Boise was a different kind of stop. Namely because I grew up just outside of Boise in Meridian and hadn’t been back in about 20 years. Not only was Boise familiar territory, I knew that it had changed drastically since my last visit; whereas almost everywhere else we’ve been has been brand new and unknown.
Downtown Boise: it’s grown a lot on the sides, but the heart feels the same.
For the last three weeks we’ve been posted up at Boise Riverside RV Park in Garden City. Garden City has cleaned up quite a bit; I remember a lot more trailer parks in this area from my youth — “Garden Shitty” was always the running joke. Now I suppose we’re technically the trailer trash I used to make fun of as a kid, so it’s entirely perfect.
The RV Park is great. It’s situated right along the Greenbelt, a 25-mile multi-use path that travels alongside the picturesque Boise River. My only complaint is the internet: sorry guys, it sucks. They have it, it “works” — but it’s really slow and totally depends on how many others are using it at the time. Which, for me, seemed to be all day starting at 8:30am. I was the least productive I’ve been in months.
The Boise River
A Whole New World…?
On our way into town from Bend, Google told us to take I-84, but I insisted we hop on Chinden Blvd. because it would drive us right past the dirt road to my childhood hom out in the sticks. I already knew that dirt road was gone, replaced by a ginormous subdivision. I knew it would make me sad, yet the desire to return to this place that I have known and loved so well was truly beyond my control. I had thought I might avoid going altogether to preserve my memory of it; but for all the remembering (warning: more on that later) I have done regularly over the years I knew that a return was inevitable.
As we hopped on the highway from Caldwell, the rural landscape was much of what I remembered, which made me happy. As we passed Star Road, we passed the old road that my best friend lived off of, which is now a giant super highway that goes to Emmett.
My house was off of Chinden between Black Cat and Ten Mile. There used to be literally nothing out here but farmland and a few houses; ours was down a flat, straight dirt road that went a quarter mile down from Chinden to the top rim of the Phyllis Canal (you couldn’t actually see the house from Chinden; just a dollop of trees in the distance). As we crossed over Black Cat, the change was instantaneous. A stoplight exists where that dirt road used to be, which leads into the giant, terrible subdivision of my Google map stalking. My jaw dropped. Both sides of the road are loaded with subdivisions non-stop until you get to the original fancy-pants subdivision five miles later. Everyone was right — it had changed significantly.
But as we passed the Hewlett-Packard compound a further down the road, the same view opened up of the valley and foothills, unspoiled, unchanged. A certain relief poured through me; it wasn’t all so different, it was just that my ground zero was an unrecognizable nightmare.
All the Frands
Normally we hit the ground running when we get to a new spot (see: every other blog post I’ve written). This was different. We spent almost all our time catching up with old friends and Travis’s brother who lives here now, too.
Reconnecting with everyone reminded me what it’s like to have a community, which felt great. We’ve both been missing that piece of being somewhere more permanently, and to catch up with people who made us feel immediately at home was no small thing. Thanks to everyone for who took the time to hang!
Things We DID Do
We hit up the annual Art in the Park in Julia Davis park, visited the World Center for Birds of Prey, hit a tailgate party for a BSU game (thanks, Geoff!), explored downtown and Hyde Park/Camel’s Back Park, rode the Greenbelt, and drove past all my old schools.
Star Elementary School: Still the same!
Quick Denver Excursion
My driver’s license expires this year and renewing online wasn’t an option because it’s been more than 10 years since I’ve shown up in person to a DMV. So off to Colorado I went for a quick trip to the DMV and a fun weekend seeing friends and family.
Back in Boise: The Return Home
Where I grew up, our only neighbors were down the hill from us — not exactly next door. Elias Aldape was a Basque farmer; we called him Al. He called my dad Doc (my dad was a practicing ER physician). He and his wife, Marg lived, what we called, “down below.,” which meant down below the rim of the canal we lived over.
