut butter balls cannot be reproduced. They must be creamy peanut butter, rice krispes and in golf-ball form. Impostors need not apply.
So since I have a knack for raising my mother’s blood pressure, I called her one morning and told her I wanted peanut butter balls at my wedding instead of Hershey Kisses. This is sure to rattle her cage, I thought to myself, laughing. Three hundred peanut butter balls at a June wedding. Preposterous.
Who told you, she asked when I called.
Wha??? What do you mean who told me?
Aunt Bev and I were going to surprise you, she said. Why would we give Hershey Kisses at your wedding when we could serve your favorite candy instead?
Apparently, my cage would receive the rattling.
Uhhhh.... because Hershey Kisses are easier, cheaper and WAY less time-consuming.... I said.
Yeah, but they’re also boring, she said. Peanut butter balls are... just more you.
Like I said before, mothers are ALWAYS right.
And with aunties, cousins and a grandmother already volunteering, I did none of the work save taste-testing. They always give me the tough jobs...
I’m not entirely sure how the day of Ryan-Anderson wedding peanut-butter-ball making progressed suffice it to say a sweet the size of my face emerged upon the bridal table.
Note the chocolaty wonder and its proportion to my facial features.
Apparently, my Aunt Mary “can dip anything.”
I have no doubt. She also makes a mean devils egg.
I’m not sure how long those ladies worked and if it was proportionate to the number of hours spent conversing about Longaberger baskets, but the peanut butter balls passed my test. My only fear was consuming one too many and not fitting in my wedding dress.
If I dropped one and melted chocolate stained the soft white fabric however, that was no matter. Like my mom said, it’s just more me.
I haven't written in a full, calendar month. My fingers itch, my mind burns and I have so much to say even deaf people tell me to shut up.
I'm married now.
My mom said I could skip writing thank yous for a night and moms are always right. Except when they tell you to clean your room, don't pick your nose in public and iron your Catholic school girl skirt before you wear your pajama pants beneath it. Otherwise, they're right EVERY time.
Mom told me to go to a coffee shop and ignore the tiered chip dip sets and Longaberger baskets sprouting through my loveseat, but I prefer to stay home where the food is free and pants are optional. Did I just overshare again? I'm out of practice. Sorry about that. But seriously, creativity can not be confined to clothing. It's unnatural.
Anyways, if you missed the wedding, you missed an evening of great steaks, great dancing and goooood-looking cowboys. All the fears of tears I'd had flattened like the North Dakota landscape. Eyes watered with tears of joy, except for when the best man thanked me for proving Levi really wasn't playing for the other team as he and his friends had suspected. Those may have been tears of rage or truth...
Note: the maid of honor prepared a toast and leaned on note cards for support. Unlike the best man, she considered her speech beforehand and even presented me a gift. The best man, well, I'm not sure he practiced, but I laughed anyway. The maid of honor may have spilled the beans about me dancing in the halls, memorizing the choreography to every new Brittney and Christina video, but she didn't mention the time we got lost in foreign countries and accepted rides from strangers, got flashed by said strangers, got smooched on camera by other strangers, etc. Now that I think about it... those all occurred in France. I'd like to say that country is whack (a saying I picked up from my mom) but it was an American in Rome who wore a scrunchie in her hair, tears in her eyes and capri pants where her man parts used to be. She screamed all night in the bunk below me and when the she didn't get her way with the U.S. Embassy the next morning, she replaced her high-pitched "Heather" personality with "Stephen" the baritone. The hostel we stayed at was supposed to be segregated by sex, but I guess in Italy, gender is a matter of preference.
But back to the wedding.
Levi and I developed a code before the ceremony. If we felt an onset of tears, we'd talk about the weather. OR SO YOU THOUGHT, suckas!
Fifty percent chance of rain, I'd say, if I worried my eyes would trickle.
There's a 92 percent chance it's already raining, he'd say if he felt the same.
The goal was to distract each other: Think of a funny story or find the drunkest cowboy and dance with him. We could keep crying at bay that way.
We never needed it, but it was good to know it was there.
Part of the reason we didn't need it is because I'm a buffoon. The most sentimental point of the day, the part where if you don't cry, your heart is full of charcoal and you probably ate babies for breakfast, I totally biffed it. Not literally like I fell down the aisle and my dad caught me, but biffed it, like, I forgot about the moment entirely.
