Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, People, Stories

back in a small town

I was crossing the street to go into the office and a car beeped its horn at me. Instead of cringing from a catcall, I waved back at my childhood neighbor.

I never thought I’d be back in a small town.

I thrive on adventure. I want to eat sushi, try Ethiopian again, satisfy my curry craving. I want to leave work and be on an airplane two hours later, the wind carrying me halfway across the country to spend a weekend with a friend. I want a half hour drive to bring me to a cultural center for a festival or a theatrical performance. I want to disappear into a national park for days at a time or wake up at a trailhead hours before dawn in hopes of summitting a peak for the sunrise.

Instead, a half hour drive gets me to the closest McDonalds. I need to drive yet another 15 minutes to get to a town where there’s a Walmart. It’s a two hour drive to the nearest airport that will get me out of the midwest, at least three to get to one that has a breath’s chance of a direct flight abroad. I now live in a town where checks are accepted and often Visa is not. The library doesn’t allow you to renew or reserve books online. I may not have been catcalled, but there’s already been a marriage proposal.

And on Sunday morning? I walk down main street and hear my footsteps ricochet back at me. Not a store is open, even the coffee shop. A pizza joint will open for lunch, a gas station has a few tables out for the farmers to sip their dark roast. But surrounding the main square, there’s silence.

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It’s the same world I left when I was 17. It’s the same world I was born into. And while so much has allowed time to pass it by, time has a way of catching up.

Mom used to read to my sister and me. I’d strain to listen in the car as she turned to the back seat to transport our minds into the world of Little Women or the Castle In The Attic.

Now it’s my turn.

As the day winds down and we tuck away check books and tax forms, it’s my time to pull my mother’s mind away from the mounds of estate paperwork. It’s my turn to read The Princess Bride and Jacob, Have I Loved. Sometimes she falls asleep, and I later recap what she missed. Sometimes I only finish a few pages, as we interrupt the world in the chapter to discuss the world in which we live. We talk about Dad. We talk about our relationships with our sisters. We talk about the Cramer clan, and how much I take after that side of the family.

Mom used to take care of me when I got sick. She’d tuck me in and bring me sprite and toast.

Now it’s my turn.

I bring her bowls and water, I rummage through the cupboards to find the appropriate medicine. I worry over her and beg her to rearrange her doctor’s appointment so I can accompany her.

Mom homeschooled me for a few years, teaching me that early foundation of reading ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. She and my dad explained the way the world works.

Now it’s my turn.

I sit with her in estate meetings and phone calls with businesses, taking notes, interrupting when needed and afterward explain to her any concepts she didn’t understand.

My world of adventure came grinding to a halt on November 19. My fast-paced city life of stories and people and passport stamps intertwined with high end coffee has been put on a backshelf while I try to help my family rebuild. In this time, I fiercely defend my mother, my sister, living life in a small town and tracking the sun around our big red barn.

Here is where I grew up, here is where I fled in search of my tribe, the people who spoke my language. My heart wants to vagabond, to explore the world with fervor. But I have a deeper purpose these days.

My first tribe was here. My parents always took care of me, my community always cheered me on.

Now it’s my turn.

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Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, Lessons, Love, Time, Wishes

simply

My blog is named “Simply Eliska”.

These days, it feels like nothing is quite so simple.

Several months ago, I told a friend Eliska represented my new identity after a very intense growing period, but that I felt like anything painful that I’d felt since I’d pushed beneath the surface to Allison. I then confided that it felt like Allison was becoming unburied, and I was going to have to deal with all that dolor at once.

Then my dad died.

Two weeks ago, I was moving away from Colorado. I called my dad to tell him I was at his sister’s place for the night. It was so brief, maybe 15 seconds. “Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

Two hours later, he was gone.

My dad lived for 22,725 days. I was alive for 9458 of them.

People keep telling me that we’re handling his death well.

I don’t really know why.

Sometimes I’m sitting still and realize that tears are slipping beneath my chin, unbidden. Sometimes I’m laughing. Sometimes I feel nothing but absence. Sometimes I swear I hear Dad walking up the stairs.

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My Dad slipped from this earth without warning.

I’m at the first place I called home. And suddenly, I’m not “simply Eliska” anymore. There’s no one in this county who calls me by that name.

I’m not even “simply Allison” these days.

I’m a grieving daughter. I’m a sister. I’m part of 130 years of history on this farmstead. I’m pulling my family into the world I had crafted independently for myself – here, Mom, let me add you to my AAA. Here, everyone, let me put you on my cellphone plan instead. I’m the answer to “Where are you these days?” and one of the rare times where people are 100% genuine in asking “How are you doing?”

I am not a barista. I am not a nomad.

Not these days.

