Friday, March 24, 2017

The Summer of 2001

Maybe it was my grandma's funeral or a talk with my mom when I heard that my other grandma doesn't have any written history.  Or maybe it was a talk with my friend Brittney.  (One of the highlights of my day every day.)  Somehow we got talking about Ricks College/BYU-Idaho.  I started telling her a story about an experience I had up there.  Half way through the story she stopped me and said, "Seriously, every time I feel like I know you, you throw out a story like this and I remember how crazy your life has been!"  (For the record, the story I was telling her wasn't that crazy she is just super nice.)  But it is true that I feel like I have lived several different lives.

So I have decided to do short little stories about different times of my life.  If for no other reason than to put together someday for my person biography.  Great.  My memory will someday fade and it'll be fun to look back at in years to come.

Today I will start with an easy fun one:  The Summer of 2001.

By the end of my senior year of high school I knew it was time for a change.  So I was excited and nervous when my parents decided I should move out sooner than I had expected.  They decided I should move to West Yellowstone, Montana with my two cousins, Erica and Tammy to work for the summer.

I had never lived away from home.  I barely knew Erica and Tammy.  I had never used my own money.  I wouldn't have access to a car or a computer or a cell phone or other luxurious I had taken for granted.  But I was excited.  I loaded up my two brand new huge green suitcases I was given as a graduation present filled with all my clothes, my guitar, and my CD player/cassette tape boom box and I was on my way.  When my parents and I pulled up to the trailer park (consisting of 4 trailers) on the edge of West Yellowstone I started to question what I was doing.  When we went to open the door of the trailer and the door fell off the hinges and we were hit but the wall of stench my dad told me years later that he really began to question.  The trailer reeked of stale cigarettes, vomit, and who knows what else.  We had no furniture except the 3 mattresses my sweet aunt and uncle had picked up at DI and 3 metal folding chairs.  This was the start of the summer that will go down in the books as some of best memories of my life.

But that is the funny thing about memories.  At the time, we hated our lives.  SO much of it was so awful.  Now 16 years later, I look back with such fondness.  But back to the story.

Home sweet home....

The view of the other side of the trailer.  Yes, we lived right on the highway so every time a semi drove by our whole trailer shook.  Oh and yes, there was a door random door with a 3 foot drop. 

See Erica and Tammy had grown up very differently than I had.  They had been pretty much independent and self-sufficient since the time they were 14.  They both had already purchases their own cars.  They both had had real jobs since they were 16. And then there was me.

We worked as housekeepers at the Hibernation Station, a lot of 38 cute log cabins built right next to each other so tourist felt like they were "roughing" it a cabin rather than staying at a hotel.  We worked pretty much every day from 8-3 (or later) cleaning these cabins while the tourists went out of visit Yellowstone.  I will describe an average day during that time:
At 7:38 when our alarm clocks went off, we deliriously stumbled out of bed.  I have no idea what time we went to bed, all I remember is every morning waking up so incredibly tired.  I always turned on "The Good Life" by Weezer every morning to wake us up.  We would throw on our wrinkled light blue button down shirts and khaki pants and grab something to eat as we walked out the door.  My usual breakfast as I remember it was either pop ice or a spoon full of peanut butter.  You see, like Erica's car named Jester because he was always playing tricks on us, our refrigerator in our trailer didn't always work.  (Being naive little 18 year olds, we didn't think to call the landlord of the trailer to fix it)  We just stopped buying refrigerated foods.  So many time we didn't have any food.  I also don't recall ever taking a lunch to work.

We would get to work and clock in and say hello to Sharon, the front desk clerk and go around back to find out our doom.  I say doom because not all these cabins were the same.  We were paid based off the cabins we cleaned because some took a short time to clean while others were monsters.  Some, the easiest, were small 1 bedroom and bathroom cabins that were very easy to clean.  Change the sheets, vacuum, clean up the bathroom and you were finished.  Other cabins were large family cabins with multiple beds, including queen sized bunk beds and kitchens.  These cabins took so much longer to clean.  So depending on the cabins we were assigned we knew what kind of day we were going to have. But there was one major benefit of getting the monster family cabins... often times guests would leave food in the kitchens when they checked out.  Boxes of cereal, sandwich supplies, and our personal favorite half eaten tubs of ice cream in the freezer. The first thing we would do as soon as we walked into a cabin of guests that had checked out was see what kind of food they left us to eat.  If there was a good stash we would  call each other in the other cabins and we would have our real breakfast of left over food before the day began.

Yes.  If you are totally grossed out, I completely understand.  Half eaten food.  People we didn't know.  But I'll tell you what, it was an adventure.  And ridiculously unhealthy. 

We had all sorts of adventures cleaning those cabins.  Some absolutely hilarious but mostly absolutely miserable and disgusting and awful.  Clogged toilets, maggots falling from the ceiling, and Asian hair.... so much black coarse Asian hair.  It was a horrible job.  And the worst part was we rarely got a day off.  I once went 21 days straight working.  The horrible part was, even when we did get a day off, we were alone because the other two cousins had to work.