Marg and Al’s daughter Peg and her husband, Rex, also lived down below with their kids Jim and Scott. While Marg and Al have moved on from this life, Peg and Rex are still down below; now their son Jim lives next door with his wife and kids. We planned a visit with them and also return to the actual spot where my house used to be.
Boise’s Basque museum shows a collection of brands from local Basque farmers — our neighbor Al (Elias Aldape)’s is shown here.
Up until about a month ago, my childhood house stood where it always was. Then, someone bought it and had the whole thing lifted off its foundation and moved to another town. I’ve always dreamed of showing my person the house I grew up in; needless to say I was dismayed by the fact that I wouldn’t be able show Travis.
To get to The Down Below (it’s like The Upside Down, see), we had to drive through the mega-subdivision. I can’t say I enjoyed the drive, particularly as we came up to the oddly empty lot where the house was. I gawked but knew we’d come back by after our visit with Peg and Rex.
Marty! We’ve gone back too far! This was exactly like being in Back to the Future when Marty lands in 1955 only to find his childhood home doesn’t exist yet…but the opposite of that. This is the now empty lot where my house used to be.
To get down below, we had to drive off the side of the paved road where it ends and back onto the dirt road that was always there. As soon as that happened, though, it was as if nothing had changed. It was like a time warp. I immediately felt better.
Where the Sidewalk Ends: “This road to be extended in the future.”
Down below, unchanged. Phew.
We had a lovely catch up with Peg and Rex. They let us drive around afterward to see their old barn and our shop. My dad was a car junkie and we had a detached shop where he worked on cars and tinkered on other workshop related projects — that shop was moved down below and was the only standing remnant we could visit. Now it was time to go back up and walk through the rubble.
Travis and I with Peg and Rex. Peg is Marg and Al’s daughter.
There’s our old shop!
Home (Warning: Long)
When I cannot fall asleep at night and need a happy, meditative place to go to, I go back in time to my childhood home and walk through its rooms, remembering every detail that I can. I’ve included old pics I have on hand to help with the imagery.
I walk through the wood front door with the brass door knocker inscribed with the name Vickman on it in script, flanked by two large glass windows trimmed in stained glass borders that my mom made. I put my coat on one of the wall hooks, my shoes in the corner, then I walk through the kitchen, with its white linoleum floors, brick shithouse butcher block table in the center, surrounded by what would now be kitschy brown appliances and cabinetry and white tiled countertops. The Dutch Woman cookie jar is almost always stocked with Oreos.
Butcher block table, all brown everything, John doing his Fire Marshall Bill face.
Probably my best portrait, ever. I have a spatula, and I know how to use it. Also, note the stained glass window and the cookie jar.
The view over the kitchen sink looks out to a large expanse of green grass — one view has the giant oak tree out front, in another it’s missing — one year the tree was hit by lightning and had to be cut down. Vast fields of mint or corn are out to the left of the grass lawn; the shop is at the end behind a pine tree.
Yard party; the shop in the background. Long live acid washed denim and bangs.
The desk built into one side of the kitchen contains drawers of knick knacks and pencils, a wooden chair. The desk is where mom’s canary lived; a brown phone is on the wall.
Mom and baby John Boy; the desk in the background. Brown phone, canary cage. Seriously, everything is brown.
The dining room right next to the kitchen, visible above the kitchen stove but beneath the hood and cabinets, has an old darkened brass chandelier with glass crystals and a garden window full of healthy green plants. A doorway on the wall opens to a wooden deck that runs the length of the house with a hot tub on the far end; a picnic table underneath a Concord grape trellis is on this end.
On the opposite end of the dining table, a doorless doorway that leads into the living room. I pass the fireplace with the pheasant wreath over it over green carpet; a big leather chair with a brass reading lamp, a painting of a pheasant hangs on rough wooden walls, Vivian’s handmade crocheted blankets on the sofa, a giant hand-carved bookcase stands on one end of the living room, two Klipsch Klipschorn Heritage speakers sit in each corner.
Living room cuddles on Christmas morning.
