Time-Travel with Ma and Pa

by tobias crabtree

I had an old timer call me “kid” the other day. I remember when that would have offended me but now it makes me smile. I smile at time and the slippery nature of this life. The last two days have been good ones. First, I spoke to Ma and was able to do a time-travel trip with her. I pushed the buttons and she flew. We went back to her childhood on a homestead just north of Medicine Bow, Wyoming. She told me about the creek that was clear as glass and the stringers of trout she would carry back for dinner. Max and Lorraine lived on that desolate, rocky little chunk of land and they carved out a life that included all the necessary parts — trials, victories, sorrow, fears, dawns and dusks, wishes and losses. I love the stories about Max and Lorraine. Lorraine was the first lady forest ranger in the United States. She was harder’n hell and my childhood memories of her include her hard jaw line and a look in her eye that I can only describe as that of a person who might be able to see clean through you and into your dreams. Max bucked hay right on into the grave.

My Ma and Pa are on such an amazing journey together. They met somewhere between the years 1949 and 1951. As I spoke to my Dad yesterday, I asked if he remembered the first time he saw Mother. He laughed and said he surely did. He said he’d never seen a girl like that before, hair down to her waist and a laugh that made him feel like he was gonna die if he didn’t talk to her. She was 14. I was talking to my Old Man because it was Father’s Day and I felt like it was fitting that he wanted to talk about Mom. That’s how it is when you’re with someone for 65 years and still in love with them.

I asked Dad to tell me about when he saw his first television. He said he was in some small town in Kentucky and he was walking with a friend. He saw a box with a glowing screen and pictures that were moving, I guess it was in the window of some store. My Pa used his classic expression, “Good night! What is that?” His buddy told him that is what they’re calling a “television.” I asked him about the Moon landing and what he thought. He said he thought to himself, “so that’s what it looks like to commit suicide?” as the rocket launched for space.

His first motorcycle was a Harley hummer. It was a two-stroke, “a smoker,” he recalled with a little chuckle. He’s been in a number of vehicle accidents. When he was 19 he was riding to some job at 5 a.m. and he took the short-cut he often used when he was on his motorcycle. What he didn’t know was someone had strung up a piece of barbed-wire about face level in the middle of the field. He hit it going about 20 or 25 mph and it caught him in the throat and yanked him off his motorcycle. The bike was an Indian, Flaming Arrow 200, and he might’a died right then and there (which would have nixed out my existence) if a cop hadn’t seen it all and ran my Pa to a nearby clinic. He got all sewn back up with 47 stitches and continued on and on, even these 60 years later he’s still riding motorcycles and bouncing around like a pinball.

I think it’s kinda crazy, but my Grandpas on both sides were hit by trains while driving their cars. My Mom’s dad, Merle, lost his leg because he was thrown out onto the tracks. Both my parents talk about how it was a bit of a free-for-all when it came to driving, how the tracks rarely had warning lights and the trains were really dangerous. They both told me things I’d never known about them. Here they’ve been my folks all these years and I sat and listened to these secrets that have been there all along. I am amazed at the fortune that is life. Just a simple turn and I would have never been given this body and this mind, I’d have never happened. But I did happen and I’m happening even now. We are all happening on a world that’s happening. It is a story of us and the world and the stuff all around. In a single life time, my parents saw homesteaders who were still being crippled by Polio and saw the roads full of Model T’s, they saw the end of the second World War and saw the first television, airplanes went from a thing that was a novelty to being intercontinental buses to being war machines to being rockets, they witnessed the ascension of mankind into outer space and the Cold War, they watched the death of the typewriter and they accepted these new devices that have taken us by the soul. My Parents saw in vivid color the dying heart of the Native American way of life; my dad’s dad left the Choctaw reservation and worked in the oil fields. They are witnessing the same thing happening to the elephants and the african wolves and the buffalo, they are no longer wild because to be wild you must have your wilderness and “parks” do not count as wilderness. I can’t believe how resilient my Ma and Pa are! They’ve seen so much and they are still in love with one another and they still laugh easy and joke about little things that are sweet. I look to them for lessons on how it’s done. They are my tethers to the past and they’ve given me this fire in my chest and it glows and cuts the dark that is the future.