My favorite memory of our time working at Hibernation Station was the time the manager Sharon asked to meet with all 3 of us.  We were scared to death.  We were sure we were getting in trouble.  Our uniforms were always wrinkled and dirty.  We sometimes clocked in at 8:02 or 8:03.  Often times we had to return to our cabins to fix some of our cleaning.  The list probably went on of all the ways we were afraid we were getting in trouble for.  So you can imagine our surprise when Sharon greeted us at her office door and warmly welcomed us in.  She sat us down and said, "We just want to thank you for being such wonderful employees.  You 3 girls have been the best employees we've ever had.  Thank you so much for your hard work."  And they even put their money where their mouth was.  When we quit (a month early because we couldn't take it any more) they gave each of us a $500 bonus on our check with a letter of appreciation for being such wonderful employees.
West Yellowstone Public Library
My daily routine was to walk straight to the West Yellowstone library after work.  The library closed at 5 so sometimes I had to hurry.  I would go to the library to use the computer.  Since we didn't have a phone or a computer the only communication to the outside world came through checking my email once a day at the library.  Oh and actually letters.  I sent out real letters and got letters in return.

You can imagine the first few days of this new adventure was very difficult for me.  So much so that the first week I was there I slept every moment that I wasn't working.  Erica and Tammy were getting worried about me.  But then Sunday night we went to Sacrament Meeting.  In West Yellowstone all the YSA had to work in the day so every Sunday night at 7 was a Sacrament Meeting for all the kids that were working in West.  We went to church my first Sunday night.  After we talked with a few of other people there.  But we didn't think much of it.

Until the next day after we got home from work we were lounging around in our pajamas when there was a knock at the door.  Of course we didn't know anyone so we had no clue who it could be.... Unless it was Madman Jack who lived in the trailer next door.  He had already come over give us some bacon from the pig he had just slaughtered and tell us we could use his hot tub any time we wanted.  Tammy answered the door and a guy said, "Is Kristin there?"  So confused, I went to the door and there was a guy from church at our trailer.  I invited him in.  His name was Shawn.  But I was still confused how he knew where we lived.  Comes to find out he was renting an apartment from the same slumlord that rented us our trashy trailer.  Shawn asked the landlord about us and found out where we lived and came over.  I am trying to remember if Shawn asked me on a date on that visit.  I think so.

And with that I had a boyfriend.  Shawn was 24 years old.  I think recently graduated from college.  An outdoors man.  And nothing like anyone I had ever dated before.

Every night after we would get off work, Shawn and his roommates would take us on an adventure somewhere around Yellowstone.  We camped on the banks Hebgen Lake, swam in the Firehole River, went for drives through Yellowstone late in the night seeing wolves and other animals, and we visited other attractions like Mesa Falls.  If it wasn't for Shawn and his roommates, I don't think we would have lasted in Yellowstone for more than 2 minutes.  Shawn made it fun for us.

Shawn would bring me wild flowers in a Nalgene bottle.
But the real highlight of the summer of 2001 was it was the first time that I really had a best friend.  A true best friend.  Someone that more than anything (maybe a bit too much) I wanted to be like.  Erica was just so different from everything I knew.  She was passionate.  She was kind.  And she was just so dang cool.  Tammy had another job that she started every night waiting tables.  So a lot of the time it was just Erica and I roaming the streets of West Yellowstone.

One night Erica and I were bored so we decided to try and make some extra money by playing our guitars on the street corner.  So we loaded up our guitars, practiced the 4-5 songs we both knew how to play, and we were off. We sat on the corner of the busiest intersection of the booming metropolis of West Yellowstone (population 1,200) and sang away.  Luckily for us Erica has a beautiful voice and a lot more vocal training.  So I would sing the melody and she would create beautiful harmonies to our songs.  A couple memorial experiences during our musical career were the time we started singing Blowing in the Wind and a huge gust of wind came and blew all the cash in our guitar case down the street.  We immediately stopped and ran through the main street of West trying to collect our hard earned cash.  Another and the most memorable experience was when a group of varsity scouts walked by our performance one night.  They stopped and listened to the rest of the song.  Then they asked about us.  We said that we were trying to get enough money to fix our car.  (which was true, remember Erica's car Jester was always playing tricks on us)  This group of scouts felt bad for us and each boy gave us a few dollars.  We went home with a smile on our face at the amount of money we made that night.  It kind of back fired on me the next morning.  My family had come to town and they took me to breakfast at McDonalds before work.  As I was getting out of a brand new car I saw the group of scouts walking out of McDonalds and heard them say, "Wait a minute, isn't that girl from last night?"  Oops.

My first time living away from home was an eye opening experience.  I became grateful for things that I had taken for granted.  Leather couches, TV, a working refrigerator, and my family to name a few.  Erica and I left West Yellowstone earlier than we had planned.  We couldn't take it anymore.  My boyfriend, Shawn, had asked me if I was thinking I could marry him.  When I laughed saying I was only 18 he said he was wasting his time and needed to move on.  So after he packed up his things and headed out Erica and I decided we wanted out too.  So at the beginning of August we left our stinky trailer, our metal chairs, and said goodbye to West Yellowstone.

As we slowly drove (Jester couldn't go very fast) back to civilization we sang Simon and Garfunkel's song Homeward Bound.  Because probably never before had I realized the importance and had such an appreciation for the idea of home.

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