Something magical happened the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Some years before, my parents had joined a group at church that called themselves “Builders for Christ” and they would spend summers traveling to places across America that needed volunteer help with building projects. This particular summary found that group in northwest Colorado, helping a sister church to lay the foundation to a new building. Sharing testimonies at the end of the week, my dad mentioned in his that we loved it there so much, if he had a job offer we’d be tempted to stay. He had three before the night was over!
In the weeks that followed, my dad quit his 19-year job with an international airline just one year short of full retirement to take a leap of faith and move his family from Fort Worth, Texas to our new home in Small Town, USA. The graduating class of my high school in Texas had over 800 people in it. I’m not sure my new one had that many in the whole school! The quaint, beautiful old high school building was, if I recall, built in the early 1900’s. It wasn’t quite large enough to house everything, so some classes were held at another similarly old building down the street.
It was here that, being the new kid in town, I realized what it was like to go from small fish in a big pond to big fish in a small pond. It seemed that everybody wanted my attention! I was being asked questions like “OH, you’re from Texas! How big was your ranch? How many horses did you own”? Ranch? Horses? I rode on a horse once, in front of my dad when I was a baby, on the beach along the gulf coast – a memory that was shared with me because I was too little to remember it on my own. Other than that, I had never been on a horse and am pretty sure the small house we had moved from only qualified as a ranch in a bug’s eye! But how fun it was getting to know all my new classmates!
Within the year that followed, we saw the completion of the brand new high school, just in time for me to have gotten my driver’s license. I inherited a 1972 Mazda that had already belonged to all four of my brothers before me. I used to think that Mazda looked just like the shape of a bee. Being artistically creative, one day I decided to paint black stripes on it, paint a little bumble bee on the door, and call it “The Sting”. I finished the whole thing off with an “AAOOOOOOGAH” horn.
Oh my, I had a lot to learn about small town life! All the sudden after painting that car, my parents began to get reports on supposedly my every move! Why? Because certain folks in the town thought it was their duty to tell them! “I saw your daughter speeding up high school hill road”, or “I saw your daughter driving down back alleys and turning over trash cans in that little car of hers”, or “I saw your daughter parked in the local town bar parking lot”! The last one was a doozy since I did not drink alcohol while I was in high school, ugh! After that, I painted the car all black. That’s when the reports finally stopped.
Living in a small town had other excitement as well. High school football was a blast! Also, we had a roller rink that became my hangout. It was so small that we skated in a circle instead of an oval. Once there was a fire that broke out at one of the local gas stations. Hearing about it on the radio, we jumped in our car and drove into town to see it, along with what seemed a hundred or so other folks who wanted to catch the show! It was the biggest event of the season!
At the end of my sophomore year I had run for and was elected as Student Body Treasurer for the following year in the brand-new school, something that never would have happened in Texas! Unfortunately, it was an election race I only saw as a popularity contest, having no clue what it meant to be Treasurer. I’m convinced my opponent would have done a far better job than me! I didn’t realize it came with responsibilities, like taking turns with the other officers in giving morning announcements over the PA system – something I was absolutely terrified of and terrible at! “Was that you we heard giving announcements this morning, Lisa”, some would ask? “Nope, wasn’t me. Must have been someone else” was my reply.
All that set aside, what I remember most about my beloved experience while there were the moments. Moments like my dad sending me back into the house to put a coat on before I walked down to catch the school bus on my first day of school there, because it was -13 degrees outside. The sun was shining and there was no wind, so I had no clue it was that cold!
Speaking of how cold winters were there, I used to have to park my car in front of the house. To keep the battery from freezing overnight, dad instructed me to plug in a flood lamp and set it next to it. The heat from the lamp was all it took to prevent the battery from freezing in that old car. Dad, who was now delivering mud chemicals to oil fields for a living, came home very late one night to discover I had forgotten to do this. There I was cozy warm, snuggled in my bed, being so rudely awakened and told I needed to get that lamp on! “But DA-AD, can’t you just go and do it”? Oh no, where is the lesson learned in that? Truth be known, I never forgot to do that again.
Everyone in the town welcomed us, despite the fact we were from Texas (although there was much ribbing about that). Once the grocery store manager asked my mom if he could help her find what she was looking for. He had noticed her going up and down the frozen vegetables section several times. “I’m looking for where you might have frozen okra”. “Okra?”, he asked with a twinkle in his eyes, “Ma’am, that’s something we feed our cattle around here”. “Well then”, my mom retorted, “your cattle eat better than you do”!
There were other moments, too, like seeing snow glitter in the sunlight for the first time and thinking how it looked like diamond dust the way it sparkled! Or camping outside on summer nights and waking up shivering from the cool mountain air, then laying there listening to the wind blow through the trees and lull me back to sleep. And the sky! I could not get enough of the blue, blue sky or magnificent sunsets. And the smell of the clean air in the summer breezes.
There were teaching moments for me as well. I was beginning to understand the value of being conservative in my way of thinking. I also learned from watching other girls my age that make-up wasn’t always necessary to look pretty. Moments also included seeing my mom and dad truly happy, enjoying new friendships and celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary while there.
Yes, I would say living in small town USA was a wonderful experience indeed. Though we were only able to stay for a short while before returning to Texas, it helped me to have a new perspective on life, opening my eyes to see things I never would have experienced otherwise.