These days I’m the scribbler.

I scribble thank you notes. I scribble the dates and notes from meetings as we take note of how to settle the estate. I scribble text messages to friends who have gone through similar situations, asking, “Did you feel… Did you do… Why?” I scribbled my Dad’s eulogy. And now I scribble here. I scribble because right now, it feels like the only thing I actually know how to do. It feels like the only place that still makes sense. I scribble because in my words I can begin to process this new version of normal that I wasn’t prepared to enter.

There’s very little simple in my life right now.

I got into the tractor a few days ago, and when I turned it on, I heard music playing softly in the background. I turned it up.

Bright fields of joy
Dark nights awake in a stormy bed
I want to go with you, but I can’t follow

So keep to the old roads
Keep to the old roads
And you’ll find your way

I wept, as I listened to a song that felt like my Dad was reaching across eternity to talk to me one more time. I wept for all the conversations I wanted to have while I was home. I wept for all the things my Dad will never be a part of as my life continues forward, and all the things I wanted him to be there for. I wept for my Mom, that her other half who looked at her with such adoration and cared for her so gently, was gone. I wept. I weep.

I was so lucky.

I had a father for almost 26 years who loved his family, and whose kindness and intelligence spread throughout the community.

Yes.

I’m selfish.

I want my Dad back.

I want my parents to continue to live the American Dream.

I want to be a whole, complete family.

So today I scribble.

Today I write, and remember those 9000 days with my dad, and the stories of the years before I was born.

Life isn’t simple right now.

But I’m going to be simply Allison, the farmer’s daughter.

“Hi Dad. I’m safe. I’ll see you soon.”

 

 

Posted in Changes, Family, Home, Travel

there’s no place like home

“Are you sure you don’t need another cup of coffee?” Nick asked as we hugged goodbye.

I shook my head with embarrassment. “I’m actually gonna grab something at Casey’s. I really want to get some breakfast pizza.”

My friend stared at me in astonishment. “Wait,” he asked me from his Omaha front stoop, “You don’t have Casey’s in Colorado?”

I laughed at my friend, and crossed the border into culture shock.

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I’m from Iowa. I’ve spent 22 of my almost 26 years in this state. Yet for the first time, I felt like a stranger.

I haven’t used a GPS in Des Moines in years, but I found my heart skipping a beat as 235 weaved. Is this how I get to my sister’s place? I thought the road split here… maybe not?

Feeling disoriented, I called my mom to ask her if she needed me to pick anything up before heading back to our farm. List in hand, I stepped into Hy-Vee and gasped at how high the ceilings soared and far the grocery aisles sprawled. I next went into Walmart – good, old, familiar Walmart, just like in Colorado – and nearly toppled over a beer display. It took me several seconds to remember that alcohol can be sold outside of liquor stores in this state.

The longest that I’d been away from home prior to this stretch was the 10 months I lived in Slovakia. This time, it’s been 17 months. Much can change, much can stay the same.

I’m now curled up in the farmhouse where I grew up – the farmhouse that I haven’t lived in for a decade. My parents are out in the fields, and I’ll join my dad in the combine soon. Right now, I’m just enjoying the silence.

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When I left Iowa almost two years ago, I was heartbroken. My dream job had been ripped from my fingers by city politics, and I was fleeing to the mountains. Perhaps my unrequited love affair with Denver was my rebound – I fell head over heels for the city in the blink of an eye. So now it’s time to leave Colorado, to seek my fortune in the great, wide world.

While my deepest self is a nomad, a city-dweller, a wanderer, I can never shake those deep roots: I am a farmer’s daughter.

It’s funny now. Wherever I travel, this is home. Brands that I grew up with that I can’t find anywhere else in the world. Endless, uninterrupted horizons for incredible sunrises and sunsets. The refreshing scent of corn husks being harvested, sometimes interspersed with the not-nearly-as-pleasant scent of manure from the chicken and hog confinements. The furniture has changed, but my mom still lines the walls with cards and pictures from the friends she writes on every birthday. It’s several generations of kittens later, but they still mew on the front stoop, begging for attention – and I can guarantee our family’s four-note whistle will still bring them running for food.

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It’s a much slower pace than I’m used to. Driving through Des Moines felt like going through a one-stoplight town – I became the Texas driver that we grumble about in Denver. But it’s refreshing, clean, and beautiful.

I know it’s not forever, being back.

But right now, as confusing, as wild, as different as it is? There’s no place like home.

 

Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, People, The Barista

traveler to transplant

This morning, Denver awoke to it’s first snowfall of the season.

