Friday, March 17, 2017

15. CACTUS

The dust settled onto the big silver bumper of our winged station wagon, a sandy powdered dust made from the interchange between thick black rubber tires and desert sand, mixed with dry Idaho farm soil. This is the territory where Indians once roamed and where Russet potatoes grow best. Out on the highway, running through the center of town, where roads were paved, there was a big sign shouting “WELCOME TO BLACKFOOT – FREE TATERS FOR OUT OF STATERS” If you stopped at the Potato Museum Expo, I understand you got a free potato, though we never stopped.  No one would consider us out-of-staters anyway, cuz our mom was one of the Parrish sisters who grew up in Blackfoot.
The Parrish Sisters early 1940's
Back: Edna, Ruby, Ruth, Mary
Front: Mae, Rebecca, Afton
Besides there were always plenty of spuds in every house in Blackfoot, Idaho. After a couple thousand miles of non-air-conditioned driving, eight people smashed into that hot, heavy moving machine, we finally pulled up to the front of Aunt Ruth’s little white farm house on the outskirts of town. After lunch, while the grown-ups sat in deep conversation at the kitchen table, we kids stretched our bones and ran out into the sunshine: out under the laundry flapping in the Idaho wind, into the coolness of the old barn, where we braided rope like it was Rapunzel’s hair, dangling it from the loft. George headed immediately into the dunes that rippled across the foothills, in search of Indian treasure, flint chipping stones and ancient arrowheads. There was a remarkable treasure trove out there. It must have been some battle ground, or village place many generations back, before white men came in and built their permanent structures. George has quite a collection of arrowheads from right there by Aunt Ruth and Uncle Wayne’s farm, some of them dated back thousands of years. When we got bored in the barn, and had pretended to drive the old shell of a truck sitting like a skeleton out there in the barnyard, we made our way to the sand dunes to search with George.
Libby had left her shoes on the back porch. The warm soft sand felt good on the feet. She searched for glints of light, little black evidences of buried arrowheads, and her focus as she walked drew her attention away from the cactus that hid beneath the drifted sand, it’s piny rays almost invisible as it sat in wait. She planted her five-year-old foot right on top that old dry cactus. It responded like a porcupine, and poor Lib squealed in horror, falling to her little square knees. Her hand caught another cactus as it came down. I ran to her, my feet still protected by my tenni-runners, feeling like I was flailing in slow motion as my feet sank into the sand.
If Libby or Ann Marie were in trouble I felt like it was me experiencing it myself. At that moment I thought I was stuck in quicksand trying to get to her as she screamed in pain. George and Ann Marie got there before I could. Libby tried, only once, to step down on her foot, but the stepping pressed the cactus spikes deeper into her flesh. George and Ann Marie planted themselves on either side of our little sister, pulling her arms over their shoulders. Lib hobbled on her one good foot, tears streaking her dusty face. Really, she sort of floated between them as we headed back to Aunt Ruth’s, me running ahead frantically to forewarn the adults that there was incoming wounded. Libby sat on a chair in Aunt Ruth’s kitchen with a washcloth in her mouth to muffle her pain as Mom sat before her, her youngest daughter’s foot in her lap and a pair of Revlon half jaw tweezers in her hand.
It felt like hours. I sat vigil as they worked, sorrowing for my best friend, imagining those evil little needles in my own foot, still tender from a summer of shoes worn on Pennsylvania sidewalks. It takes a good couple weeks in Idaho to get one’s feet used to going barefoot. By then the skin is tougher, almost like a Bannock Shoshone tribesman’s. Those kind of feet can resist an old cactus. But hers were young and innocent and pale in this most tender part of summer vacation. It would be days before she could jump rope or play hop scotch or walk barefoot over to Jack and Hannah’s to spend a nickel on penny candy.
Poor Libby always did have bad luck with her feet. I think she has shorter toes than God originally intended for her because she always stubbed them when we walked up Carole Drive in Pleasant Hills. There’s a lot of Libby DNA embedded in the asphalt there. And on the night of Jr Prom she stepped on a needle that got lost in her foot. She almost convinced herself she had imagined it, until two years later when a doctor pulled half a broken needle out of her foot a full three inches from where it had gone in.
A few weeks ago our Aunt Becky and cousins Gina and Gail stopped for a visit on their way from Idaho to Salt Lake City. We got to talking about our toes. We compared our old Parrish feet, gathering them in a circle and comparing them, the way average women show each other their newly painted acrylic gel nails. There, to our quirky delight, was unaltered God-given proof we are related. We all carry some wacky gene that gives us each, to some degree or another, webbed toes. Like human ducks.
Yup, we’re cool like that.

Those sandy dunes are covered over now, I believe, out there behind Aunt Ruth’s place. There are houses with cool green grass covering imported topsoil. But we know, we who are of the older generation; we with crusty old feet and webbed toes…we know that down there, deep under those pristine green lawns, there is proof of ages past, when leather skinned feet padded across desert places, and little white girls stepped, once upon a long time ago, on thirsty little cactus buried in the sand.

3 comments:

  1. Oh my this made me so homesick in such a good way. I can hardly wait for April. Three little girls do London...watch out world!!

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  2. Libby has the craziest injury experiences!

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