Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Smaller Than You Remember? Part 1

As I’ve grown up, I’ve noticed different perspectives. There are, of course, the differences in opinions formed (a high school student is much more willing to a three day weekend than the adult who has to make schedule changes if our school system changed), but I’m referring more to physical surroundings.

I lived in a small town just outside of Waterloo, Iowa for the first five years of my life. Our little neighborhood consisted of three streets, each with about 10 houses on them. The yellow house my family lived in had a huge cornfield and abandoned train tracks in the back yard. At the very end of the block, a community playground was set up, complete with swings, a small-scale merry-go-round, and a slide.

The youngster in me was terrified of the slide. To me it was a giant, a monster of steel that climbed its way to the sky. The thought of making it up the stairs to the top had me frozen. My child mind saw the top touching the clouds. I had the notion it would take at least an hour to climb to the top.

I have a fear of heights that I’ve never truly identified the source of the irrational fear. I don’t know when it started or where it came from, just that I’ve always feared heights. It’s a common phobia and people deal with it all the time.

They’re funny. Phobias I mean. Maybe not a “laff-riot”, but still not serious. It’s a nervous laughter you get when people talk about their fears. I joke around that I don’t like water, but I get scared to death when I think of swimming past the shallow end of a pool. Spiders and bugs make me scream and my skin will crawl for hours after seeing a little bug. Heights are the same, with a slightly different effect. I will be rendered into a state of ice where moving is a forced, deliberate action. Maybe it’s not the heights so much as a fear of falling.

I’ve been forced by friends onto roller coasters and cried for a half-hour after the fifty second ride. I’ve challenged myself to try to conquer the fear of heights by riding this monstrosity of a ride at Valleyfair (an amusement park in Minnesota) called Power Tower. Believe me, it was not pleasant.

But I digress. Back to the park and the slide. I have always known the slide as the “BIG SLIDE”. When my family lived in Iowa, I would go to the park to play. Times were different then and it is still a quaint little neighborhood, so it was nothing for a four-year old to go to the park a few houses down the road to play alone. Sometimes I would stop across the street and bring my friend, Amy, with me. She was six at the time.

When I went to the park by myself, I would sit on the swings, kicking back and forth, or play in the sandbox, coming up with my own stories. I was never lonely. There are values of how to entertain oneself when one is an only child. I learned independence and some creativity. If I didn’t do something, no one else was going to do it for me.

I would also look at the monster, the BIG SLIDE, with wide eyes and think of what it would be like to climb to the top.

I tried it once. At four-years old, I tried to conquer my own fear. It was one of the times I went to the park with Amy and I was more afraid of looking like a coward than my fear of the slide. I tried climbing to the top and sliding down.

It took me forever. It seemed like an eternity and enough time passed that the moment etched itself so well in my memory, that now, twenty-two years later, I still remember trembling and gripping the sides of the ladder for dear life. Each step was carefully planned and mustered up courage I never knew existed. Once I finally reached the top, I sat down and looked around.

I couldn’t get down fast enough! There are people out there that would have enjoyed the new view, looking down, but not me. My butt scooted down the scorching metal gleaming in the summer sun’s rays and I did feel accomplishment. I had conquered the monster. The feeling of accomplishment and success was not enough to make me try again.

Our family stayed in Iowa until I was about six years old. We actually moved to Minnesota right before I started kindergarten because my dad found a job up here. I had not started school yet and was really only leaving my first best friend behind. I remember knowing that I would miss Amy. We talked and talked, agreeing to keep in touch. Luckily, we both had pretty smart parents who helped keep us in contact. I had fond memories of playing a Smurf board game with her and sitting up all night, making pictures on her Lite Brite.

Over the years, we did visit Amy and her family many times in Raymond (the little town). My aunts live in Waterloo, so Christmases were easy times to stop by and say hello. I saw the house I had known as a kid change color and the trees in the front yard grow more each year. I never made a trip down to the park at the end of the block during those visits.

Jump forward in time with me to the summer of 2001. Are you here yet? I can wait, don’t worry. Okay. I’m now twenty-three years old. I’m still afraid of heights and Amy’s family has moved away from the old neighborhood. The yellow house is now blue, but I don’t know this quite yet. My perspectives have changed and the sky is higher than I believed as a child, but I still hold a fear about that BIG SLIDE.

One summer night, to have some fun and waste a bunch of time, I was hanging out with Adam. We were looking for something to do. We’re driving around the cities, checking out different sights. To kill an hour and a half, we head out to a small town quite a bit north of the Twin Cities and Adam shows me the house he grew up in.

As we’re heading back to the highway that brought us back to our neck of the woods, I make an off-handed comment. “Sometime, when we have 8 hours to kill, I’ll show you my first home.” With that minor comment, the idea for the first Sheepsheadian Roadtrip was conceived.

In August of that year, I packed up Foxy, my Geo Prizm, and drove Keem, DM, and Adam to that small town just outside of Waterloo.