See, dad and I navigated the nave like we were celebrities. I felt like Lindsay Lohan... all the cameras and people I knew... I couldn't pay attention to the sacredness of the service or the fact that I was supposed to hug and kiss my dad as he gave me away even though I ain't nobody's possession, OK ese?
So the pastor had to give us the ol' hint-hint, nudge-nudge and I still had no idea what he meant. My dad kissed my cheek before I realized it was the big moment I insisted the photographer capture even if she took pictures of nothing else. Sorry dad. I'll make it up to you at my next wedding?
And then I missed the other big moment too. The first smooch as husband and wife. I was so relieved about not fumbling over my vows or my voice cracking as I sucked back the sniffles, I totally neglected the nuptial nuzzle. We'd even practiced. The pastor watched. But no. I ruined the moment. Again.
So since the ceremonial smooch didn't go as planned, Levi and I had plenty of chances to redeem ourselves.
That's another new thing about this blog. We're married now. Levi gets a name although I'm still not convinced he gets a deer on the wall.
Anyway, many, many ching-chings were made in our honor at the reception. The kind of ching-chings requiring the bride and groom to stand up, swap spit and continue with their meal. I'd rather see crazy American-in-Rome-woman's chest hair than pucker in public, but the 252 guests didn't seem to mind. I played along until the cake was served. Chocolate cake... with raspberry filling. Attention must be paid. Kissing can come later.
Usually kissing comes in the honeymoon suite. Perhaps you're afraid I'll wander into the waters of don't-write-that-where-other-people-namely-coworkers-can-read, but fret not. This story completes the evening without over-sharing... I don't think.
We get into the room and it's over... finally over... a momentous occasion I wanted to celebrate and mourn at the same time. Part of me wanted after-party and part of me wanted sweat pants. Amidst my ambivalence, the phone rang.
Who is calling the honeymoon suite at 1 a.m.? Mom, now is NOT the time for the talk, OK?
It wasn't my mom and it wasn't my dad or any other member of my crazy family although I wouldn't put it past them.
Who is this? Levi said into the receiver like he figured it was a telemarketer or something.
Who is this? The voice replied.
No... tell me who this is, Levi said with an authority I've heard him use only around electricity and deer-head decorations.
Tyler Aaaa.... the voice said before Levi hung up the phone and unplugged it from the wall. We're still not sure why he called or how he got the number. But the story is one of my favorites of the whole evening. I won't tell you who Tyler is, suffice it to say he was on Levi's side of the guest list, and as it sounds, would have prefered his side of the bed too.
Gah! I went too far didn't I? Shucks. I ruined it. I'm a wedding ruin-er.
Well. That sums up the wedding night. At least for now. Perhaps tomorrow I can tell you the tales of the wedding morning and the succulent seafood I caught on our honeymoon.
When it comes to bachelor parties, I believe unfamiliarity is the best policy.
Them: So where is the Cowboy this weekend? Me: Montana Them: Really? Cool. Where in Montana? Me: Somewhere with a bar? Them: So what was he planning to do there? Me: Consume beverages, I suppose. Them: So who did he go with? Me: Not sure, but he took a 14-passenger van. Them: When's he coming back? Me: Look, it's a bachelor party. I prefer to believe that this weekend's events didn't occur until they're over. All I ask is a text every day so I know he isn't dead.
As the days draw near and the details emerge, I have to comment on how not-stressful this wedding planning is. Sure, I turned bridezilla once or twice, a detail or two was forgotten and my fiance keeps threatening not to marry me unless he's wearing a Cowboy hat. But otherwise, life is good. Wedding planning is good.
The only part I dread is the wedding itself.
See, as much as I like to write about myself and my relationship and reveal a little too much, standing in front of a crowd, possibly crying, puts me out of my comfort zone. This is why couples elope, people. That and for the price of a photographer, you and three friends can take a Grey Goose and Godiva trip to Las Vegas. Who better to marry you than Elvis? He steals the show, and the attention, anyway.
So I've come up with distractions:
* the bridesmaids are wearing dresses and hair of different styles. Stare at them. Judge them. Envy their matching heals. Anything to take the eyes off me.
* My wedding singer is a natural alto, but her range is so wide, she can hit notes higher than some sopranos. Look at her. Creep on her. Leave your glasses at home because she will surely shatter them. No boring tunes for her. Her one requirement is to "knock everyone's socks off." If she can't do that, she's fired... kind of. :)
* The vows I chose are the "I do" ones, where the pastor says all the words so if my voice cracks, I say one sentence and I'm done. Champagne, anyone?
