Before California, my mom and I lived in a trailer. We weren’t trailer trash. To be considered trailer trash you need a double-wide that rests on cinder blocks in a trailer park. We didn’t participate in opulence. We had one of those small, oval, hitch trailers that looks like a giant snail stopping to catch his breath. The trailer was furnished with a bed and a sink. The sink we used as a pantry; the trailer wasn’t attached to plumbing. The hitch was only used to sit on while star gazing or watching cows grazing. The trailer was the same color as the Missouri sky after a storm, with accent colors in green and neglect. It was parked, not quite level, by the creek on my grandparent’s dairy farm. Grandma Faye’s property was in Mountain Grove, Missouri located in the northern part of the Ozarks. Mountain Grove, once known for its deer hunting and dairy farms, is now known for its Wal-mart Supercenter and meth. I spent most of my time alone: running around naked, swimming in the creek, playing in the mud, laughing and singing. The Meth-heads continue my former past times.
The novel The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad’s family, who traveled west on Route 66 during the great depression. Like my parents, they also came from a small town and end up in California. In the 1970s this migration continued with young people who headed out west looking for a promise of a better life and to escape the poverty, the Methodists and the humidity that made their long hair frizzy and rebellious. My mom and the man who would become my adopted dad, were two of these young people. Before she followed my dad out to Santa Ana, California: she left me with her mother, Grandma Faye. After my parents were settled, they convinced my dad’s honky-tonk loving parents, Grandma Maxine and Grandpa “Vegas”, to bring me with them during their next annual trip from Mountain Grove to California.
Grandma Faye has a tractor, sings alto in the church choir, and has an admirable collection of ceramic owls. Grandma Maxine has Rhinestones on her jacket. Grandma Faye has a talent for home cooking; biscuits and gravy and seven different recipes for squirrel. Grandma Maxine and Grandpa Vegas have a shared talent in consuming large amounts of alcohol and driving cross-country. Most could make this trip in three days;it takes us as long as the Joads family. Grandpa Vegas has a Cadillac: it could get us their quicker, but only if he skips all the bars with a happy hour.
Grandpa Vegas drives for a few hours then stops at Tootsies, the Grizzly Rose, the Thirsty Beaver, or any bar that shares a name with a half-priced-middle-aged-hooker. Grandma Maxine, red dyed hair piled high and eyes the color of cut glass, stands me on a bar stool and I sing You Are My Sunshine until we are bought a round. Whiskey for Grandpa Vegas, rum and coke for Grandma Maxine and a Shirley Temple for me.
Repeat the drive – a bar – a song – all the way to California. My grandparents sponsored my first national tour.
Ooh, each morning I get up I die a little
Can barely stand on my feet
Take a look in the mirror and cry
Lord, what you’re doing to me
I have spent all my years in believing you
But I just can’t get no relief, Lord!
Somebody ooh somebody
Can anybody find me somebody to love.
We sing along to Queens’ newest anthem roaring from the radio. The windows are up, the air-conditioning on, cigarette smoke like a fog machine with a broken off-switch; we ride into town on a dusty, bright, California morning.
I never go back on tour. When sad or frustrated with my lack of success, I would get in my truck and drive: looking for a dive bar, singing the hits from Queen, a cigarette in my hand and a run and coke between my legs. It takes me 35 years to find somebody to love. It was worth the wait, now when I occasionally want to run around naked, play in the mud; laugh dance and sing. I don’t always do it alone.