A Sunday drive

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Continued from Home, sweet home

Our kind hosts at the motel saved the day. Mrs. Hill put together a picnic basket for us while Mr. Hill instructed mom on how to get to the Snowy Range, 35 miles west of town. The drive was fun. Gone was the heat of Nebraska, the torrential rains of Iowa. Now all we battled was a ferocious head wind. We drove past a lonely looking shack that said “Brees Field Airport.” Mom wondered if someone didn’t know how to spell “breeze.” The windswept landscape was flat and treeless. The prairie grass that rippled in the wind was fading from spring green to khaki. Occasionally we’d see a herd of cattle, a cluster of pronghorns, or some horses grazing. In the distance, two ranges of tree-covered mountains parted ever so slightly to advertise a startling patch of white behind them.

Our straight, flat road suddenly dropped into a verdant valley bisected by a tree and shrub-rimmed river that fed rich hay fields. At the end of the valley and just before the climb into the mountains, lay a tiny village called Centennial. We stopped to look at a quaint little museum and to peer into the fancy western-themed restaurant called The Old Corral.

Then we were off again, winding up the twisty, turny road that lead to those snowy mountains we’d been ogling all morning. It was beautiful, indeed. At the snow line, the road had been plowed for several miles, then we came around a corner to find a huge pile of snow blocking our path. So much for the plow. We got out and marveled at the smoothly cut walls of snow on either side of the road that towered above our car. And COLD! It was so cold that we grabbed our coats out of the car. Not only was the wind cold, but the air was cold, too cold! We turned around and retraced our route till we got to a beautiful lake where we munched our lunch between chattering teeth. The mirror surface of the water duplicated the snow-covered peaks behind the lake. Tiny striped chipmunks dashed before us like moths darting to a street light. Joan tried to chum them closer with crusts from her sandwich, but, unlike tame urban squirrels, they darted at the very blink of an eye. We returned to town after stopping for ice cream in Centennial.

Back at the motel, Ramona, the motel owner’s daughter fascinated and intimidated me. I had never played with kids my own age. Joan was so much older than I was that she was more adult than kid.

Ramona seemed worldly. She had the run of the motel. She could go anywhere she wanted, whenever she wanted. Or at least that’s how it seemed to me, who had never been out of sight of an adult. Ramona’s toys even seemed worldly to me. She had the kid version of a car—a shiny, red, big-girl tricycle, which she rode with wild abandon across the motel parking lot, down the sidewalk, careening around the corners as fast as she could go. She was obviously bored by my lack of sophistication as I stood there, gnawing on my fingernails and watching her in wonder.

Meanwhile, mom was networking. The motel owners had lived in Wyoming for about ten years and had connections around town. They’d been ranchers in South Dakota, and they moved easily in western social circles. My mom, on the other hand, had “dude” written across her abundant chest in fancy filigree stitching and pearl snap buttons. This is not to say that people in Laramie didn’t wear pearl snap buttons, because they definitely did. But their shirts and blouses were simple plaids and neutral colors. Mom’s were extravagant primary colors with contrasting stitching and fancy, decorated pockets. She wore heels where other women wore simple loafers or Oxford. She turned heads wherever she went in the west. She needed all the help she could get in establishing herself in this wooly community.

Continued