Thursday, August 18, 2011

Who Am I?: Part I

Some days I really realize how lucky I am. And then I wonder how I got here.

Driving down Route 6 from our place in the Poconos between Lord's Valley to Hawley, PA where one of my favorite coffee shops is, the road is mine. They're starting to build up in spots, with large houses with vinyl siding marking the landscape as changing. Wooded properties are for sale as commercial lots, and I wonder what everything will look like in 10 years. Right now, however, it's me and the road, my arm out the window moving up and down with the current -- just like when I was a kid. Except this time, I'm driving.

I was born Amanda Jo Edwards on September 30, 1983, at the Independence Sanitarium in Independence, Missouri. My mom probably didn't know it at the time, but that was Rosh HaShanah. She says it was a sunny day and that they hit every pot-hole on the way to the hospital. I was a normal-sized baby weighing a normal-sized amount. Without much fanfare, I entered the world. My middle name is meant to honor my dad's dad, Joseph Edwards, who died when my dad was a kid. The origin of Amanda is highly disputed (ha ha) -- one story says it came from a Reader's Digest story called "Amanda Miranda" while another says it was the name of a family friend with whom my parents bowled. At any rate, until I was about four, we lived in Overland Park (KS), then Cedar Rapids and then Des Moines, Iowa.

March 1987 | Des Moines, Iowa
My mom stayed home with us kids while dad worked for Wal-Mart in the early years and then took up a job working for the now-defunct building materials company Payless Cashways.  My earliest memories are from when we were living for two years in Des Moines in a blue four-plex with a giant field next to it where we ran around and flew kites. I also remember there being a big K-Mart way, way behind our four-plex near one of the main drags in town. My mom says that we once watched hot air balloons land in that field, too. I remember the snow there being so high sometimes that we could tunnel through it, and all of those times I've lied about never making a snowman were put down with this picture. The kid in the middle is named Steven, but I have no idea who he is. The kid in the red snowsuit is my older brother, John. I remember getting chicken pox while we were living in Iowa, and I have a distinct memory of a trip to Baskin Robbins that left me in the car -- ill with the pox -- while the family enjoyed some dessert inside.

I was a cute 7-year-old, right? My first day of first
grade. I'm pretty sure my mom made this dress,
and that barrett? Yeah, it's made out of balloons.
I think it was in 1987 that we moved to Joplin, Missouri, which is in the far, far south of the state. Most people know about Joplin now because of the tornadoes that ripped the town to shreds recently. What I remember about Joplin mostly revolves around my friends, my school, my seven years in ballet (that began while I was in Iowa), my art lessons, and monthly visits to Branson, Missouri, where my grandparents and aunt and uncle lived. We'd visit Silver Dollar City -- an old-time theme park with glass blowing and candle-making and cookie decorating -- regularly and my mom has the tin-type photos to prove we were there regularly. Most of my scent memories come from this period of time, especially smells of winter like burning wood and cider and fresh-baked pie. Those are the kinds of scents that launch me back to being a child.

We used to visit my dad regularly at his store on Rangeline Road in Joplin, which was near the Wal-Mart and not too far away from the Sonic we visited with shocking regularity. My dad had a normal-sized office with a fish tank in the corner, so we had to go there often to clean the tank. Us kids would play around with the stuff on my dad's desk and schmooze with the office staff. My favorite trips to dad's work were during Halloween and inventory. The latter because it was a late-night chance to hang out with his store crew, and the former because each of the departments would come up with creative ways to decorate pumpkins for an end-cap display. Plumbing was always the most creative, but they also had the easiest supplies to work with. My mom's albums at home are filled with those pumpkin pictures year after year. I also liked the familiarity that the employees had with me -- they knew I was Bob's daughter, and as such I had a sense of freedom and entitlement when I walked through the sliding doors. I was someone, and I was going somewhere!

We lived in a red, brick duplex at 1921 East 33rd Street -- an address I can't forget. Before we moved into the house, we went to visit and check the place out; that I remember. I recall my older brother and I playing Mousetrap with the tenant's daughter in the basement. We had a single tree outside in our front lawn that we'd decorate with hanging plastic Easter eggs in the spring and a yellow ribbon during the Gulf War. Below my window in the front of the house -- the big room -- was a line of those gigantic bushes that manage to live year-round. I got the big room in the front of the house out of pure luck, I think. The room had my gigantic multi-level Barbie Dream House, my white daybed, a walk-in closet that I remember being larger than life, and a three-tiered white shelf that matched my bed upon which rested a gum ball machine fish tank. By chance, my room also had a TV with the Nintendo hooked up to it, so the room was never truly mine. In fact, I have happened upon numerous photos of my mom or brother laying on the floor in my bedroom playing video games. Imagine!My parents' room was in the basement and my older brother's room was across the hall from mine next to the bathroom. We had a nice-sized dining room, a beautiful living room with a fireplace that had these huge wood shelves flanking it, and a kitchen that I also remember being huge, with a big, beautiful island and a skylight. In the back yard, mom sometimes grew vegetables in a corner garden that was blocked off by gigantic two-by-fours. Our neighbor, on the other side of the duplex, also was our landlord, and the houses that surrounded us I remember being much larger than ours. Our duplex seemed to be part of a different edition onto the neighborhood. When we were kids we always collected for the MDA Telethon, and I remember going to all of the gigantic houses in the neighborhood that were larger-than-life to ask for pennies and dimes for a cause I didn't really understand. But our duplex suited us fine, even after the horrible storm full of "wall winds" that destroyed our basketball hoop attached to the garage and sent us running to the basement.

My older brother, John, in front of our garage with the Taurus.

I was a normal kid doing normal things. Ballet. Art. No sports, no camp. We took trips to Tulsa to the zoo and Celebration Station and to Springfield. Sometimes we drove up to Kansas City to visit family there. We never took any big vacations to anywhere interesting. In fact, we didn't really depart from the environs of Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri. But as a kid, I didn't know there was anything outside of that world. I had my friends, my family, and a dog named Precious.

Stay tuned for Part II ... in which my little brother is born, we get rid of our dog, move to Lincoln, Nebraska, and I am hit with the reality that my friends aren't still my friends.