Monday, September 4, 2017

The Place I Come Back To

Well, it’s happened. My family has moved back to my dad’s hometown in Arizona. They’re currently renting my great aunt’s house. This week my dad will be driving my brother Carl out to college at BYU-Idaho. In the meantime I’m still be here in Utah. Some people have asked whether or not I will be going to live in Arizona with my folks. The answer to that is, right now, no. I don’t want to go down there until I have a car and I’m able to get a job and live on my own. Which, right now, is kind of a tall order. But that’s my goal and I want to stick to it.

In any case, I am happy that my immediate family is in Arizona now. They’re now an 8-10 hour drive away from me (and my mom’s relatives) instead of 20+ hours.
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LDS Temple Pictures

This is the first time my whole family has moved. Up until now, my family has lived in one place, and moving was something other people did. My dad is from Taylor and we visit a lot, but when you go live somewhere it’s a lot different from visiting.  When you move, you have to rebuild your whole support network--who provides your medical care, your dental care, where’s your library, your school, your teachers, your groceries, your gas. The day-to-day things you don’t worry about when you’re on vacation. One perk of living in Taylor is that we get to interact every day with aunts, uncles, cousins, and second-and-third cousins. Some of them even live on our street. We get to help take care of our grandma, too. We could walk to her house if we had all the time in the world, I’m sure, but it’s a 1-2 minute drive to get anywhere usually. Neighbors and friends that we are not related to will come soon enough. For now, Taylor feels more like home because there’s more family, and more people of our faith.

Taylor is also home in the sense that we’re descended from the first group of Mormon settlers who came there. It was where my Shumway great-grandparents raised their family, and it was where my paternal grandparents decided to raise their family. So it’s where my dad’s side of the family gathers, and while we have a few of us living there right now, those who live down in Mesa/Gilbert will come up on weekends. My family used to go out there at least once a year to visit everyone.

What makes Taylor home to me is that I went to live there for a year when I was in high school. I a really bad place emotionally when I was in high school. My parents hoped that sending me out there would help me. My army cousins were staying with my grandparents for the school year, so I joined them. I went there to do high school orchestra and release-time seminary. I took a lot of honors/advanced classes, and I was at Snowflake for the last year that Ms. Cunningham taught English there. I went there to befriend more Mormons, and I did achieve that, but in that setting I was also more comfortable in befriending non-Mormons: the differences just kind of melted away. I even got to go to the freaking prom! I had a lot of experiences and learned a lot of things that I would never have had otherwise.

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Taylor/Snowflake reminds me of the Shire in the Lord of the Rings. Probably because my cousins had a mixtape of movie soundtrack themes that included “Concerning Hobbits” and it would get played every so often as we drove back and forth. There’s a few partly underground houses, and lots of irrigated green fields and livestock. It’s one of those communities that’s tight-knit and doesn’t get out much.

Technically, Snowflake was named after a guy named Snow and a guy named Flake. But yes, it does snow there. It’s about 5000 feet above sea level so it’s a higher altitude and cooler climate anyway. But the year I lived in Taylor was my first real exposure to snow. During winter semester there were two separate occasions where the school opened late because of snowy conditions, and then the ice would linger in the courtyard for weeks while everything else melted.
Snowflake also has an LDS temple. It was the second one built in Arizona, long before Gilbert or Phoenix or the other new ones besides Mesa.

Did I mention the happy little spot in between Taylor and Snowflake known as Bellybutton?

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Weaver's Needle, Paint Your Landscape

During the summer, Snowflake and Taylor are about the two sleepiest small towns anywhere. But during the school year, if you’re involved in school and community stuff and church stuff you will be so busy you can’t even see straight.

When you move somewhere, there are things you do have to give up, but you get good things in their place.

Living in Taylor is great, don’t get me wrong, but it gets even better if you can get out of town every once in awhile and see the country, because you are within a driving distance of some of the great natural landmarks of the West. Even a short drive to one of the other locales like Heber, Show Low, or Holbrook will take you through prairies decorated with junipers, past mountains and buttes and extinct volcanoes, across spectacular deserts, and into beautiful forests. It’s only a thirty-minute drive to the Petrified Forest National Park. The Grand Canyon is a day trip away. And if my family is going back and forth more between Arizona and Utah, that may mean more visits to other national parks in Southern Utah--at least I’d like to think that.