* If all else fails, I instructed my little brother to light the church on fire. He's good at this. When he was five, he cut the cord to a plugged-in and turned-on lamp. I promised him I'd use the wedding loot as bail money. Fancy a trade, officer? Three mixing bowls and a Longaberger basket for the tall Colorado kid with tan skin and dark eyes who looks nothing like pale, short me.
So I need your help:
No crying at my wedding. Please. No matter the maid of honor, the grandmother of the groom or the groom himself, you tear, you're toast. No five-tier wedding cake for you. If you start crying, then I'll start crying and then I'll cry because I didn't want to cry. And with all the water, North Dakota will flood again. Embarrassing. But what's more embarrassing for you is when a lady in white dress slaps you on the face and says "pull yourself together." No one will ever forget it. You're in the small towns now. :)
Dad: Kate, I've been thinking a lot about this antlers-on-the-wall thing you wrote about.
Dad: I can see where you're coming from. I wouldn't want deer heads plastered on my wall either.
Me: Right. You decorate with wallpaper of the four horsemen.
Dad: Well, it's just decorations.
Me: Come again?
Dad: I mean, you can live with a few heads on the wall can't you?
Me: Sure dad. The same way you could live with a Matt Leinert head on your wall.
Dad: It's just... it's his house too... Pick and chose your battles is all I'm saying.
Me: Ok, who's father are you??
With 200 invites in the mail and 50 still in the works, the wedding date quickly approaches. The rate I'm going, everyone with a North Dakota driver's license will dine on my dad's dollar.
If there's one thing I can't complain about, it's the financial arrangement. I had to verbally abuse my old man yesterday: NO, YOU'RE NOT PAYING FOR ANYTHING ELSE. Stick a dollar in my account and the first words of our first born will be the lyrics to the USC fight song!
A threat like that will shush a Notre Dame fan right up. And that's a good problem to have.
Between my parents, aunties and Cowboy's family, the wedding arranging is relatively stress free. Everyone's been more than generous offering time, labor and mucho dinero.
My only drama was the RSVP cards... those annoying little numbers I receive and always forget to return even though they're already stamped and post-office ready. A co-worker designed mine for me using my font choice, size and graphic-y squiggle. When she printed the final draft, I winced.
"Is it OK if I don't like it?" I said, waiting for a ruler rapt upon my head and cringing because I deserved it.
"Yes it's OK!" she said like I totally didn't waste her time designing the first rendition. "It's your wedding."
So we designed them anew. And cut them. And glued them. And I loved them, all for the low, low price of not $500 like I would have paid if I'd ordered them online.
In other news, Cowboy Sr. *will not* be wearing the black shoes Cowboy and I selected to match the tuxedos. Instead, he'll wear his brand new cowboy boots, he said. Precious.
Cowboy helped me clean out my fridge one night in another one of those evenings when he goes above and beyond his boy call of duty and his sister laughs at him and calls him words that start with "p" and ends with another word for cat.
I'm OK on both counts :)
Now, I'm not a clean freak, but I'm not disturbingly disgusting either. Like, I *may* have laundry decorating my couch and living room right now, but I totally just washed it.
The same is true for my fridge. Sometimes, leftovers don't get eaten. But I put lids and plastic wrap on them, so its OK right?
Anyways, the night Cowboy assisted my fridge evacuation was the same day he hit a pheasant with his pickup truck. He didn't do it on purpose, but ugly duckling won't be getting his makeover if you know what I mean.
Cowboy, being the true country man he is, stuck his arm in the front of his truck and removed the pinned pigeon. It was just dead, he said. What's the big deal?
JUST DEAD? Meaning bloody and eyebally and still looking like a bird? And you TOUCHED it, like with your hands?? What if you get SARS or something?
As soon as I said it, he screamed. Not at the thought of infectious diseases FedEx-ed from China, but from a teeny, tiny growth on noodles cooked circa 1982.
Sick... I'm sorry... No... I'm going to throw up, he said, holding his nose with one hand and the tupperware extended toward me with the other.
Whaaat? I said. Throw it out. It's just mold.
JUST MOLD, he roared like I'd asked him to wear a pink popped-collared polo, this is the GROSSEST thing I've ever seen he said, hobbling back and forth like a toddler holding its urine. It's staring me in the face!
Oh really?, I said, hands on hip. The chicken that crossed the road and pummeled your pickup is somehow not grosser?
That rooster barely crossed St. Peter's Gate, he said. These noodles are older than archangels.
Cowboy informed me yesterday: *not* every room in the house can be green.