I’ve managed to befriend mostly transplants since moving out here, and we were bemused by the beginning of winter. We come from states where this snow would mark the end of sunshine for six months. We come from states where we sadly tuck our tshirts in the back of the closet and brace for subfreezing temperatures until spring. We come from states where blizzards will continue for days, take a break, then continue to dump for another week. We come from states where if the temperature happens to rise above 32*, we cringe because we know that black ice awaits come sunset.

Denver’s first snowfall had almost entirely melted by 10am.
For transplants, winter on the Front Range is comical.

I moved out here in January, and the locals immediately sympathized. “Oh, dear, welcome. How are you handling Colorado winters?”

“Oh, you mean the winter where I can wear a sundress several times a month?”
“Oh, you mean the winter where you are all confused that the snow is still on the ground after a week?”
“Oh, you mean the winter where even after the first snowfall I can forget my coat inside?”

Yeah, I like these kinds of winters.

It’s a good thing, too, because for the first time in my life I’ve transplanted instead of traveled. I’m in the United States but won’t be going home for Christmas. A twenty-two hour round trip drive is not nearly as practical as a six hour one when I’m only able to get two days off at a time.

A part of me is very lonely thinking of this reality. My birthday falls in between Christmas and New Years, so that week of winter has always been special for me. When I was talking with my mom today and confessed I probably wouldn’t be able to afford coming home for Christmas, she told me, “It’s not like I don’t care about you, but I also don’t expect you to. You’re in a new phase of your life and living much further away. Come home when you can.”

Armed with this blessing, I’m looking forward to the season instead of dreading the loneliness. Recently, I’ve found myself falling into a group of 20-30somethings that have a family dinner every Tuesday night. It’s a low key potluck style dinner with a different theme every week. It’s a group of transplants where little effort is required to build relationships – they just happen naturally. The Tuesday Crew has flowing conversations instead of “Oh, welcome! Let me put all this focus on you and learn about every intimate detail with the entire group staring at you!” I’ve been able to slip in and out, building my awareness and excitement with every week. And every time I walk in, I walk out less exhausted.

Uprooting and beginning a new life in a new city is much more difficult than flitting from country to country and living out of hostels. Traveler relationships are a thousand times easier than transplant ones. Travelers meet on a whim and form a connection for life. Transplants go out of their way to find each other and have to make an intentional choice to meet again. But this group of transplants makes the idea of a winter on the mountains much more enjoyable – there’s a future, but there’s also the present.

The first snow has fallen, but it doesn’t signal the end of anything this year. Instead, it’s new beginnings and life within adulthood. Friendmas, anyone?

 

Posted in Changes, College, Family, From old blog, Growing Up, Home, Lessons, Musing, People

The Mask and the Martyr

September 23, 2012


When does a girl become a woman? I’m wondering if I am going through that process right now. All my life, I have tried to keep up the beautiful mask. That my life is put together. That I don’t struggle with anything or have any issues. That I am never lonely, angry, confused, bitter. That I always have the answers. That I have a lovely, pure heart.

It’s a weary mask. It is a heavy burden. To always be put together. To always have my life appearing whole and unbroken, when inside I have always been dying.

Overwhelmed by myself, I threw my story at someone the other day, too weak to care. Tired of being called authentic, tired of being called genuine when my soul and heart were so dirty and tattered. As I shattered the pedestal I had been placed on, I waited bitterly for the shock, the disappointment, and the separation. I waited to be left alone, as I no longer matched up to the ideal.

But you know what happened?

She said, “I love you, anyway.”

She touched my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “If anything, I love you more now that I know the truth about you.”

“This is being genuine,” she told me. “Nothing you can say or do will make me love you less.”

And I began to cry.

“This can’t be real. She’s crazy,” I thought to myself. So I sought out another woman, and another, and another. And these four women surprised me so much.

“I love you even more now than I did before,” they all said.

Instead of being thrown away, shunned for not living up to the perfection, I was cherished. Stunned, I wept. As my weakness and struggles, lies and liabilities came to light, I was loved any way. Not because of what I’d done, but simply because I was me. Broken, imperfect, and loved anyway.

I held my scarlet letter to the light: pains from the past and present, wounds that had never healed, struggles that had never been faced, and emotions that had never been confronted. Broken. Confused. And somehow, through it all, I am beginning to release the shell that has bound me, the cage that has kept me, the mask that has shielded me.

I am on a journey, discovering who I really am. How to be genuine. How to be authentic. How to be alive. It is scary, and I have cried more in the last month than I have in the last 3 years combined. But with every tear I cry, I feel as though I am releasing the façade. I am beginning to breathe. My soul is awakening. Who I was is not who I am. I do not yet know what I will look like at the end of this, but I know that she is going to be more alive than I have ever dared to dream of. It looks like this broken girl is finally letting go enough to start to grow into the woman God is preparing me to be.