Painted Desert, Personal Photo

Holbrook is the town directly to the north of Snowflake by about thirty minutes of driving. Between the outskirts of both towns it is one of the straightest roads you will ever drive on. Holbrook is where my grandma’s brother Drew settled and raised his family, and I’ve been back there a few times to go visit my great aunt Joan. I also went horsebacking there with some of my cousins one time. Holbrook you may have heard of as one of the places that inspired Radiator Springs in Disney/Pixar’s Cars--the Wigwam Motel is still there. Driving to Holbrook is fun because you pass landmarks such as the Chocolate Cake and Woodruff Butte. Holbrook High School is where I auditioned for orchestra regionals and scored a 29 on the ACT. But mostly it’s the place you have to get through to get anywhere else if you’re going north.

Flagstaff. Darn, I love Flagstaff. When I lived in Taylor, I went to a college recruiting fair at their high school. About four years ago, I waited for my cousin and my brother to pick me up at the Barnes and Noble when I came down to Taylor for Christmas. Years and years ago my family stopped to visit Sunset Crater--the pine trees smelled so good, I’d buy a candle that smelled like that.

Perhaps my favorite drive in the world is US 89 between Flagstaff and Kanab, Utah. You climb down from the forests in Flagstaff onto the Navajo Indian Reservation. Going to Page is fun in its own way. But I LOVE taking the Alternate, because 89-A goes past the Vermillion Cliffs, and Navajo Bridge. I love stopping to walk over Navajo Bridge. My family kept a picture of the rock formation I call “Castle Rock”  on our living room wall back in our home in Texas, along with photos taken at the bottom of the Grand Canyon when my dad would go hiking there with his family. Once we stopped at Lee’s Ferry and I almost caught I fish with my bare hands.  

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A Fish like Thish? Yesh. (Pinterest)

After Marble Canyon, you go up a big, big hill to Jacob Lake--the view is spectacular. Jacob Lake is a favorite stop for my family when we drive between Arizona and Utah. It’s the turnoff to the Grand Canyon, but I’ve only been there with my folks once--that end with me and my siblings having temper tantrums because we couldn’t stop for souvenirs, but if it wasn’t that I don’t want to remember what it was.

Sometimes my family will get to Utah by going east from Holbrook and taking US 6/191 Northward. We go through Ganado and Mexican Water and we’ve only ever stopped in Chinle once. It goes right through the heart of the country that Tony Hillerman writes about in his Leaphorn and Chee mysteries, so next time I drive through I swear I will pay more attention.

Going south from Taylor, you hit Show Low/Pinetop/Lakeside, which is where you used to go to Walmart before the mini Walmart was built in Taylor. Back when I lived there, going to Show Low was a day trip, but now with Mom working there I imagine we’ll be spending a lot of time in Show Low.

Heading down through Heber, between Heber and Payson is the Mogollon Rim. If you watch carefully, you can glimpse Four Peaks while you’re heading down the mountain. The Rim is also where my dad proposed to my mom--rumor has it he would have jumped if she said no.
My uncle Mike has a cabin belonging to his wife’s family down in Christopher Creek. My dad’s family had a reunion there once, and in winter there are nice spots to go sledding nearby. When I did my first year of girls’ camp, I went with my aunt and cousin to Camp LoMia up by Payson.

Woods by the Palmer cabin, Personal Photo

When my siblings and I were younger, we would go out to Mesa to spend the summers with our cousins. Those were the best times--swimming pools, trampolines, and all the cable TV we could stand. I was there long enough that I got familiar with the names of the streets and I learned the names of the mountains.

Other than these few places I have been or spent lots of time in I don’t know Arizona very well. Any state I’ve more or less lived in I can’t say that I’ve seen all of. But I’m looking forward, if I get the chance, to getting to know Arizona a little better. And I will say, serious props to J.K. Rowling for making Arizona the home habitat of Frank the Thunderbird in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that, really. But maybe J.K. knows just how hardcore Potterheads are down in Arizona. That’s where I first read the series, during one of my summers there. Fandom--family--adventure--Arizona is where the important things are.

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