Spuds And The Kissing Fish
Rexburg, Idaho used to be largely a farming community. That's why every year in October the whole school got a two-week recess so a few teen-agers could help the farmers harvest potatoes. In colloquial terms, this was affectionately known as SPUD HARVEST! In the year 1982, my best friend, Helen, announced out of the clear blue that she got a job with Mr. Smith (yes, that is his real name and no he didn't look like Brad Pitt...more like a shriveled Mickey Rooney). Mr Smith was a farmer with a moderately-sized crop of potatoes. Helen said, "you could probably get a job with him too. You make lots of money."
So, that's how it all started. From then on, every year in high school, for two chilly weeks in the fall, I woke up at 6:00 AM, drove for 90 minutes to the farm, stood on a combine all day until 8 or 9 PM throwing off dirt clods and rotten potatoes. Then drove home, took a hot shower and collapsed into bed.
The best part of the story isn't how much money we made or how much fun we had flirting with the truck drivers. It certainly wasn't the fact that I had an endless supply of dirt chunks trying to escape from my nose, ears and eyes for weeks after harvest ended. My best memories weren't the potatoes that rode on the tractor's radiator all morning so we could dine on a welcomed hot baked potato for lunch, or singing at the top of our lungs to be heard over the noisy clank of the combine chains. The memory I cherish most isn't just what happened on the farm but rather what happened in my home.
Each night, before walking into the house, I would strip off my dirt-drenched clothes that smelled like an earthy mix of potato rot and sour earthworms (don't ask how I know what that smells like), and traipse into the house in my long johns: chilled to the bone, famished, filthy and fatigued. There my mother was waiting with open arms and an open kitchen. She would drop my clothes into the washing machine and serve me a hot meal. Not a hot meal as in a microwaved Lean Cuisine. A homemade hot meal. While the rest of the family was in bed, I would sit at the bar savoring the likes of swiss steak or beef stew with homemade wheat bread, and tell mom about my day, which had all the drama, excitement and variation of a funeral procession. And yet, she listened intently night after night to the humdrum stories of a dirt clod chucker.
I feel that although my mom didn't get paid, she worked in the spuds right along with me. It was mom's cheerful greeting, her food, her company, her encouragement, her clothes washing, and her hugs that made harvest memorable. And bearable. Even pleasurable. I looked forward to the blessings of a loving mother and a delicious meal waiting at home every night. And this was the pattern, not just during spud harvest, but all throughout my years at home.
She not only fed me, but she taught me to fish.
When I was in the 8th grade, one day I came home from school and mom said, "How would you like to try out for the school musical?" Luckily, I knew what a musical was, but I didn't know that people like me could actually be in them. I had assumed starring in the ward roadshow was the pinnacle of my acting success. Having no real idea what this entailed, I said, "Sure. Ya. Why not?" Mom proceeded to tell me that try-outs were the following week and the lady who lived in our basement apartment, Susan Jeppeson, was a singer and would be happy to help me with some vocal coaching. This turned out to be the equivalent of Tiger Woods teaching Christopher Reeve to golf (post accident). Poor Susan didn't have much to work with.
But mom and I proceeded with the plan. We rented the movie Oklahoma and I was introduced to Ado Annie, the flirtacious, indecisive airhead (which, coincidentally, had as much resemblance to my own likeness as Tina Fey does to Sarah Palin). The day of try-outs arrived. Mom, Susan and I had choreographed some actions and I belted out "I Cain't Say No" like a trained marine mammal at Sea World. Luckily for me (not so much for the audience), the director suffered a mini-stroke right during my song and apparently liked it. And so...my acting career was borne. I loved being in that play. And not just because I got my first kiss (and my first rash of rumors about my kissing: that I kissed like a fish. But whose laughing now Will Parker... because now I really am a kissing Fish).
Will Parker (Alan Williams) and Ado Annie (moi) 1980, age 13
Ali Hakim (Rick Stallings) and Ado Annie
This love for dramatic arts continued throughout high school and still today. (In fact, I'll be on stage next week for... oh my gosh! A roadshow!!) I am so thankful to my mother who opened up new worlds and exposed me to new adventures. Like the time she asked if I wanted to be in the Hill Cumorah Pageant in NYC for a summer. I had no idea these kinds of opportunities existed. And yet, they have enriched my life and provided a life-time of fond memories and continued enjoyment.
Yes, I am thankful for a dear, dear mother who had (and still does) the wisdom to teach, the compassion to listen, the energy to provide sustenance, as well as the motivation and good sense to catapult me forward.
My beautiful mother
Four generations: Me, my mother Loni, grandmother Dorothy Gee, great grandmother Alice Stephenson
Graduation from University of Utah, Bachelor's in Nursing, 1987