I don't want EVERYTHING green. Now that's just crazy. We picked out cherry-stained cabinets and a sand/black counter top to coordinate with the gray ceramic tile. See? No green. All I ask is the walls...
I don't see the problem, I said.
It can't be green everywhere, he said. You want to walk into every room and see green??
Suddenly I'm having second thoughts about this marriage.
If it's this or the antlers, I truly don't know what I'll chose.
Can we talk about this mounting thing again? Cowboy asked as we strolled no where in paticular.
It was one of those weekday nights where we could be together and just be. Light skies mixed with light winds reminded us of last year when winter coats and snowstorms were more frequent than April showers and all the May flowers.
What about it? I asked, anticipating the only disagreement we've ever had and not solved.
Cowboy wants space in our house for the heads of animals he's shot... the birds, the rodents and especially the deer. He thinks it will give the home and outdoor ambiance. I don't disagree. I think it will look like a cemetary.
I just don't think this man-room idea is going to work, he said. Mounts need higher ceilings.
When it comes to interior decorating, Cowboy and I match like pink and navy blue: feminine, masculine and flattering on any skin tone. He likes earthtones and I prefer neutrals and greens. He prefers simple and I prefer practical. Awesome.
But our design has one flaw. Cowboy blueprinted a house with high walls specifically for the shrines to fallen fauna.
Naturally, I'd prefer a shrine to Satan.
Even when I design this man-room idea, he said, it won't have enough space for the bucks and their antlers, he said.
This is working better than I expected, I mumbled to myself. Originally, I told him to hang such artifacts in the mud room where the water heater and dirty shoes go. No one will bother them in there, I said. Exactly, he said, because there's no room for them in there.
The man room was my middle ground. Build me a house with a kitchen, two bedrooms and a writing space. When we assemble the addition, you can have a man room with camo curtains and antlers on the wall. I'll never go there and I'll never complain.
I can't build those walls as tall as the house itself, he said. But the antlers need tall walls. Astetically, it's unattrative.
Unattractive is death in the living room, I said. We may have dead creatures in our home, but they'll reside in the freezer where they belong.
We continued to sashay the sidewalks I fear my children will never recognize. Where we'll live, roads consist of gravel and stone and "side walks" are made only when a person creeps through cramped space. Stop lights don't exist and parking meters are as distant as Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren.
Deer mounts honor the animal, he said. They recognize its dignity and valor.
If you wanted to honor it, you'd bury it, I said. Do you stick the heads of dead grandparents on your wall?
Mounts seem a little barbaric, and maybe they are, he said. Maybe that's why I like it. Can't we make some sort of compromise?
Hello! I said. Living here is a compromise. Have you met MoNa? She's especially bitchy to the Northern Plains...
I know, but hunting and nature are just part of who I am, he said. I just think we should find a space for them in our home.
I shook my head. Space for them means none for me.
I always knew TV-style wedding planning was overdramatic, but I'd never planned one myself, so I had no idea.
When people said they took every bit of a year to plan their weddings, I believed them. And perhaps they didn't lie, but Holy Whoa. That's unnecessary if you live in a small town.
In a small town, you only have so many options and of those, you're probably related to or work with someone in each industry. Need a tuxedo? My co-worker runs a shop. Cake? Another co-worker ordered from the same woman. Honeymoon? His uncle owns a resort. Invitations? Ask the crafty co-worker with a scrapbook shop in her basement.
Here's proof of small-town simple: I got engaged two months ago.
Already, I've picked out:
* colors: black, silver and green. No brainers as I was raised in a home with green carpet, green roof and green bedding. Plus, now I'm going to live on green acres. It's only fitting.
* bridesmaids dresses/shoes: ok, they picked them out and I'm not telling you anymore because it's a secret. I'm just jealous I can't wear one too :)
* dress for me: ah, ah, ah-- You'll just have to show up and see :) But I will tell you this, the shoulder pads exceed the height of my head. Pure decadence. I couldn't shop anywhere in my city of residence as we have no bridal attire here. I could though, shop with my mom and aunt and in four hours, the dress and decisions were done. Perfect.
* flowers: white, tasteful and prepared by the best man's sister. I didn't bother to shop anywhere else.
* photographer: not only does she take amazing pictures, but I'd totally friend her on Facebook. The cost of the photos, however, might make me unable to afford it.
* church: sacrifice to Jesus, which is OK because after all these years, I'm due. Plus, the pastor chaired a committee to help people recovering from flood damage. I heart me some small-town connections.
