ModelStory: Idaho

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For the better part of an hour, he more or less had the full attention of a very pretty girl from Idaho.

Idaho.

Staggeringly exotic to a boy from Cincinnati and now that she’s gone, here he sits with a swelling heartache and a kid sister to look after until Mom and Dad come to retrieve them.

Mom and Dad. So pedestrian now, so khaki shorts and white sneakers.

He won’t be able to look at them.

Her name was Belle and it started like all summer vacation romances must, with an errant volleyball.

“Hey, little help?” Belle said.

He scooped up the ball and lobbed it back.

“Thanks.”

She flashed smiling eyes as green as kelp.

“Sure,” he said, suddenly sheepish about kneeling in the sand holding a purple plastic shovel with flowers on the handle.

He gestured toward his sister.

“She, ahh,” he shrugged. “She likes to play in the sand.”

Belle’s smile widened, soft cheeks dusted with cinnamon freckles.

“It’s sweet of you to play with her.”

She held up the volleyball and nodded toward her brothers.

“You wanna?”

Ignoring his sister’s protests, he trotted into the water.

They worked through the formalities – both 14, both going into high school, both visiting Many Lost Ways with their parents. No, he’d never been here before. Yes, she had, almost every summer. Two older brothers for her. Him, just the little sister.

For a while they batted the volleyball, then sat in the sand with waves splashing their feet. She sat right next to him – touching him – her bronzed hips framed in black bikini bottoms, red sand clinging to her and highlighting adolescent curves that fascinated him.

He found it hard to speak, but remembered his uncle’s advice to always ask a girl about herself. (“Keep you out of it, they don’t care.”) So he asked flattering questions and made her laugh.

For an hour.

Once he had talked coherently, smoothly, to Kaylie Schupel for ten minutes at the spring dance but an hour? With a girl like this? From Idaho?

Belle leaned against him, rested her head on his shoulder, traced his arm with her fingertip. Tingling sensations rippled through him, something deep in his belly tightened.

Things like this did not happen in Cincinnati.

But then her dad arrived, by boat of course – no minivan, no car-top carrier – a sleek, modern boat gleaming with chrome, the bow marked with an Idaho registration number he’ll remember until he’s 30.

She stood, crouched gracefully in front of him, held his face in her hands, and kissed his lips.

“See you around.”

She didn’t look back as she waded to the boat and effortlessly boosted herself aboard.

His parents won’t understand his obsession with Idaho this winter. Why on Earth would he write a term paper about the Shoshone? And why does he want to go to Coeur D’Alene? Next summer is Disney – they’ve talked about it – it’s always been Disney.

(Preiser figure, EnviroTex Lite “water,” Woodland Scenics ground foam, natural sand.)

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ModelStory: Lucky 13

There’s a long wait for a table at Janibelle’s tonight but the older couple sitting outside doesn’t seem to mind. The word is out it’s their 55th wedding anniversary, and they’re passing the time taking congratulations.

IMG_2610My wife and I offered our wishes and were thanked with kind smiles and a hearty handshake – a firm grip for a man in his eighties – but there was no effort on their part to rise. No pretense of it, either, to which we would have said, “Oh, don’t get up.”

They sat, comfortably past the point in their lives where they need to worry about such decorum.

In the time it takes to drain an Old Fashioned, we heard their story:

He was forty-something years in whatever industry. The work came and went so there were lean years and lots of uncertainty. She had a career, too, but it was in segments – when she wasn’t working, she was working as a stay-at-home parent.

They raised five kids, and lost one to a war – a pain I cannot imagine. Some of them did well and some of them struggled. They’re all settled now but you never stop worrying about your children.

There was the time she found the lump, his heart attack, their first grandchild born to their daughter who was not yet out of high school.

Great, crashing waves, all now far astern.

They are veterans.

My own marriage turned thirteen this week, a pleasing accomplishment that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes patience and hard work and an awful lot of forgiveness, and that’s just her part.

After thirteen years, we feel like veterans, too.

She gets this way sometimes, or maybe it’s me, but I don’t panic anymore. I just listen if she wants to talk but I don’t make her. Be patient. Maybe get some flowers – a good move for rookies and veterans the same.

Mothers are beautiful and children are beautiful but childbirth is a medical procedure and there are parts of it that can’t be unseen. When we were younger the mark of an established relationship was the ability to fart in front of each other without it being a big deal. Now we’ve given birth together – twice – and still want to hang out.

We’ve figured a few things out about each other, ridden our little boat over our own formidable waves, so we feel like veterans.

Only we’re not really veterans. Not yet. There’s still a long row to hoe.

“The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow,” says the Psalmist. “They quickly pass, and we fly away.”

But if you’re lucky – and I am – the Lord places in your life a remarkable partner.

Mine is faithful and ferociously loyal. She works tirelessly keeping our little family moving forward. Her blue eyes and beguiling smile still brighten the room. She reads interesting books and thinks interesting thoughts and though I’ve known her more than half my life, she still surprises me. She supports me in my darkest moments. She makes me laugh. She is my best friend.

It doesn’t matter if the road before us is long and steep. Together we are equal to it.

ModelStory: Darn Good Soup (inspired by actual events)

It’s soup season in Many Lost Ways National Park. The nights are cold and the days are gray, and the hearty winter campers are fortified by gallons of sturdy soup – freeze-dried chicken and rice, canned vegetable beef, and one very special batch of frozen, homemade split pea with ham.

It was brought by a young couple who, in a stroke of efficient genius, decided to use it rather than ice to keep their cooler cool. I watched them board the steam train at Salvation Point for a long Valentine’s weekend in the park: Two large backpacks, one tightly rolled tent, one sleeping bag, one large cooler on wheels.

They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.

soup

“They hefted it all up into the baggage car together, high-fived, stole a kiss.”
(Woodland Scenics figures with aftermarket winter clothing added, custom-painted Micro-Trains 40-foot steel boxcar, Play-Doh luggage, scratchbuilt styrene coolers.)

They don’t know it yet but this trip will be their last as a young, carefree couple. Not long after they get home, she’ll find out, then tell him:

“I’m pregnant.”

There will be excitement and fear unlike anything they’ve known before.

They’ll bump along through the not-easy process of growing a family, and they’ll know the immeasurable joy that comes with all that pain.

They’ll never have the time for each other that they do now.

They’ll think back on the life they have now – the seemingly grown-up-enough work of paying the bills and looking after each other – and wonder how they filled the hours.

They’ll have thousands of sunny days. Take dozens of family trips more fun than this one. Eat lots of extraordinarily good soup.

But they’ll never again taste anything like the split pea with ham they brought on that last trip when it was Just The Two Of Them.

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

16-oz dried split peas

1 large ham steak, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

6 or 7 carrots, thickly sliced

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

12 whole cloves

Salt and fresh-cracked black pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a large pot over high heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer on low for 2-3 hours, stirring regularly.

(Love ya, Nik.)