See? SO MUCH BROWN.
I look out the expansive windows over the Boise valley and its rolling, brown foothills. A strip of lawn sits in front of a rectangular garden blooming with Iris; but years before, green snap peas and raspberries. Always cornfields beyond.
Cornfields beyond the garden. Pre-pond days.
An arbor leads through the narrow garden to a verdant pond full of lilypads and Japanese Koi and mosquito eaters; lined with green grass and tall Poplar trees. Currant and blackberry bushes grew in one corner. Once a blue heron landed on the edge of the pond and poached one of the giant Koi goldfish in one gulp. To the side of the pond is where I found my poor cat’s broken, dead body one year; her back had been broken by an unknown intruder, my single scream of sorrow followed her into the next world.
Mowin’ the lawn!
From the living room I wander back toward the front door but this time I go away from the kitchen and down the hall. The bathroom on my left has a red, octagonal linoleum floor and a built-in wall heater. A shadow box on the counter contains butterflies, seashells, an old pair of vintage wire frame eyeglasses, and a photo of Dooby, my parents’ first golden retriever.
At the end of the hall, there’s a vintage Singer treadle sewing machine; my mom used it to sew clothes, at least I think she did. I turn left into the office with a desk that’s made from an old door. The desktop computer is where I spent many an afternoon playing Kings Quest, Space Quest, building a Geocities website on dial-up, perusing my dad’s office library, ignoring all the boring file cabinets.
I exit the office and cross to the other side of the hallway, into dad’s room with a red-toned Persian rug and nature photography prints on the walls. I open the sliding glass door and go out onto wood patio with a built in bench that sits underneath a Montmorency sour cherry tree. The yard expands to the edge of the rim; green grass with an apple tree and lilac bushes along the edge. An apricot tree is out there, too; a peach tree even farther out but that one never seemed to proliferate.
Dad’s bathroom has a corner shower (always Prell shampoo) and a copy of Hemmings Motor News was always by the toilet; a blue hinged box of nail clippers and physician’s scissors and forceps and nail files always in the drawer. Combs, brushes, a chair where I would sit and Vivian would put my hair in braids.
I go back down the hallway toward the front door, only I turn right just beforehand and go downstairs. I pass what we called the Wall of Shame — every single baby and school photo is displayed, all our family photos taken by the same photographer, among fall foliage. My terrible bangs documented for all eternity. We used to play hot lava all the time, going down the stairs was tricky. I slide down the bannister to expedite my journey.
A very small sample of the wall of shame.
Downstairs now, the floor plan mimics that of the first floor. I turn left down the hallway, the first door on my left is another bathroom with a built-in wall heater. I accidentally burnt by butt on it once while bending over to towel off. The countertops are a bizarre green laced pattern over white. Two sinks though, one for me, one for my stinky brother. Once my mom washed my mouth out in here with soap for saying a dirty word. I don’t remember the word, I remember never doing it within earshot of her ever again, though. I remember cleaning up someone else’s vomit after a high school party one night, that person had definitely been eating Fritos.
I leave the bathroom; the next door on the left is my bedroom. One vision is with the original brown, beige, and pea green striped wallpaper and beige striped comforter; the next is the sea green wallpaper I chose when we redecorated — the colorful floral strip at the top matches my comforter, giant white tiger and polar bear stuffed animals sit on the bed. An ancient alarm clock radio with stick on earrings all over it is on the nightstand, next to a cat lamp and Kurt Vonnegut books.
Don’t forget the Cabbage Patch Kids…
My childhood rocking chair stays where it’s always been, beneath the window well. Sleeping in this room was like sleeping in a tomb; dark, quiet, peaceful. I used to hear one of our cats in the window well at night, meowing to get in. It would make me so sad I would cry. Other nights I had nightmares about the Statue of Liberty. Look, she had a scary lookin’ face, okay? One of my parents would rock me back to sleep in that chair until I fell back asleep.