* reception hall/caterer: entree is chosen, now for the sides! It's also the same location where the Cowboy and I met.
* cake: five tiers and about $1 per serving (small-town steal! as some city places charge five times that price)
* invitations: picked out, designed, but not made. Breathe mom :)
* DJ: recommended by the hotel, but costs a good paycheck
* HONEYMOON: less than the Dj...?
Now all I need to do is narrow down the guest list.... and pick out the groom :)
Afraid but not alone, I’d driven those miles many times in three years. Five hundred miles to my hometown.... turn south at Fargo and you can’t miss it.
Cowboy and I were driving to Omaha. A trip my Volvo could do in reverse, but one foreign to the man from Up North.
The journey was one of endings and beginnings. Vinny’s final voyage was Cowboy’s first. First to Omaha, first to the family, first time to meet the in-laws in Iowa.
Terrified, I’d taught him the card game of my birth. Euchre. Known as the game of bowers where the right Jack is higher than any ace, some in-laws attempt a first game with my uncles, and then never return for a second.
Don’t let that happen to you, I said to the Cowboy. You have to get to know them. They aren’t going to get to know you.
I’m not worried, he said.
Well I am.
Cowboy’s good with meeting new people. He doesn’t shy away from shaking hands and story-telling, the customary get-to-know-you rituals. But my family is as tough as it is big. (My mom is one of 11 children and I’m one of 39 cousins. We served 60 people that Saturday.) If you’re going to bring someone new into the family, they seem to say, he has to impress us. We won’t bother to impress him. In fact, it’s the opposite. The uncles find it funny to scare future family with phrases like “With which hand do you smoke your crack?” and “Don’t trump my ace, you bitch.”
Without knowing it, Cowboy was under the second-most pressure of any decedent of of Eldora and Paul. My father is known as one of the most vicious. Known for his taunting and teasing, many cousins warn their mates to avoid him.
The only uncle worse is one of three Uncle Bills. For those unfamiliar, you’ll know him by his neck: it’s thicker than my thighs. A two-time war veteran, Jujitsu champion and narcotics enforcement officer, Uncle Bill searches all the boyfriend’s pockets and wallets... in search of paraphernalia of the drug and birth-control persuasion.
Uncle Bill wouldn’t make it for Easter, but I was scared anyway. I won’t baby-sit you, I said. I can’t. You’ll have to make conversation with people you don’t know all on your own.
Don’t worry about me, Kate, he said. I’ll be fine.
You don’t understand.
My mom, though, she knew it too.
She and an aunt took me dress shopping, a custom customarily sans-man.
You’re going to let him meet your grandmother, without you? she asked.
Guess so, I said, shrugging my shoulders like I didn’t care. And when it comes to my grandmother, I didn’t. I cared about their first impression, yes, but was I worried they wouldn’t hit it off? No.
Play cards with her, I said. And when she tells you to eat something, just do it.
Six hours, 60 wedding dresses, and the one I’d picked out weeks before later, we arrived at a home minus one Cowboy.
He’s at the boat, Grandma said, gambling with the boys.
So, what’d you think of him? I asked.
Well, he kept leading trump aces, she said. An evaluation meaning: he’s got work to do.
The next morning, grandma’s kitchen resembled an elementary cafeteria with relations eating with their fingers and crowding the center table. The noise level rivaled that of Superbowl Sunday and one child even stood in the corner and covered his ears. Oh wait... that was my dad. And then another child threw jelly beans at my aunt. Oh wait, that was my dad too.
Cowboy didn’t seem to mind. He did OK with names... all except for one. I introduced him to my Aunt Karen, but he called her Aunt Shirley. He learned the names of my cousins and remembered the names of the relations he’d met gambling the night before.
Signs pointed in the right direction, but the true test was when I left him to his lonesome. Anxious for my bridal shower, another sans-man activity, Cowboy navigated the river of uncles and moseyed over to the big kid’s Euchre table. At the big kid’s table, only experts are allowed, as the number of players double and the speed of play triples.
My mother, myself and my grandmother at my bridal shower in Manchester, Iowa. Thanks for the photo, Aunt Bev. :)
You’re going to leave him with the uncles alone? my cousins asked.
Do you know how many times we’ve walked into places where he knows everyone and I know no one, I answered, nonchalantly. This happens to me all the time without so much as an introduction. This is my one chance to get back at him, I said, wiping the sweat from my brow.
