My Grandmother Rose’s family ventured westward from Missouri in search of a new home when she was just an infant. This was in 1894, and although the coast-to-coast railroad had been completed, her dirt-poor family, along with a few others, traveled by wagon. They followed the Oregon Trail to Wyoming’s Independence Rock, and then turned north. When October and the snow rolled around, they had made it to the Big Horn Basin, where they wintered over in a wind-blown, river-bottom tent city. They were a community of first-generation German-Americans seeking a new home, and most of them found it there on the banks of the ice-covered Greybull River. Wyoming laid claim, and my Grandmother’s family never moved on. She grew up, eventually married and started her own brood. One daughter, my mother, was born with two club feet in 1929. Shirley was a pretty girl who was sent back east to grow up in surgical suites and body casts, who wasn't able to walk until she was twelve. Her most fervent but never realized lifelong wish was to run with abandon. But, even as still as she was, she managed to shackle a wandering man. Together they raised seven sons in a frenetic farmhouse a scant six miles from that very river bottom of my Grandmother’s youth. Decades later I – the sixth of those seven boys – live as an out and proud gay man in our nation’s east coast capital. One job, one beautiful husband, two charming kitties, hundreds of hobbies, one blessing of a life.
That is the backbone of my story: westward migration, building of home, an eventual return to the east, a rebuilding of home. Such are the stories of America; such are the places we find ourselves – on a river bottom, in a hospital, in a barn, on a dance floor. We are hunters, we are herders, we are lumberjacks and line cooks. We are abled, and disabled. We sew, we reap, we laugh, we cry. We are survivors and we are striving, and we have stories.
It’s all about the story; it always has been. One cannot escape it.
Stories emerge in my crochet. A random pattern inspires me and I begin a project, and before I have even looped the starting row of chains over my hook, I know who is to receive the finished item. I don’t know why, but one individual from my life comes to me, and as I work that piece, stitch by stitch, I reminisce. I recollect. I remember that particular person, the interactions we have had and the tales we share. By the time the project is ready to be bundled and mailed, our stories have manifest themselves in that knotted yarn. The finished piece is woven together as completely and as seamlessly as our relationship.
I create stories in my garden and my kitchen. Some are glorious successes, others are dismal failures, but all are stories. I plant a seed, perhaps something I was first taught to grow by my father in our rocky Wyoming garden patch – okra or watermelon or Indian corn or sweet tomatoes. In the brightest scenario, that seed sprouts like a tender new idea, germinating in a bed of fertile imagination. The plant blooms and sets fruit and from that fruit I make a sausage, or ice cream, or sauce. A story is created, a story is shared.
In a less fortunate scenario, that seed rots in the soil and the retelling is darker, more barren. Nevertheless, it is still a story, and any story is worthy of the telling, if the right details are highlighted.
This is because the true story is in the details: the secretive whisper of polyester coated thighs rubbing against each other in the cookie aisle at the market, or the cocksure swagger of a starling swiping a discarded crust from a much larger raven, or the lavender scent of dryer sheets escaped from a laundry vent to waft across a city sidewalk on a crisp winter morning, or the horizontal lines of the late afternoon sun slicing through an abandoned living room. Everywhere one looks, if one looks, there is a story.
Stories, stories, everywhere – they are, indeed, inescapable. But, truthfully, why ever would one choose to escape?