Just past the chair was a stereo in my high school years, then an inner sanctum — another room lined with apple crates full of toys, stuffed animals, Things. A wooden vanity with a little bench and big round mirror sit along one wall. I had wanted a vanity so badly growing up; my dad found the perfect one at an old furniture sale. All my girly things are on it; Shine Free makeup, who knows what else. My dresser sits behind, the closet on the wall in between, a full size mirror on the wall opposite that. My crib was in here, I would play guitar in here, cut up old blankets to make costumes (sorryyyyyy), stick every imaginable post card and poster and ticket to the wall, play with friends. Sometimes I would find spiders and earwigs and other underground bugs where the carpet met the wall.
Across the hall is my brother’s room, two twin beds. We shared this room when Vivian would stay; she lived in with us when dad was on night shifts at the ER. Model airplanes and action figures line his shelves, along with model rockets and games like Mouse Trap. Posters of hot air balloons and race cars gave way to the album cover of Warrant’s Cherry Pie. One time a bat got into his room and the extraction process was exciting because OMG the bat is INSIDE; I can’t quite remember what happened but I do think perhaps the bat did not make it.
Back down the hall the closet contains a massive, heavy vacuum cleaner with a headlight on the front. They don’t make ’em like they used to. The small table at the end of the closet has a rotary phone on it. All the numbers in Meridian started with 888. Dialing anyone from that phone always took fucking forever. The TV room, directly beneath the living room, has an entire wall of built-in shelving for books with a TV right in the middle. Saturday mornings were for cartoons (She-Ra, He-Man, Garfield), week day afternoons after school were for Where In the World is Carmen San Diego before running outside to play.
The drawers beneath the television contained all the VHS tapes you could ever want, including all the James Bond movies, all the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series, and about 12 full recorded tapes of In Living Color episodes. Games lived inside the cupboards, marble towers and Monopoly. Two couches; one blue and red plaid, the other an old brown thing, made for comfy seating. The back corner of the TV room had a burgundy enameled, cast iron L. Lange Danish wood burning that sat on a bricked in surface. The wood box next to it has chopped up firewood that dad would haul in from somewhere outside. Along one wall, between the fireplace and couches, was a big hobby table. This is where model planes and other craft projects took place, beneath the magnifying clamp lamp.
We always wanted a trampoline but never had one; instead dad dragged an old mattress into the basement and put it between the back of the plaid couch and the fireplace. I used to spend all day outside, dirt in the skirt, then come in and jump and down until, conveniently, I would just lie down on the mattress, too exhausted to get up.
The other end of the hallway was what we called the basement. Funny, considering this entire level of the house was the basement, really. But this room had no carpet, just concrete flooring. It’s where an extra refrigerator and freezer lived; full of old fruitcake in Christmas wrapping paper, jars of homemade preserves, an ancient jar of marijuana. I wouldn’t know the jar was there until I was in my ’30s and had somehow made the long journey to my dad’s freezer in Tampa, FL.
I see the washer and dryer, water heater, water softener, all the pipes and machinery. An old sink; my mom used to keep her stained glass window making supplies underneath, sheets of sharp-edged, brilliantly colored glass. In the back, there’s shelving, a corner whose contents I can’t recall. This was prime hide and seek territory.
I go back upstairs, taking two at a time, zooming back out through the front door, into the garage; bikes, roller skates, the giant blue cat food dish which occasionally contained a sleeping cat. We always had cats: Buttercup, Guinea, Tiger, Pumpkin, Grady, Oby-Wan Ben Kenobi, Willy, Yogart.
Tiger and Pumpkin and Perpetual Swimsuits
That garage smell. Any number of vehicles inside, a Mercedes station wagon, a Subaru, an old Jag I can’t quite remember.
Just a boy and his broom.
A turquoise green Ford is parked outside, off to the side of the paved part of the driveway where our sandbox used to be; a sandbox that just turned into a giant litter box. The turquoise Ford turns into the dark green one; lovingly referred to as the Green Bean, a 1978 Ford F-250 Lariat 4×4. The interior is the exact same color as the exterior. When I turned 15, it’s what I learned to drive in. If you can parallel park a truck like that you’ll ace your driver’s ed exam.