By the time I opened my presents and read from recipes I’ll never be qualified to cook, even if I’d wanted to find Cowboy, I couldn’t. He talked to one cousin about wiring projects and an uncle about cattle. Words like “Cat 5” and “cattle magnet” escaped their lips. Words foreign to me, but cozy to the Cowboy.
I may have driven him 600 miles from his land of origin, but with my family, he was already home.
Ok, I have lots and lots and LOTS to write about, but until then, I have this short story.
Cowboy and I celebrated the anniversary of our first date Friday by dining at the restaurant in which we shared our first meal. It's the nice restaurant in town and of course, the most expensive. (That's how you know it's a small town... because it's THE nice restaurant in town rather an **one of** the nicest)
He wore Wrangler jeans and Cowboy boots and I wore a little black dress, because that's how we roll. We are our own people. Manifested in attire we wear.
He treated me better than that first night, opening every door, spooning my appetizer and this time, I even let him pick me up at my apartment. (I said I'd meet him there, the first time, heh).
To quote his sister: "What a loser."
But I was in a state of mush, totally lapping it up like a thirsty puppy on an August afternoon.
Cowboy held my hand, took my coat and ordered for me. When he told me I was beautiful, I agreed.
But when the check came, his wallet didn't.
Did I leave it in the car? he asked. My other jacket? Let me go look...
Sure enough, no. He had no wallet. No cash. No credit card. The jerk thought opening doors and flirty compliments would get him a free dinner? He was wrong. I may have paid the bill, but he paid later... in the form of washing my dishes and vacuuming the carpet ;)
Cowboy... my fiance *blush* for those just joining us... wears nothing but blue jeans and sweatpants. He owns two pairs of Bugle Boy khakis, but they're circa 1997 and have pleats. Dislike.
Whenever we fight and I'm right (aka every.single.time), I tell him he can make it up to me by dressing fancy and taking me to a nice dinner.
He never has.
So when we traveled to Colorado for a "Back to the 80s" musical performed at Sidney, Neb.'s community theater, I insisted he dress up. No denim allowed, I said. This isn't like a job interview.
Cowboy didn't like the idea, but he was willing to compromise. Take me to Stockmen's Supply in Fargo, he said. Maybe I'll find something there.
Now, I question purchasing clothes from any store which also shelves "Gopher Getter" rodent repellent and calf-nursing nipples, but if the man was willing to forgo denim for a night at the theater, I was willing to forgo images associated with castrating band applicators.
"Are you seriously saying no one will wear jeans there?" he questioned, doubting my sophistication, taste and artistic etiquette.
"It's a play!" I said. "And not only that, but it's a MUSICAL. If you wear jeans, everyone will stare. Everyone will single you out."
"But why are you making me wear nice pants," he whined.
"Why are you making me fight with you about nice pants," I asked.
So the Stockmen's Supply sales associate walked us past the "farm chemicals and teat dip" section and ushered us to the very back... where black pants gathered dust and men's suit coats came with leather elbows.
"We don't have much selection," the associate said, "especially in length. But they aren't much different from Docker's. You can buy those at Kohl's."
"SEE," I said. "Not much different from Dockers. AND we're already in Fargo (since Jamestown doesn't have a Target, much less a Kohl's), let's look there!"
"H to the no," Cowboy said. "If I ain't buying pants here, I ain't buying pants. These are Wranglers."
"Yes." I said. "And?"
"I am not buying Dockers. They're gay."
"Wranglers fit tight around your ass," I said. "What's not-queer about that?"
So he tried on his "George Strait Cowboy Cuts" and lucky for me, they fit.
"Now that you own these nice trousers," I said, "how 'bout that fancy restaurant?"
Cowboy didn't answer, but he did wear the pants the whole day of the show, along with matching boots and 10-gallon-hat of course.
And even though he looked nothing like the boys of my youth and their faded jeans with store-made tears, he was cute anyway, and I didn't mind showing him off. "You should wear nice clothes more often," I said. "Good thing I'm here to teach you."
We got to the theater early, and chose our seats as the rest of the audience filled in around us. I didn't realize the show was in a high school auditorium and I didn't realize it didn't have a dress code. Something seems very wrong, I thought. Very very wrong.
Suddenly, I noticed t-shirts, I noticed scrunchies and worst of all, I noticed...
"Hmmm..." Cowboy said. "Not only is EVERYONE here wearing jeans, but we're the only ones who aren't. Now...," he said. "I think someone owes someone else a dinner."
So the Cowboy and I tux shopped last night. In American weddings, the bride picks out the attire for the groom, but the groom can't even see the attire for his lovely lady. I think that's a metaphor for life: the gal makes all the decisions and the guy is content with the result. Yes, I think I will live happily ever after now.
For me, my wedding colors are silver, black and green. But Cowboy put his foot down. No neon and no (insert gay slang here) pastels, he said. To him, that meant only one choice was left:
... and no. We were not tuxedo shopping at Cabela's. This was a formal wear dress shop with tiaras and floor-length evening gowns.
Did you know Wrangler makes a formal tuxedo? They do. With bolo ties and belt buckles the size of basketballs.
As for the true image of Cowboy's attire, well that's a secret. It's OK for the bride to see, but for the rest of you, that's just bad luck :)
Hurry up. I’m freaking freezing, I said, one sopping March evening before the North Dakota rain turned to snow.
We’d just dined with his parents and were headed to our vehicles, nestled next to each other in a restaurant parking lot, just like us, arm-in-arm, side-by-side. At 9 p.m., the hour exceeded darkness by Twilight standards and flirted with my bedtime. My belly was full and my body fatigued.
Seriously! I said beneath a hood so big two Vikings helmets could fit beneath it. Brrrr!
Hold on, he said, holding up his hand like a state patrolman on a closed highway. I have something to tell you.
He bent one knee, genuflecting in his jeans, soaking them in a pavement puddle. He reached into the coat pocket I’d been sitting beside throughout our entire three-hour meal. And I gasped.
I don't want you to be my girlfriend anymore, he said.
He opened the box but I couldn’t see. He kept talking... something about “Katherine Eileen” and “wife” but the world was aflush with snowflakes, and my vision terminated with wet concrete and dark skies.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so cold.
Put it on me! I said, with the hustle of a mother of triplets on the first day of school. Right now. Right now!
And get up! I said. Get up Get up! I want to see it.
He slid the ring he'd purchased five weeks prior... waiting for the optimal opportunity. He'd even sought the help of friends to help decide, to make sure this ring was right for my left hand.
Between the midnight of the sky and the black concrete, I saw nothing but sparkle.
So, what do you think? he asked.
I thought of the jobs I’d applied for in Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and the opportunities I thought I’d missed. I thought of my junior-year aspirations to see the world while writing about it, advancing the ranks of the newspaper world city by city, country by country. I thought of my first months, my first winter and my first car trouble in North Dakota and how I vowed I’d never stay.
I thought of our first date, he in boots of leather and hide, and mine of pointy-toe. This will never work out, I told myself back then.
I thought of the flood and the mud and the sandbags and the stories. I thought of how it ripped my insides, watching people lose their homes, their heirlooms and at times, even their minds. Out of all the bad that came from the flood, those people say, he and I are one of the good.
I thought of our future, our fortune and our unborn children.
The auto Salesman seemed chill at first, and I played the role of "sweet brunette," the sister to "dumb blonde." Let me show you where you can plug in your iPod, he said. And here's how you set the radio. If you want, take it for a test drive, test out the city streets and even on the interstate, he said in a southern drawl only detectable when said things like "even on the interstate" instead of "even on interstate."
The 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee seemed great: 29,000 miles and the mechanic most familiar with it was a good friend of Cowboy's dad. If he gave it the OK, then soon, my car-searching days would end and all my complaints of snow-sodden cars would be left to blog posts of the past.
Plus, it was green.
When I saw it online, I just knew we were meant to be.
After four months of research, I bought my first car. The task seems simple, but really, I pretty much solved starvation and healed healthcare....
I'm prepared to make an offer, I'd said in the closet-sized office with no door, a little too public for a girl fretting her finances. I'd asked the help of Cowboy and his father: they could help me inspect under the hood and look for errors, leakage and other mechanical failures. But when it came to the negotiation chamber, I made it like Les Miserables, and chose to Go It On My Own.
I gave Salesman my numbers: this price with this and this work, I said. And I want a third-party inspection too.
"WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM, KATIE?" he asked as if I'd stolen his first-born and forced her to wear a South Dakota t-shirt.
It's my offer, I said with a shrug of the shoulders. Listen here, Mr. Southern Drawl, I thought to myself, I'm a foreigner too. North Dakotans are nice by nature, they can't help but pay a higher price for fear a lower one will make the salesman feel bad. Outsiders like us, however, go for the jugular. This is a two-person tango, I thought.
Ok, he said with a smile, I'll have to check it with my boss, but if you're serious, sign here.