This is what the Green Bean looked like.
This is what the Green Bean looked like.
I walk down the driveway leading away from the house. On my left, the driveway is lined with railroad ties and juniper bushes, home to all the funnel spiders in Idaho. On my right is a tree-lined irrigation ditch.
Slingshot! Plus, juniper bushes full of spiders.
There were enough old trees by that ditch that we tied up an old rope to one and made a rope swing; another lay sideways and was perfect for climbing straight from the ditch into the yard behind the house. Nothing feels better than the squelch of mud between your toes in an irrigation ditch. That mud is made from special, very fine dirt that becomes the most magical kind of squish. Toward the end of the driveway is a fork. To my left is the shop.
Amazing what fun a tree-lined irrigation ditch can be.
The shop had a dog kennel next to it where our golden retrievers lived. Dooby, Gus, Peaches; Freddie too but she was an English Pointer. You could always find antlion burrows in the dirt next the kennel; we’d spend what felt like hours tracing tiny sticks along the side of the inverted cone-shaped depressions, waiting for the tiny bug with a big maw to attack it’s fake prey.
The shop was where the Green Bean lived, along with the riding lawnmower, leaf sweeper, and all of dad’s tools and workshop stuff. Out behind the shop was a pile of old cinder blocks where wasps proliferated.
At the end of the driveway to the right, the dirt road leads to our mailbox. Across from it on the other side of the road is a flat, unfarmed piece of land where the burn pile lives. Seasons worth of detritus like dried leaves, grass clippings, and tree limbs were hauled out and dumped onto the pile.
We learned young! From the shop to the burn pile on the riding lawnmower.
After it was emptied, dad would put us kids in the old wooden wheelbarrow along with the yard scraps and give us rides back to the house. Some days dad called the fire department to let them know what was happening, and then the most glorious thing would happen: he would set the whole fucking thing on fire and we watch it burn.
The dirt road away from the house takes me back down the quarter mile dirt road to the highway. We used to walk that road home from school every day after the bus dropped us off; first on, last off, always. The Osprey platform on the top of one of the the power line poles marked the halfway point. We named the returning pair Oscar and Ollie. We’d pick horsetails, kick rocks, race each other — anything to get home a little faster.
This time, though, I walk on the dirt road going the other way, toward the down below. Across the bridge, over the Phyllis Canal, to see Marg and Al and Rex and Peg.
Crossing the bridge over the Phyllis Canal to get down below; our house used to sit along the rim on upper right hand side where that lone big tree is.
All that’s left now is an empty lot with a depression in it that’s been filled with dirt, surrounded by enormous single family homes in a giant subdivision. The irrigation ditch is gone, along with the trees that lined it. The mailbox is on the other side of the now-paved street. Two big trees still stand on the property, but that’s it. The dust is the same, though, that microfine dust that makes the best mud.
I walked through it, slowly, absorbing the massive missing piece of my life that is my refuge when I always need it to be there. It exists only in memories. The only thing that was the same was the view — that amazing view of the Boise valley and the down below was the only thing I could share with my husband to help to illuminate where I came from, what I’m made of. I made it to the edge of the rim and looked out at the rolling foothills before I cried; I’m crying right now just writing about it.
Loss is a part of life. I’m sure it seems ridiculous to many that I’m so wrapped up in the nostalgia of my childhood home. As an adult I can appreciate how lucky I am to have grown up somewhere so amazing — one part boonies nowhereland, two parts great parents and learning how to fall down and get back up again.
But part of this trip is a quest to find our new home. So of course I had to go back to the one that has always felt the most like home that a place can feel. I needed to dig it up and really roll around in it, and remember what it feels like to be there so that Travis and I can recreate that for ourselves wherever we end up. If you made it this far, thanks for reading.
Next stop: Stanley, Idaho!