Jigga no, I said, uncomfortable signing anything. I need to know more first. I need to crunch the numbers. How much are you going to charge me for tax, title, license and those ridiculouslyoverpricedfeesthatmakenosence anyway?
It's just a preliminary offer, he said. It's not binding.
I'm not signing it, I said, karate chopping the air so as to kung-pow him into submission.
Fine, he said, taking the offer to his boss across the showroon floor and shaking his head at Cowboy and his father.
"Well," he said to them, "the nice, little quiet girl went away."
Perhaps he was trying to guilt me, but I took it as a compliment.
I may know nothing about cars except that gas goes in the side pocket and all the knobs under the hood are off-limits to a girl like me. But after years of practicing journalism, I know how to research, and I know who's advice to take and who's to trust.
I allowed Cowboy and his dad to return to the standing-room only, closet-sized office and awaited salesman's response. I don't think he likes me much anymore, I told them.
Salesman returned. He underlined the counter offer and in big circles, he'd written the name of the family friend mechanic and his 35 years of experience.
I want a third-party inspection, I said. I will not buy a car without letting someone else look at it. If that's a dealbreaker, I said, letting my voice trail and shrugging my shoulders, (the international sign of "I'm naive, take pity on me, eh Kelli M.?), then I guess it was nice to meet you.
No, no, it's not a dealbreaker, he said, suddenly kind-hearted, paternal and offering my cups of coffee. Who are you going to take it to? he asked.
I don't know, I said. But what I meant was, like hell. This state is so small, you know all the town mechanics and their mothers. I'm not letting you talk to them before I even get there.
Fine, you can do the inspection, he said. Are you comfortable with this counter offer? Well, no, I said, grabbing my parka (Yes, it's March. I know.) and heading for the door. We're late for an appointment anyway, I'll think about it and maybe we'll come back.
Sure, he said, shaking my hand, shaking his head and bidding me adieu.
Not three minutes into the drive, but my phone was a-ringing.
Katie, it's Salesman, he said. We don't want to lose you over a few hundred dollars, if your offer is what you want, we can probably do that.
Ok, I said, covering my smile, I'll think about and let you know. Throughout the appointment, I called anyone I knew with car-buying experience... my dad, my uncle, my co-worker and my friend. This car for this price, I asked. What do you think? Their advice was sound: sounds good, but try to get it lower. Fun!, I thought. Tell me how.
We returned to salesman's office a few hours later, only to find he'd reneged on his phone call. Ok, what if we met at this price? he questioned.
Cowboy lowered his eyes, ready to walk if necessary. You're biggest leverage is your backside, my dad said. And it was good advice.
I don't think so, I said to Salesman, questioning my audacity and if I'd consumed milk or mojitos with my breakfast that morning. You said, you'd match my offer on the phone.
Ok, he said, like I'd asked him to donated both kidneys to a sex offender, is that number OK with you, Big Boss Owner Man?
Yeah, fine, he said, as if we told him he could cook the hot dogs and we'd bring the beer.
That was easy, but I still wanted my third-party inspection. So Salesman filled it halfway with gas and told me to return at 8 a.m. the next day. They'd already ordered the parts I'd requested, and they'd be there in the morning.
Coolio, I said, hand me the keys.
The inspection didn't consist of much, just another Jeep mechanic taking it for a test drive and checking to make sure everything worked. He's another friend of Cowboy's (small towns are AWESOME) and therefore, someone I trust.
By the end of the day, I felt like Salesman stole the Jeep and used it to run me over, I was so exhausted. I'd come up with a plan to get new tires (since many tires expire after 40,000 miles) but I wasn't sure if I could handle the stress. I just need to sleep I thought, rolling over on a pile of papers littered with down payments, interest rates and finance charges.
I woke up the next morning exuberant and energized. Not ask about the tires, like hell, I thought, ready to climb Mount Everest if it would save me 99 cents.
Salesman wasn't too happy to hear of my last-ditch attempt to save a few bucks, and he and his boss left me sitting in the undoor-ed closet for half an hour while they deliberated. But I accepted their counter, signed the papers, and ate a chocolate chip muffin in celebration.
I should be proud, but really, I feel as though I've given in. Four-wheel drive and machine with poorer gas mileage than Vinny. North Dakota is getting the best of me, even my beloved Vinny the Volvo. Pretty soon I'll wear camo to weddings and change my phone number from (402) to (701).
Ok, maybe the second part. But never, never will I do the first.